Page 1

F O R

A L U M N I

A N D

F R I E N D S

O F

T H E

U N I V E R S I T Y

O F

S O U T H E R N

C A L I F O R N I A

uscTrojan F A M I L Y Winter 2011

UNDERSTANDING ADDICTION USC researchers challenge conventional wisdom.

Troy Camp Love

Learning English, American Style

New Hip, New Life


Gained in TRANSLATION For the 800 ‘internationals’ who pass through USC’s Language Academy each year, intensive English study opens eyes, ears, mouths and minds. By Liz Segal | Photographs by Roger Snider

Though Surachart Ratchajanda comes from a small town three hours northeast of Bangkok, Thailand, at age 26 he already is world-traveled and head of his own NGO. He speaks English with some fluency, but this summer found him brushing up his skills at the Language Academy as a prelude to entering USC’s IPPAM program in the fall. It all sounds pretty remarkable, but what makes it downright amazing is that Ratchajanda is blind. An accident at age 15 took his vision, but gave him a new purpose in life: to serve the cause of the blind in his homeland. Through his NGO, Ratchajanda has traveled to schools for the blind across Thailand, including rural areas. “I like to persuade people that they can do anything, even if they’re afraid it’s dangerous,” he says. Ratchajanda seems quite fearless. “People ask, ‘How can you come alone on a 23-hour plane ride to the U.S.?’ I say, ‘It’s no different than in Thailand: here, there are still big holes in the pavements, traffic jams, low-hanging trees. As long as I know English, I can get by.’ ” The potholes, traffic jams and trees may be the same, but the professional opportunities available to the blind are profoundly different. “There is a lack of job diversity for

the blind in Thailand,” Ratchajanda says, his eyes hidden behind stylish mirrored glasses. “Even college graduates can barely work as teachers, operators or officers in blind associations. Those who aren’t college graduates work as masseurs or selling lottery tickets. They don’t get much government help right now, about $20 a month. So I asked myself, ‘What could the government do better?’ ” He hopes to figure that out while studying at USC, and he’s already brimming with ideas. “In the United States, the blind use guide dogs, but in Thailand they are only able to use canes. I want to observe what they do here for the blind, study it and make recommendations back home.” His English-language learning will be critical not only in his master’s studies, but in making deeper connections with international organizations for the blind. He waxes philosophical about the accident that forever changed his life. “If I hadn’t gone blind, I would never have gone abroad,” he says. “I got a lot of experience and knowledge this way – experience that sighted people haven’t gotten. So perhaps by becoming blind, you see more.”

P

otato salad, fried chicken, coleslaw and Cokes – what better way to entertain scores of “internationals” on a hot Friday afternoon in July? The students have gathered for opening day of USC’s Language Academy, an intensive English-immersion program based at the University Park campus. It is a colorful and eclectic crowd: young Asian women wearing rhinestone-studded sunglasses; heavy-accented young men in oversized shorts and Vans; brightly smiling Middle Eastern women in jeans and headscarves. They seem excited, making side plans to see Yellowstone and New York City. “This is America!” says one beaming Saudi woman when asked if she will learn to drive here. They have come to learn English, American style. Beginners might land in a level one reading and writing class, where they are drilled on the basics. A week into the summer program finds some of them producing compound sentences at the direction of Language Academy instructor Priscilla Caraveo: “I have to do my homework, but I don’t have time!” volunteers one playful student to a chorus of laughter from her classmates. Advanced students might land in level six (the penultimate level), where expectations are much higher. A visit to instructor Steve MacIsaac’s class finds some international students, a week into the program, analyzing an article from The Nation. “We’re stair-stepping them to learn to write an M.A.- or Ph.D.-level paper, to familiarize them with the American style of thinking, writing, research and academic synthesis,”

26

U S C T r o j a n Fa m i ly m a g a z i n e winter 2011

Surachart Ratchajanda

U S C T r o j a n Fa m i ly m a g a z i n e tfm.usc.edu

27


Gained in TRANSLATION For the 800 ‘internationals’ who pass through USC’s Language Academy each year, intensive English study opens eyes, ears, mouths and minds. By Liz Segal | Photographs by Roger Snider

