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.
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.
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.
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.
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.