Part 2: Play Hard! ISI Social Events

The journey to find a new home might be disorienting, especially when we finally face culture shock and feel disconnected from our surroundings. One of the objectives of the ISI is to ease the transition and help us to negotiate barriers so that we can adjust more quickly. Well, a long list of social activities in ISI actually did the job, because we didn’t have much time to feel lonely.

Some of ISI's social events: Picnic at Botanic Garden (left), Ravinia Music Festival (center), and Bonfire (right)

Some of ISI’s social events: Picnic at Botanic Garden (left), Ravinia Music Festival (center), and Bonfire (right)

Of the 18 social events organized by the ISI, I enjoyed three activities the most: Culture Night Presentation and Dinner, Dinner at the Sims, and Boat Tour & Navy Pier.

Culture Night Presentation and Dinner

During Culture Night, students of the same nationality worked together to create a presentation about their culture for the rest of the ISI students and the staff. We were sharing not only our cultural uniqueness but also our traditional foods as part of a potluck dinner. For the presentation, the three of us from Indonesia decided to talk about the rites of passage. We presented and performed three ceremonies in Indonesia, including Mitoni, a Javanese baby shower to celebrate the 7th month of pregnancy; Lompat Batu (Stone Jumping), a Sumatran tradition that marks male adolescence; and Ngaben, the cremation ceremony of Balinese-Hindu society.

Mass performance of Turkey's dance (Picture courtesy of Yoes Kenawas)

Mass performance of Turkey’s dance (Picture courtesy of Yoes Kenawas)

Potluck dinner after the cultural presentation (picture courtesy of Yoes Kenawas)

Potluck dinner after the cultural presentation (picture courtesy of Yoes Kenawas)

Boat Tour & Navy Pier

Chicago is a haven for an architect, as the city holds the prominent status in the history of modern architecture and features many buildings designed by renowned architects such as Louis Sullivan, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Fazlur Khan. I think this is one of the most recommended things to do in Chicago, as people kept telling me to take the architectural boat tour. Well, I’m glad that I didn’t miss it. Shoreline Sightseeing guided our tour. For around 75 minutes we cruised along Chicago River and learned about several landmarks and skyscrapers that were built along the river, such as Marina City, Tribune Tower, Trump Tower and many more.


Architectural boat tour along the Chicago River

CCIS Dinner at the home of the Sims Family

One of the strengths of the ISI is that this program is not only supported by academics at Northwestern University, but also by the Community Council for International Students (CCIS). CCIS is a volunteer group that helps international students to feel that they are welcome to the US through a variety of activities such as foster family and home stays, conversation partners, international women’s group, and children’s playgroup. We were invited to have a dinner with the members of CCIS at the home of Greta and Ron Sims at 3015 Normandy Place. In fact, Home Alone 3 was filmed in this neighborhood, and the house itself was in the movie. We held a barbeque in their backyard, and put an end to the dinner by watching a football game in their TV room.


Dinner at the Sims family

Over the past few weeks, I have met many extraordinary people in the ISI and have built friendship with them. It is amazing that we have become friends in such a short time. As we ended this program, I would like to thank the entire staff and fellow students of ISI, who have walked with me and have allowed me to get to know them. My first (and I hope not the last) summer in the United States has been defined by the people in the ISI and the wonderful time that we had together. My home feels closer. For that, I am grateful.

-Wara Urwasi-

Part 1: ISI and Hello America!

Some people say that home is where the heart is. It is not just about the sense of belonging to a place or a person, but also following our bliss, doing what we like. Sometimes, “walking home” involves moving to another country, adopting a new culture, and speaking a foreign language. This process would be easier if we had a guide and a friend to accompany us in this journey.

Perhaps this is the primary role of the International Summer Institute (ISI); not only to ease the transition of international students to life in the United States, but also to help them feel that they belong in their new home.


It was a pleasure for me to get the opportunity to join the ISI as part of EDGS Arryman Fellowship Program, together with 45 other students from 14 countries. The program provided intensive English lessons, introduction to American culture, advice for settling into the US, and events for socializing with other ISI students. To me, there are three elements that define the ISI: instruction + social events + integration.