Though Surachart Ratchajanda comes from a small town three hours northeast of Bangkok, Thailand, at age 26 he already is world-traveled and head of his own NGO. He speaks English with some fluency, but this summer found him brushing up his skills at the Language Academy as a prelude to entering USC’s IPPAM program in the fall. It all sounds pretty remarkable, but what makes it downright amazing is that Ratchajanda is blind. An accident at age 15 took his vision, but gave him a new purpose in life: to serve the cause of the blind in his homeland. Through his NGO, Ratchajanda has traveled to schools for the blind across Thailand, including rural areas. “I like to persuade people that they can do anything, even if they’re afraid it’s dangerous,” he says. Ratchajanda seems quite fearless. “People ask, ‘How can you come alone on a 23-hour plane ride to the U.S.?’ I say, ‘It’s no different than in Thailand: here, there are still big holes in the pavements, traffic jams, low-hanging trees. As long as I know English, I can get by.’ ” The potholes, traffic jams and trees may be the same, but the professional opportunities available to the blind are profoundly different. “There is a lack of job diversity for

the blind in Thailand,” Ratchajanda says, his eyes hidden behind stylish mirrored glasses. “Even college graduates can barely work as teachers, operators or officers in blind associations. Those who aren’t college graduates work as masseurs or selling lottery tickets. They don’t get much government help right now, about $20 a month. So I asked myself, ‘What could the government do better?’ ” He hopes to figure that out while studying at USC, and he’s already brimming with ideas. “In the United States, the blind use guide dogs, but in Thailand they are only able to use canes. I want to observe what they do here for the blind, study it and make recommendations back home.” His English-language learning will be critical not only in his master’s studies, but in making deeper connections with international organizations for the blind. He waxes philosophical about the accident that forever changed his life. “If I hadn’t gone blind, I would never have gone abroad,” he says. “I got a lot of experience and knowledge this way – experience that sighted people haven’t gotten. So perhaps by becoming blind, you see more.”

P

otato salad, fried chicken, coleslaw and Cokes – what better way to entertain scores of “internationals” on a hot Friday afternoon in July? The students have gathered for opening day of USC’s Language Academy, an intensive English-immersion program based at the University Park campus. It is a colorful and eclectic crowd: young Asian women wearing rhinestone-studded sunglasses; heavy-accented young men in oversized shorts and Vans; brightly smiling Middle Eastern women in jeans and headscarves. They seem excited, making side plans to see Yellowstone and New York City. “This is America!” says one beaming Saudi woman when asked if she will learn to drive here. They have come to learn English, American style. Beginners might land in a level one reading and writing class, where they are drilled on the basics. A week into the summer program finds some of them producing compound sentences at the direction of Language Academy instructor Priscilla Caraveo: “I have to do my homework, but I don’t have time!” volunteers one playful student to a chorus of laughter from her classmates. Advanced students might land in level six (the penultimate level), where expectations are much higher. A visit to instructor Steve MacIsaac’s class finds some international students, a week into the program, analyzing an article from The Nation. “We’re stair-stepping them to learn to write an M.A.- or Ph.D.-level paper, to familiarize them with the American style of thinking, writing, research and academic synthesis,”

26

U S C T r o j a n Fa m i ly m a g a z i n e winter 2011

Surachart Ratchajanda

U S C T r o j a n Fa m i ly m a g a z i n e tfm.usc.edu

27


No jacket, no tie, no bowing at the waist. For a Japanese businessman, Norio Kaji is disarmingly informal in his flip-flops, formfitting T-shirt and loosely slung student bag. Having been a buttoned-down manager not long ago, Kaji is digging the mellow SoCal existence. This isn’t Kaji’s first experience in America. “I was working for six months in the accounting department of a private cable company in Colorado,” he explains. Sent by his Japanese employer as a management trainee, he had to abruptly return when the parent company sold its interest in his firm. By then Kaji had developed a taste of the United States, and with the advice of his Colorado co-workers, he quit his cable job and applied to USC Marshall’s IBEAR program. Despite his already top-notch spoken English, Kaji’s admission was contingent on a refresher course at the Language Academy. He could have chosen a Japanese MBA program, but opted instead for a school with a global reputation and an international student body. Back in Colorado, he had been struck by the way his colleagues communicated. “So many of my American co-workers with MBAs not only knew how to do business and manage people efficiently, but

they knew how to discuss and argue effectively, something we don’t see in Japan a lot,” Kaji says. “Sometimes it’s hard to decide anything in Japan because it’s all about consensus, so a company will lose opportunities while trying to make decisions.” After graduating from USC Marshall, Kaji hopes to find work in a multinational communications company in Japan. Once there, he’ll try to change the rigid Japanese management culture little by little, from the inside. “I’m not sure if it’s possible, but I’m looking forward to facing this challenge,” he says. Kaji is delighted by the many cultural differences he encounters here. “L.A. is a much more international city than where we lived in Colorado,” he says. “I thought at first this is another country, with so much Spanish!” When he goes to sporting events, he finds the crowd almost as interesting as the game: “Watching the people cheering, shouting and drinking beer. So exciting!” he says. Even a walk in the park is a cultural eye-opener. “When my wife and I go out with our baby in the stroller, people take so much care for the baby, asking questions,” he says. In Japan, strangers keep much more to themselves. “Here we get to talk to them. It’s fun.”

