At the peak of the summer holiday, I and other Arryman fellows arrived in Evanston and started to settle in for our new chapter at Northwestern University (NU). Classes don’t normally start until September, but we arrived early to participate in two programs to help us transition into American educational culture: The International Summer Institute (ISI) in August and an English as Second Language (ESL) intensive tutoring in July. So, starting from the first week, we took daily ESL lessons from Jen, a tutor from NU’s Linguistics Dept.
The ESL class was actually more like a small workshop than a course. We were practicing our English by discussing topics and chatting actively, rather than attending a one-way lecture or seminar. Jen has designed a syllabus around several topics: conversation, pronunciation, writing, and culture, equipped with a set of assignments to help us prepare. The cool thing from this course—which sets it apart from other typical ES L courses—was that we were not forced to achieve any particular expected learning outcomes. Instead, we set our own personal goals in this training and we are working to achieve those using the materials and lessons provided. Therefore, the schedule and lessons were subject to change, based on our needs and progress.
I like this method because I think it’s important for the learner—in this case myself and other fellows—to challenge ourselves in an individualized measurement. We might use different expression and our goals varied. So, it made more sense to evaluate our own progress than comparing our progress to those of other fellows.
The ESL courses lasted for three weeks in total. In the first week, we listed a set of achievable individual goals for this ESL and ISI. Each of us also took general assessment of conversational, writing, reading, and pronunciation skills. The first week was basically about the introduction to American academic and social culture. We were talking about culture shock, general do’s and don’ts in various social context and academic integrity in Northwestern University. At the end of every week, the course took place not in the classroom, but in a coffee shop. The coffee shop meeting was helpful to get us familiarized with Evanston neighborhood and also get us accustomed to etiquettes in the US—such as tipping culture, customer-service interactions, coffee-shop talks, etc.
In the second week, we were more focused on discussing about academic life as a graduate student at an American university. We practiced and worked on basic skills required in educational situation, such as reading and identifying key information, writing summaries, organizing arguments, presenting opinions. One of the remarkable activities for me was a three-way debate (pro, con, and indifferent) about a particular topic. After that, we were asked to write our genuine opinion (not the one of our stance in debate) in an editorial article. Those exercises were not only exciting, but also comprehensive and useful in boosting our skills in analyzing, speaking, writing, as well as presenting arguments.
What we had in the final week? An exam? Nope! You should not expect any test or so in this course. However, we did have a review and evaluation for the past three weeks in the last day meeting—on which I was absent due to sickness. Besides that, we also covered additional skills required in academia, for example focus group discussion, short speech, definition and concept development, as well as peer-review process.
Overall, the ESL intensive course was truly a fun and collaborative learning experience. It was meant to be some sort of a prep-class before we embark on the upcoming academic year. I like that the tutoring session was not only a great place to learn English but also to bring fellows close to each other. A perfect warm-up, no?