In his speech at the ISI Banquet at the end of our program, one of our friends, Walther Rodriguez, reminded us about the power of language. In his words, “language is a door.” This door can take us to another world, to really see each other, to communicate, and to perceive others with empathy.

Language is the essence of the ISI. And during this program, I had the opportunity to attend English classes such as Conversation and Presentation, Test Preparation, and Pronunciation. We then divided into groups, and I was taught by David Potter and Mike Frazier, graduate students in the Department of Linguistics. I appreciate that the instructors were able to deliver such academic topics in a relaxed setting. For example, in Conversation, we discussed a lot of subjects ranging from greetings to dating, from small talk to academic presentation, as well as the do’s and don’ts in American culture. In addition, I received one-on-one tutoring from Dr. Kenneth Konopka. This experience was indeed a privilege because it is a rare opportunity for students like us to work privately with a professor from the Department of Linguistics.



The integration aspect of the ISI program encompassed Practica, Integration Issues Conference, and Learn by Doing Workshops. The Practica sessions led by Lisa Del Torto helped us to find our physical homes. She guided us in apartment hunting and interacting with landlords and roommates. She also gave us information on transportation, health and counseling, shopping, and travelling in the US.

The Integration Issues Conference was the highlight of the ISI program. We attended discussion forums about academic culture such as the way to work with advisors and faculty, teaching assistance, and academic integrity. We also had a chance to present our research in front of other ISI students and staff members, and we received feedback from them.

From the various options for the Learn by Doing Workshops, I chose Improv Class, even when I was definitely sure that I don’t have the comedy skills. At first, I thought I had made a mistake! It took a lot of courage to give a spontaneous performance in front of many people. But thanks to our Improv instructor, Mike Frazier, I really appreciate the lesson I got from this workshop. Through a lot of games and activities, such as warm-ups, character building, and scene performance, I learned that the key point of Improv is not trying hard to be funny. Instead, it is understanding the other players, accepting their ideas, and working together to create a scene or performance. Basically, as Improv players, we have to let go our selfishness, trust our “partner in crime,” and just have fun!


(Continue to Part 2: Play Hard! ISI Social Events)

-Wara Urwasi-

The 2014 International Summer Institute Program

Before the Fall Quarter of 2014/2015 academic year kicks off, EDGS signed me up to attend a full four-week program organized by Northwestern University’s International Summer Institute (ISI) from July 28 to September 4. The program was filled with both serious and fun activities for effective North American English learning, and moreover, adapting to U.S. culture and academic standards. This year’s instruction was rather special because it not only consisted of the most fun cohort of 46 international graduate students, but also marked the 15th anniversary of ISI.

Perhaps it was part of ISI’s tradition to divide the program into 5 main sessions: English Class Instruction, Practica, Learn-By-Doing Workshop, Social Events,and Integration Conference. The following points were based on my personal experience with ISI.


English Class Instruction

The entire group was divided into 8 small groups of 5-6 students based on the results of their SPEAK Test (taken on the first day of ISI). Conversation class was conducted in the morning, whereas SPEAK Test Preparation and Pronunciation classes were held in the afternoon. My instructors were PhD candidates in Linguistics, David Potter and Michael Frazier (Mike). One challenging task from David’s instruction was the day which each of us had to introduce a specialized term in our field of study to fellow classmate from a different field within one minute only. This activity proved the effectiveness of direct feedbacks from peers, judging from the gradual improvements shown in the following 2-3 performances from each classmate. The most challenging task from Mike’s instruction was to debate on controversial issues. The task not only required us to take sides, but also persuade classmates from the opposing side to agree with my standpoint. In addition to the twelve-hour per week of classwork, I was entitled to receiving extra and private instruction by Lisa Hesterberg, also a PhD candidate in Linguistics. She was my tutor of 30-minute sessions for consultations on Tuesdays and Thursdays to improve my speaking and writing skills. My sessions with Lisa tremendously helped me in preparing my presentation better for the ISI Integration Conference.