With her pretty, moon-shaped face and broad smile, Dilyara Kenzhegaliyeva is a walking advertisement for her native Kazakhstan. She speaks glowingly of her hometown, Karaganda, “a not-so-big town near the country’s capital, which is why it’s beautiful and famous.” Well, relatively famous in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Kenzhegaliyeva is one of 10 Kazakhs attending the Language Academy this year. Since 1993, the country has sent hundreds of students abroad on Bolashak (“future”) Presidential Scholarships. Kenzhegaliyeva snagged this scholarship right out of high school – one of only two women to do so – thanks to her strong performance in math, physics and chemistry. She is on track to study engineering and hopes to be admitted to the USC Viterbi School of Engineering after sitting for her TOEFL and SAT exams. Though she dresses as fashionably as any native Southern Californian on a shopping spree at the Beverly Center, Kenzhegaliyeva will return to the Kazakh steppes when her education is complete. There, she will don a greasy hard hat, gloves and apron to work the oil rigs of her country’s booming state-owned petroleum industry. Under the terms of her scholarship, she will be obliged to do

Norio Kaji MacIsaac explains. “Many of them have never written a paper in English, let alone the other stuff.” But they soon would. This particular class is earmarked for a cohort of internationals who, come fall, would start graduate studies in communication management through the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. Each year, USC receives more than 7,000 students from abroad (almost one-sixth of the student body). For some of these students, academic ability may be on target, but English usage falls short. Enter USC’s two English as a Second Language (ESL) programs: the American Language Institute (ALI) and the Language Academy.

28

U S C T r o j a n Fa m i ly m a g a z i n e winter 2011

so for five years. Not many women do this kind of work in her homeland. “Usually they marry first, then have children, then maybe a job,” Kenzhegaliyeva says. Increasingly, Kenzhegaliyeva looks to American women as her role models. She says she is impressed by what she has seen, in terms of their grit and professional know-how. Such inspiration has come in handy at times. “Taking grueling exams, coming to a new country, missing my home – it’s been a lot,” she admits. “But still, I can do this!” When asked what professional qualities she hopes to bring home from the United States, she says: “I want my co-workers to think I’m tolerant, honest and trustworthy. I don’t want them to lie to me, so I can’t lie to them.” While she’s here, Kenzhegaliyeva wants to see many of the sites both on and off the usual tourist map. She has already walked the streets of Hollywood – and found them disappointing. “Everything was so dirty,” she complains. Still on her to-do list are New York City and the Grand Canyon. Her No. 1 destination, though, is definitely off the beaten track: Kenzhegaliyeva hopes to tour one of the many oil refineries that dot Southern California’s coastline.

Dilyara Kenzhegaliyeva The former, founded in 1959 and run by the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, offers ESL courses for academic credit. It is required for matriculated USC undergraduate and graduate students who score below six (on a seven-point scale) on the ALI-administered International Student English placement exam. Approximately 1,000 students take this test every year, and more than 600 of them end up receiving instruction at ALI. The program also offers advanced electives in academic and spoken English as well as dissertation writing. Additionally, in collaboration with USC’s Center for Excellence in Teaching, it provides a weeklong training session for all new international teaching assistants.

The Language Academy fills a different niche. Founded in 1993 in affiliation with USC’s Rossier School of Education, it provides academic English and English for professional advancement, and it prepares students for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and other standardized tests, such as the International English Language Testing System, the GMAT and the GRE. Available year-round and open to anyone, the Language Academy hosts nearly 800 internationals each year, hailing from more than 30 countries. Students can enroll in one of two six-week summer sessions and 14-week fall and spring sessions, receiving 18 to 21 hours a week of intensive English instruction, including oral skills

classes and language labs. “I’m always excited to welcome our Language Academy students,” says education dean Karen Symms Gallagher. “USC Rossier prides itself on its global engagement, and I know what a unique and positive experience it is for these young people to immerse themselves in our language and culture to enhance their academic and career pathways.” Beyond the basics of American English usage, students get drilled in business English, project presentation skills, and the proper format and style of the American essay. Politics, history and culture are woven into the program, and so are field trips across the Southland. A Fourth of July outing to the

