by Emily Adams
International students participating in Intensive English Programs (IEPs) in the United States often feel isolated not only from university life, but also from American society in general. Much of the students’ time is spent in the ESL classroom with other international students, perhaps in a separate building. In addition, limited English proficiency and lack of confidence to interact with native speakers can result in limited English practice, which can further hinder their integration into the community. Faculty and staff at some schools, as evidenced by several of the presentations at MIDTESOL 2016, are not only noticing this frustration but taking steps toward change. They are developing programs to increase the integration of international students into university life and encourage interactions with native English speakers.
At MIDTESOL 2016, several faculty from Northwest Missouri State University described their successful efforts to increase cross-cultural interactions among university students (Konstantopoulos, Joachim, Kiene, & Wilson, 2016). Because Northwest Missouri State is located in an area with little diversity, the members of the education department as well as some of the intercultural communication professors were looking for a way to provide their students with intercultural experience.
These faculty developed a model of working across departments to promote intercultural relationships between domestic and international students. Their existing cross-cultural programs began with one of the ESL teachers looking to increase her students’ interactions with native speakers in order to facilitate language learning and integration into American society. Today, several faculty are involved in the university’s intercultural exchange programs, which are either implemented as part of students’ coursework or as required volunteer hours:
- Combining ESL and university classes
Certain university classes will combine with ESL classes a few times throughout the semester, during which the students might engage in partner discussion, small group discussion, interviews, speeches, or classroom discussion. International students learn quite a bit about American life and society, while many of the domestic students gain a better understanding of cultural differences.
- Activity Buddy program
This program is a class requirement for some intercultural communication and English classes. A native English speaker and a student in the English language program are paired for the duration of the semester through an initial in-class meeting, after which they meet once a week to engage in an activity together. This program facilitates cross-cultural exchange while at the same time helping ESL students to improve their English. Students must keep a log of their activities, evaluating their experience in some form (reflections, group discussions, speeches, etc.) at midterm and at the end of the semester.
- Culture class presenters
American students give a presentation to a class of English language learnersabout an aspect of American culture.
- Practicum observations/field experience
Education students observe ESL classes for practicum/field experience credit.
- Conversation partners
An American student and a student in the English language program meet several times outside of class to practice English skills.
Native English speakers tutor English learners in their language skills.
Northwest Missouri State’s program is based on the principle that cross-cultural experience can be beneficial for anyone, regardless of nationality or background. Moreover, practical experience of another culture is often more enlightening than simply hearing about this culture in a classroom. As Konstantopoulos et al. (2016) pointed out, cross-cultural relationships further one’s knowledge of the world, increasing tolerance and open-mindedness while developing respect for those who are different from oneself. Northwest Missouri State University’s model of interdepartmental cooperation is an exceptional example to other universities that are aiming to help students develop cross-cultural competence.
A practical resource for helping international students integrate into the United States and promote cross-cultural exchange is the NAFSA (Association of International Educators) website. It contains a variety of resources related to cultural and academic adjustment for international students: http://www.nafsa.org/findresources/default.aspx?catId=518255.
This website’s wide range of resources includes:
- Intercultural Activity Toolkit
- Campus & Community Engagement
- Cultural Transitions
- Navigating Identity
- Understanding Differences
- Academic & Behavioral Support Resource List
- Campus and Community Programming during Ramadan
Konstantopoulos, H., Joachim, B., Kiene, D., & Wilson, N. (2016). Building Partnerships on Campus for Cross-Cultural Awareness. [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/MIDTESOL16
Emily Adams is pursuing a Master’s degree in English in the TESOL track at Missouri State University, where she has taught several writing courses to international students as a graduate teaching assistant. Emily grew up in Germany and became interested in intercultural relationships following her experience of re-adjusting to the United States upon returning for college. She has been actively involved in helping international students adjust to the United States for the past twelve years.