Joint classes instructed by D. Potter and M. Frazier

Joint classes instructed by D. Potter and M. Frazier

Pronunciation Class

Pronunciation Class


During Practica, ISI’s Assistant Director Lisa Del Torto led the instruction about day-to-day basics for living in the U.S. Each session covered different topics such as tips on apartment hunting, on-campus health services, preparing for the winter, transportation, home and personal security, and many more. Guest speakers from the Northwestern Police Department, Sexual Harassment Prevention Office, and ISI Alumnae were regularly invited to speak and directly answer any questions from the class. Practica had served me well in planning my needs to settle down in Evanston.


Learn-By-Doing (LBD) Workshop

Each student may choose only one of the available eight workshops: coffeehouse culture, contemporary art, walk the talk, social media, improvisational comedy, food and shopping, games and sports, and digital yearbook. I was very happy to have chosen improvisational comedy (Improv). The skills that I developed from my LBD sessions with the Improv group contributed a lot to the fluency of my presentation during ISI Integration Conference, especially when answering questions after presenting. ISI’s LBD workshop also helped me discover my new interests and passion in theatrical performance and standup comedy.


My Improv Group in action during Coffeehouse Night!

My Improv Group in action during Coffeehouse Night!

Social Events

The number of social events that I joined was large that it seemed impossible for me to write about each and every one of them here. However, one social event that I enjoyed the most was Dinner at ISI Director Julia Moore’s House. Dinner was held outdoors and the weather was just perfect for the combination of good food and company. I was able to meet new people, ranging from Julia’s family, neighbors, to church friends. Furthermore, I was able to apply the things I learned from my previous conversation classes about starting socially acceptable conversations. It was just exciting to be able to expand my network of friends and new acquaintances within few weeks in a completely new environment.

Dinner at ISI Director Julia Moore's House was so much fun and mainly about sharpening our English speaking and social skills

Dinner at ISI Director Julia Moore’s House was so much fun and mainly about sharpening our English speaking and social skills (photo courtesy of Kartikey Sharma)


Integration Conference

This conference had two main structures: discussion panels on academic integrity and culture at Northwestern University and small-scale research presentations. Senior PhD students from various fields of study and faculty/staff were present to give advices on good academic and professional conduct. The discussions were highly important, as they would be useful for graduate students like me who are expected to teach undergraduate students and excel in academia. The second half of the day was the time when I had to give a 10-minute academic presentation to a group of 4 ISI participants from Indonesia, Mainland China, and Turkey, who will be studying political science and sociology. I chose to present my research plan to the group and was very happy to receive quite many questions with both negative and positive feedbacks from peers and moderator Kenneth Konopka.


Colleague Yoes Kenawas presenting his past studies on Political Dynasties in Indonesia.

Colleague Yoes Kenawas presenting his past studies on Political Dynasties in Indonesia.

Colleague Wara Urwasi presenting her past project on Urban Studies.

Colleague Wara Urwasi presenting her past project on Urban Studies.


At the end of ISI, a formal farewell banquet was held to celebrate all participating students’ learning achievements throughout the summer. I had the honor to speak on behalf of my English Class Instruction group on the podium and share about my ISI experience to the audience. The presence of The Graduate School’s dean and other faculty/staff made me extremely nervous but it was good practice for my public-speaking abilities. Fellow ISI students had also been a great support system. In sum, ISI has built a good start for my graduate school life and new meaningful friendships ahead.

The best: ISI Class of 2014!

The best: ISI Class of 2014!

Farewell Banquet

Farewell Banquet


A Tidbit of American Politics

During the period of my one-month commitment with the International Summer Institute’s series of academic English programs, I had a wonderful experience attending an event to meet and greet one of Illinois’ state representatives. Together with colleagues, Yoes from Indonesia and Yi-Shu from Mainland China (PhD candidate in Statistics), we went to a wine store near the Jarvis CTA station, simply 15 minutes away from campus by train. The following post will comment on the organizer, activity, and my post-event reflection based on my field observation.

Meet and Greet with State Representative Kelly Cassidy,” a straightforward name for the event, was organized by Illinois’ state representative Kelly Cassidy herself and her team* to reach out and communicate with her constituents in the 7th legislative district. Representative Cassidy is one of the 71 Democrats in the State of Illinois’ House of Representatives, and this event was part of her efforts to encourage voters in the upcoming November 2014 election to consider the measures and constitutional amendments she has sponsored during her current term. The three things that she sponsored and mainly addressed in her informal speech during the event were health insurance, minimum wage increase, and tax increase for people with higher income to fund better education. Other than legislative updates, Rep. Cassidy also announced a few social activities, including a gardening competition, that were open to the public as part of her efforts to support local schools and her district’s green home initiative.