Hollywood Bowl – to see fireworks and hear power-pop band Hall & Oates – was this summer’s highlight. Different students come for different reasons. About a third come just to learn English, either for personal or career-enhancement reasons. Twenty percent will later transfer to programs at other universities, colleges or language programs. Almost a third come through special one-year master’s cohort tracks, which run in conjunction with several university academic units. In addition to USC Annenberg’s Master of Communication Management and Master of Strategic Public Relations programs, there are tracks for students in the International Public Policy and Management (IPPAM)

program at USC’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development, the Summer Law & English program at the USC Gould School of Law, and the International Business Education and Research (IBEAR) MBA program at the USC Marshall School of Business. (Enrollment in the Language Academy is, in many cases, a prerequisite for admission into these programs.) It isn’t easy catering to so many different types of students at so many different English-learning levels coming from such a variety of lands, cultures and educational backgrounds. Indeed, cultural differences in learning styles occupy a fair portion of Language Academy director Kate O’Connor’s time and attention. She points to instructor

U S C T r o j a n Fa m i ly m a g a z i n e tfm.usc.edu

29


No jacket, no tie, no bowing at the waist. For a Japanese businessman, Norio Kaji is disarmingly informal in his flip-flops, formfitting T-shirt and loosely slung student bag. Having been a buttoned-down manager not long ago, Kaji is digging the mellow SoCal existence. This isn’t Kaji’s first experience in America. “I was working for six months in the accounting department of a private cable company in Colorado,” he explains. Sent by his Japanese employer as a management trainee, he had to abruptly return when the parent company sold its interest in his firm. By then Kaji had developed a taste of the United States, and with the advice of his Colorado co-workers, he quit his cable job and applied to USC Marshall’s IBEAR program. Despite his already top-notch spoken English, Kaji’s admission was contingent on a refresher course at the Language Academy. He could have chosen a Japanese MBA program, but opted instead for a school with a global reputation and an international student body. Back in Colorado, he had been struck by the way his colleagues communicated. “So many of my American co-workers with MBAs not only knew how to do business and manage people efficiently, but

they knew how to discuss and argue effectively, something we don’t see in Japan a lot,” Kaji says. “Sometimes it’s hard to decide anything in Japan because it’s all about consensus, so a company will lose opportunities while trying to make decisions.” After graduating from USC Marshall, Kaji hopes to find work in a multinational communications company in Japan. Once there, he’ll try to change the rigid Japanese management culture little by little, from the inside. “I’m not sure if it’s possible, but I’m looking forward to facing this challenge,” he says. Kaji is delighted by the many cultural differences he encounters here. “L.A. is a much more international city than where we lived in Colorado,” he says. “I thought at first this is another country, with so much Spanish!” When he goes to sporting events, he finds the crowd almost as interesting as the game: “Watching the people cheering, shouting and drinking beer. So exciting!” he says. Even a walk in the park is a cultural eye-opener. “When my wife and I go out with our baby in the stroller, people take so much care for the baby, asking questions,” he says. In Japan, strangers keep much more to themselves. “Here we get to talk to them. It’s fun.”

With her pretty, moon-shaped face and broad smile, Dilyara Kenzhegaliyeva is a walking advertisement for her native Kazakhstan. She speaks glowingly of her hometown, Karaganda, “a not-so-big town near the country’s capital, which is why it’s beautiful and famous.” Well, relatively famous in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Kenzhegaliyeva is one of 10 Kazakhs attending the Language Academy this year. Since 1993, the country has sent hundreds of students abroad on Bolashak (“future”) Presidential Scholarships. Kenzhegaliyeva snagged this scholarship right out of high school – one of only two women to do so – thanks to her strong performance in math, physics and chemistry. She is on track to study engineering and hopes to be admitted to the USC Viterbi School of Engineering after sitting for her TOEFL and SAT exams. Though she dresses as fashionably as any native Southern Californian on a shopping spree at the Beverly Center, Kenzhegaliyeva will return to the Kazakh steppes when her education is complete. There, she will don a greasy hard hat, gloves and apron to work the oil rigs of her country’s booming state-owned petroleum industry. Under the terms of her scholarship, she will be obliged to do

Norio Kaji MacIsaac explains. “Many of them have never written a paper in English, let alone the other stuff.” But they soon would. This particular class is earmarked for a cohort of internationals who, come fall, would start graduate studies in communication management through the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. Each year, USC receives more than 7,000 students from abroad (almost one-sixth of the student body). For some of these students, academic ability may be on target, but English usage falls short. Enter USC’s two English as a Second Language (ESL) programs: the American Language Institute (ALI) and the Language Academy.

28

U S C T r o j a n Fa m i ly m a g a z i n e winter 2011

so for five years. Not many women do this kind of work in her homeland. “Usually they marry first, then have children, then maybe a job,” Kenzhegaliyeva says. Increasingly, Kenzhegaliyeva looks to American women as her role models. She says she is impressed by what she has seen, in terms of their grit and professional know-how. Such inspiration has come in handy at times. “Taking grueling exams, coming to a new country, missing my home – it’s been a lot,” she admits. “But still, I can do this!” When asked what professional qualities she hopes to bring home from the United States, she says: “I want my co-workers to think I’m tolerant, honest and trustworthy. I don’t want them to lie to me, so I can’t lie to them.” While she’s here, Kenzhegaliyeva wants to see many of the sites both on and off the usual tourist map. She has already walked the streets of Hollywood – and found them disappointing. “Everything was so dirty,” she complains. Still on her to-do list are New York City and the Grand Canyon. Her No. 1 destination, though, is definitely off the beaten track: Kenzhegaliyeva hopes to tour one of the many oil refineries that dot Southern California’s coastline.

Dilyara Kenzhegaliyeva The former, founded in 1959 and run by the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, offers ESL courses for academic credit. It is required for matriculated USC undergraduate and graduate students who score below six (on a seven-point scale) on the ALI-administered International Student English placement exam. Approximately 1,000 students take this test every year, and more than 600 of them end up receiving instruction at ALI. The program also offers advanced electives in academic and spoken English as well as dissertation writing. Additionally, in collaboration with USC’s Center for Excellence in Teaching, it provides a weeklong training session for all new international teaching assistants.

The Language Academy fills a different niche. Founded in 1993 in affiliation with USC’s Rossier School of Education, it provides academic English and English for professional advancement, and it prepares students for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and other standardized tests, such as the International English Language Testing System, the GMAT and the GRE. Available year-round and open to anyone, the Language Academy hosts nearly 800 internationals each year, hailing from more than 30 countries. Students can enroll in one of two six-week summer sessions and 14-week fall and spring sessions, receiving 18 to 21 hours a week of intensive English instruction, including oral skills

classes and language labs. “I’m always excited to welcome our Language Academy students,” says education dean Karen Symms Gallagher. “USC Rossier prides itself on its global engagement, and I know what a unique and positive experience it is for these young people to immerse themselves in our language and culture to enhance their academic and career pathways.” Beyond the basics of American English usage, students get drilled in business English, project presentation skills, and the proper format and style of the American essay. Politics, history and culture are woven into the program, and so are field trips across the Southland. A Fourth of July outing to the

Hollywood Bowl – to see fireworks and hear power-pop band Hall & Oates – was this summer’s highlight. Different students come for different reasons. About a third come just to learn English, either for personal or career-enhancement reasons. Twenty percent will later transfer to programs at other universities, colleges or language programs. Almost a third come through special one-year master’s cohort tracks, which run in conjunction with several university academic units. In addition to USC Annenberg’s Master of Communication Management and Master of Strategic Public Relations programs, there are tracks for students in the International Public Policy and Management (IPPAM)

program at USC’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development, the Summer Law & English program at the USC Gould School of Law, and the International Business Education and Research (IBEAR) MBA program at the USC Marshall School of Business. (Enrollment in the Language Academy is, in many cases, a prerequisite for admission into these programs.) It isn’t easy catering to so many different types of students at so many different English-learning levels coming from such a variety of lands, cultures and educational backgrounds. Indeed, cultural differences in learning styles occupy a fair portion of Language Academy director Kate O’Connor’s time and attention. She points to instructor

U S C T r o j a n Fa m i ly m a g a z i n e tfm.usc.edu

29


Director Kate O’Connor and immigration and admissions adviser Gilbert Cho of the USC Language Academy

MacIsaac’s level six USC Annenberg cohort class, composed almost entirely of Asian women. Though these students all possess advanced English skills, drawing them out isn’t easy. “In some cultures, there’s a natural reticence to offer opinions,” O’Connor says. “It can be a real challenge that goes on all semester: fear of making mistakes, lack of comprehension, sometimes feeling the need to defer, due to gender. So we’ve developed a whole list of strategies.” For example, she says, breaking classes down into smaller groups. Warming to the subject, O’Connor delivers a little cross-cultural grammar lesson. “In Arabic, for example, there is no ‘to be’ verb. In our beginning level class, that’s a whole new concept. Some students are really puzzled by that. But when they get it, the door opens, and there’s that ‘aha’ moment. It’s very grand, indeed, when that happens,” she says. One might wonder, in these wired-up times when it’s easy to download a digital book, buy a Rosetta Stone CD or peruse the BBC Learning English website, is it really necessary for internationals to come all the way to Los Angeles to become fluent? Many say yes with their feet, despite the Language Academy’s not-inconsequential fees. The