Before Rep. Cassidy presented her speech, she mixed and mingled with all attendees. The three of us even shook hands with her and we conversed amicably. I found it very wonderful and amazing to be that close to a political figure. She was very passionate about reaching out to the people of her district to let them know what she is actually doing legislatively.

After Rep. Cassidy finished her brief speech on legislative updates, and as more people were starting to taste free and fine wine, a Q&A session was opened. Attendees enthusiastically asked follow-up questions on the issues she raised, mainly concerning minimum wage and taxes. There was also an attendee who conveyed her appreciation for Rep. Cassidy’s achievement in passing a bill that will enable citizens with past criminal records to have equal rights in applying for jobs. Her voice sparked a huge round of applause from everyone present.

From my brief explanation about the main activity of this meet-and-greet, it may seem obvious that I was and still am in awe of the event. I strongly believe Indonesia’s regional representatives should begin taking the same approach as what I experienced on that day. This concrete example of a state representative’s connecting with her people shows one of the effective ways for a politician to build up people’s trust and confidence in the person for whom they voted.

Kelly Cassidy giving updates to attendees in Taste Food and Wine at West Jarvis Ave.

Kelly Cassidy giving updates to attendees in Taste Food and Wine at West Jarvis Ave.

Big thanks to Ms. Pat Ewert, Rep. Cassidy's Community Outreach Coordinator for inviting me to the wonderful event!

Big thanks to Pat, Rep. Cassidy’s Community Outreach Coordinator for inviting me to the wonderful event! (Photo courtesy of Yoes Kenawas)

*I wish to thank Rep. Cassidy’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Ms. Patricia Ewert, for inviting me to the event and for being such an inspiring community leader.


Intensive English Courses

Still within the spectrum of fascination, I would like to discuss one of the many programs and facilities that Northwestern University (NU) offers its students for academic trouble-shooting. Help is always available as long as we go and ask for it. The brief account of my recent activities in the following paragraphs serves to give a clearer picture.

In my first three weeks in Evanston, the Equality, Development, and Globalization Studies (EDGS) program had designed an English as a Second Language (ESL) Intensive Course exclusively for the Arryman Fellows. The course was held on weekdays from 9 am to noon at the homey Buffett Center. Topics being covered were mainly about standard North American English in academic settings and casual daily life. Each attendee received the same amount of attention on our pronunciation, speaking/reading/writing/listening, and discussion skills. More importantly, information about the available resources for enquiries on academic writing, health issues, student life in the US, and sports facilities were also explained in quite a few sessions. I feel very fortunate to have had Kathleen, whose expertise is in speech pathology, as my instructor. She delivered every lesson with enthusiasm and clarity. Also, having Carol as my writing advisor was another advantage. Her being meticulous and firm in stimulating my thoughts to restructure my sentences was one of the many traits that I learned about being an effective instructor from her.

My meetings with Kathleen made me realize one key point: the intense amount of my exposure to North American pop culture is no guarantee for speaking the correct and standard form of English. Rather, my improvement in English relies more on my self-awareness of how I use proper English in my daily conversations and writings.

As a simple example, we may find it easy to memorize and sing English songs almost perfectly like a native speaker of English. However, when it comes to doing ‘elevator pitches’ in semiformal social events, errors occur frequently in terms of grammar or pronunciation, and stuttering. Hence, the first week of the course focused on word stress patterns and pronunciation. It was a memorable experience because I never knew learning English is so similar to learning Mandarin Chinese in comprehending its five basic tones until the day of my first meeting with Kathleen. The second week centered on U.S. academic settings. The four main themes were leading reading discussions, summarizing verbally, paying extra attention to plagiarism, and communicating with colleagues and advisors via e-mail. Last but not least, the third week’s concentration was on evaluating my writing assignments of the previous two weeks and preparing for a few tests that are compulsory for admission to The Graduate School of NU.