30

U S C T r o j a n Fa m i ly m a g a z i n e winter 2011

six-week summer sessions are $2,800, while 14-week semester sessions cost $5,350, not including housing, meals or transportation. How do they afford it? “Some students are government-sponsored by companies or ministries of education,” O’Connor explains. “Some are wellto-do. But the majority are self-paying and come from cultures where entire families will pool resources to get them over here.” She recalls one student, a young Saudi Arabian man, who’d lost both parents in a car accident and was left to care for a disabled brother. “This guy had tremendous fortitude,” O’Connor says. “Both he and his brother were driven to learn the language.” He persisted for two years at the academy. In recent years, the demographics have been changing. Whereas the academy used to attract mostly undergraduate applicants, these days it sees far more students preparing for graduate study in the United States. “This may be due, in part, to increased efforts by universities overseas to enhance English-language and undergraduate programs in general, in an effort to capture a greater percentage of their own 18- to 22year olds interested in English,” explains Gilbert Cho, the Language Academy’s immigration and admissions adviser. “At the same time, foreign governments and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] have increasingly invested in scholarships to support workers who seek advanced training abroad in science, technology, engineering and math fields,” Cho says. Upon graduation, these students will return home to work in professions that support national and community development, infrastructure improvements and education reform. Cho notes that the Language Academy has seen this trend particularly among students from Libya and Saudi Arabia. The global economic downturn actually works to their advantage. Exchange rates are favorable for the majority of internationals, who come primarily from China, Taiwan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. Recently there has been an uptick in science and technology students from Kazakhstan. This summer saw 10 of them at the Language Academy, all here on government grants. Banish any associations with Borat. The Kazakhs are “the new nerds on campus,” says Language Academy student Dilyara Kenzhegaliyeva, in wonderfully idiomatic English. “All we do is study and nod, passing each other in the library.” There’s nothing provincial about them.

“At home, we only have organic food,” notes Kenzhegaliyeva, expressing disapproval of the junk food and hamburger joints ubiquitous to Los Angeles. Many of her countrymen say they miss their native cuisine, which normally includes a lot of beef prepared in spices they can’t name in English. When asked at the opening day picnic in July how they fill the void, several brightly chirped in unison: “Chipotle!” referring to the popular burrito franchise. Homesickness can be intense for international students. They beat it by spending quality time with peers in student housing – for those lucky enough to get the assignments. There aren’t enough spaces to accommodate every Language Academy attendee: Only 40 can live on campus. The cultural adjustments can be equally stressful. O’Connor tells of an excursion to a Lakers game and a close encounter with the largerthan-life Jumbotron. During a break in the game, two Korean students – just classmates sitting next to each other – were shocked when the ’tron captured them from on high during the popular “Kiss Me” diversion. The crowd spontaneously started to cheer, egging the two on, demanding some public display of affection. “They were completely embarrassed,” O’Connor recalls. “Should they shake hands? Hug? Kiss?” Finally, with great hesitation, he gave her a friendly peck on the cheek, to the approving roar of the stadium. They immediately sent photos home to friends and family, their 15 seconds of fame. “We see this kind of thing a lot,” O’Connor says. “Students can be utterly baffled by certain customs, games, expressions. But they learn fast and are often happy to do so.” O’Connor finds it interesting when Saudi nationals come to the program as a couple. While the women, most of whom wear headscarves, don’t exactly let their hair down, they do start to become more vocal in a coeducational classroom, which is completely new for most of them. This is not to say that the international students embrace America uncritically. Many comment on how rampant homelessness is in Los Angeles and wonder why nothing can be done about it. But in the next breath, they’ll express enthusiasm for American individualism, the American style of teaching and anti-rote methods of learning. l

››

SEE MORE PHOTOS FROM THIS FEATURE at tfm.usc.edu/gained-in-translation

Mazin Alahmadi With his gleaming-white smile, Mazin Alahmadi would make a first-rate recruiter for USC and the Language Academy. “They give us motivation to be excited!” he practically yells in ringing endorsement. A popular student, he participated in every activity available during the first summer session, even winning an award for his editing of the academy’s student newspaper. Alahmadi comes from Saudi Arabia, attending USC on a government-sponsored scholarship through his employer, King Abdulaziz University, where he is an instructor in industrial engineering. Now he’s at USC for a yearlong English course at the Language Academy, which he hopes to use as a springboard for admission to USC Viterbi’s doctoral program in industrial engineering. His classroom experiences in America already have made quite an impression. “The teaching style is especially so different,” he says in still-evolving English. “At home, as a teacher, I explain. You just sit and listen. It’s traditional.” Attending the Language Academy has emboldened Alahmadi to dream of being a change agent. Upon returning home, he hopes to move his country’s rigid academic culture away from rote learning to a more integrative style, with lots

of back-and-forth between teacher and student. “Things are changing in Saudi Arabia,” he says, with a wink and a nod. “I will change what I can; other more traditional methods will change with time. I will start by asking the director of the university to make all the courses more interactive. If he says no, I will simply start in my department.” Changes in educational style are only the beginning. Speaking of the “limitation on technical innovation in my country,” he tells of a computer scientist who, after five years wasted in fruitless pursuit of government funding for his research, was so discouraged that he took his own life. “We have to take the lead as pioneers on these things,” Alahmadi insists. In his domestic life, Alahmadi has already begun to plant the seeds of change. Anticipating that his wife would join him in America to pursue advanced training in nutritional analysis, Alahmadi started preparing her for the transition back in July. “I started to give my wife ideas on the phone about what will happen,” he says. “I need to prepare her. I’ve made a lot of friends with both boys and, yes, girls, too – which is not usual in Saudi Arabia. She says she can imagine our lives as more modern. I know she will adjust to this,” he says confidently.

If you have questions or comments on this article, go to tfm.usc.edu/mailbag

U S C T r o j a n Fa m i ly m a g a z i n e tfm.usc.edu

31


Director Kate O’Connor and immigration and admissions adviser Gilbert Cho of the USC Language Academy

MacIsaac’s level six USC Annenberg cohort class, composed almost entirely of Asian women. Though these students all possess advanced English skills, drawing them out isn’t easy. “In some cultures, there’s a natural reticence to offer opinions,” O’Connor says. “It can be a real challenge that goes on all semester: fear of making mistakes, lack of comprehension, sometimes feeling the need to defer, due to gender. So we’ve developed a whole list of strategies.” For example, she says, breaking classes down into smaller groups. Warming to the subject, O’Connor delivers a little cross-cultural grammar lesson. “In Arabic, for example, there is no ‘to be’ verb. In our beginning level class, that’s a whole new concept. Some students are really puzzled by that. But when they get it, the door opens, and there’s that ‘aha’ moment. It’s very grand, indeed, when that happens,” she says. One might wonder, in these wired-up times when it’s easy to download a digital book, buy a Rosetta Stone CD or peruse the BBC Learning English website, is it really necessary for internationals to come all the way to Los Angeles to become fluent? Many say yes with their feet, despite the Language Academy’s not-inconsequential fees. The

30

U S C T r o j a n Fa m i ly m a g a z i n e winter 2011

six-week summer sessions are $2,800, while 14-week semester sessions cost $5,350, not including housing, meals or transportation. How do they afford it? “Some students are government-sponsored by companies or ministries of education,” O’Connor explains. “Some are wellto-do. But the majority are self-paying and come from cultures where entire families will pool resources to get them over here.” She recalls one student, a young Saudi Arabian man, who’d lost both parents in a car accident and was left to care for a disabled brother. “This guy had tremendous fortitude,” O’Connor says. “Both he and his brother were driven to learn the language.” He persisted for two years at the academy. In recent years, the demographics have been changing. Whereas the academy used to attract mostly undergraduate applicants, these days it sees far more students preparing for graduate study in the United States. “This may be due, in part, to increased efforts by universities overseas to enhance English-language and undergraduate programs in general, in an effort to capture a greater percentage of their own 18- to 22year olds interested in English,” explains Gilbert Cho, the Language Academy’s immigration and admissions adviser. “At the same time, foreign governments and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] have increasingly invested in scholarships to support workers who seek advanced training abroad in science, technology, engineering and math fields,” Cho says. Upon graduation, these students will return home to work in professions that support national and community development, infrastructure improvements and education reform. Cho notes that the Language Academy has seen this trend particularly among students from Libya and Saudi Arabia. The global economic downturn actually works to their advantage. Exchange rates are favorable for the majority of internationals, who come primarily from China, Taiwan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. Recently there has been an uptick in science and technology students from Kazakhstan. This summer saw 10 of them at the Language Academy, all here on government grants. Banish any associations with Borat. The Kazakhs are “the new nerds on campus,” says Language Academy student Dilyara Kenzhegaliyeva, in wonderfully idiomatic English. “All we do is study and nod, passing each other in the library.” There’s nothing provincial about them.

“At home, we only have organic food,” notes Kenzhegaliyeva, expressing disapproval of the junk food and hamburger joints ubiquitous to Los Angeles. Many of her countrymen say they miss their native cuisine, which normally includes a lot of beef prepared in spices they can’t name in English. When asked at the opening day picnic in July how they fill the void, several brightly chirped in unison: “Chipotle!” referring to the popular burrito franchise. Homesickness can be intense for international students. They beat it by spending quality time with peers in student housing – for those lucky enough to get the assignments. There aren’t enough spaces to accommodate every Language Academy attendee: Only 40 can live on campus. The cultural adjustments can be equally stressful. O’Connor tells of an excursion to a Lakers game and a close encounter with the largerthan-life Jumbotron. During a break in the game, two Korean students – just classmates sitting next to each other – were shocked when the ’tron captured them from on high during the popular “Kiss Me” diversion. The crowd spontaneously started to cheer, egging the two on, demanding some public display of affection. “They were completely embarrassed,” O’Connor recalls. “Should they shake hands? Hug? Kiss?” Finally, with great hesitation, he gave her a friendly peck on the cheek, to the approving roar of the stadium. They immediately sent photos home to friends and family, their 15 seconds of fame. “We see this kind of thing a lot,” O’Connor says. “Students can be utterly baffled by certain customs, games, expressions. But they learn fast and are often happy to do so.” O’Connor finds it interesting when Saudi nationals come to the program as a couple. While the women, most of whom wear headscarves, don’t exactly let their hair down, they do start to become more vocal in a coeducational classroom, which is completely new for most of them. This is not to say that the international students embrace America uncritically. Many comment on how rampant homelessness is in Los Angeles and wonder why nothing can be done about it. But in the next breath, they’ll express enthusiasm for American individualism, the American style of teaching and anti-rote methods of learning. l

››

SEE MORE PHOTOS FROM THIS FEATURE at tfm.usc.edu/gained-in-translation

Mazin Alahmadi With his gleaming-white smile, Mazin Alahmadi would make a first-rate recruiter for USC and the Language Academy. “They give us motivation to be excited!” he practically yells in ringing endorsement. A popular student, he participated in every activity available during the first summer session, even winning an award for his editing of the academy’s student newspaper. Alahmadi comes from Saudi Arabia, attending USC on a government-sponsored scholarship through his employer, King Abdulaziz University, where he is an instructor in industrial engineering. Now he’s at USC for a yearlong English course at the Language Academy, which he hopes to use as a springboard for admission to USC Viterbi’s doctoral program in industrial engineering. His classroom experiences in America already have made quite an impression. “The teaching style is especially so different,” he says in still-evolving English. “At home, as a teacher, I explain. You just sit and listen. It’s traditional.” Attending the Language Academy has emboldened Alahmadi to dream of being a change agent. Upon returning home, he hopes to move his country’s rigid academic culture away from rote learning to a more integrative style, with lots

of back-and-forth between teacher and student. “Things are changing in Saudi Arabia,” he says, with a wink and a nod. “I will change what I can; other more traditional methods will change with time. I will start by asking the director of the university to make all the courses more interactive. If he says no, I will simply start in my department.” Changes in educational style are only the beginning. Speaking of the “limitation on technical innovation in my country,” he tells of a computer scientist who, after five years wasted in fruitless pursuit of government funding for his research, was so discouraged that he took his own life. “We have to take the lead as pioneers on these things,” Alahmadi insists. In his domestic life, Alahmadi has already begun to plant the seeds of change. Anticipating that his wife would join him in America to pursue advanced training in nutritional analysis, Alahmadi started preparing her for the transition back in July. “I started to give my wife ideas on the phone about what will happen,” he says. “I need to prepare her. I’ve made a lot of friends with both boys and, yes, girls, too – which is not usual in Saudi Arabia. She says she can imagine our lives as more modern. I know she will adjust to this,” he says confidently.

If you have questions or comments on this article, go to tfm.usc.edu/mailbag

U S C T r o j a n Fa m i ly m a g a z i n e tfm.usc.edu

31

"Gained in Translation" - Trojan Family Magazine 2011  

For the 800 international students who pass through USC's Language Academy each year, intensive English study opens eyes, ears, mouths and m...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you