ELI News

Virtual Fulbright Program Offers Unique Learning Experience

The Fulbright program is a widely recognized and prestigious international exchange program that offers accomplished students and scholars from around the world the opportunity to study, teach, conduct research and exchange ideas. Scholars travel to the United States to immerse themselves in culture, local geography and academics in order to advance their education. The English Language Institute (ELI) at University College (UC) has been the recipient of the Fulbright English for Graduate Studies grant for five years. The grant provides English writing and language skills to students planning to continue their studies in the U.S.

ELI Instructor Constance Walters has a discussion with Fulbright students

ELI Instructor Constance Walters has a virtual discussion with Fulbright students.

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was offered virtually, which meant that students and instructors had to adjust to a new way of learning and teaching. “Although it was certainly a very different experience than in-person classes, I was able to develop relationships with some of my students, particularly through virtual office hours,” says instructor Constance Walters. “I really appreciated and enjoyed that face-to-face time with them and the comments they wrote at the end of the course made it clear that they really appreciated that time, too.”

The high standards set by the instructors at the English Language Institute motivated Nanan Nuraini to learn and participate in each session and assignment. Nuraini lives in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, with her two children. Her husband worked in Africa but returned to Indonesia to take care of their children while Nuraini waits for her visa to be processed for her anticipated arrival in the United States. Nuraini has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Padjadjaran University in Indonesia and a master’s degree in psychology of education from the University of Bristol, U.K. When she arrives in the U.S., she will begin working on a Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Nuraini was grateful to be accepted into the Fulbright program because she knew that developing her English language skills would strengthen her contributions in the field of neuroscience and psychology.  While she said that initially, the virtual learning classroom was challenging, it became easier as the students School of Education to begin a master’s program in instructional design and assessment. She said the virtual ELI program was comparable to in-class instruction. The program was beneficial and gave her the resources she needs for future research. “Learning how to structure a paper, write an abstract and an introduction was really useful,” she says. She also learned about possible funding sources for research projects. Because Tretiakova will continue her studies at Syracuse University, she found the introduction to campus—the library, business incubator and other facilities—will help her feel at home.

“The immersive program is designed to give graduate school students an academic English course as well as an introduction to a broad array of University resources to help them get the most out of their academic experience,” says David Lind, director of ELI. Eight schools/colleges and departments across campus participated in teaching the students about culture, history, diversity and inclusion, and the many resources available at the library.

University College staff held a panel discussion for the students that focused on the history of African American civil rights both past and present. Tyler Bell, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Education, Marsha Senior, director of the HEOP Program and assistant director of student administrative services at UC, and Nichole Henry, UC’s director of admissions, led the discussion. “We utilized visual thinking strategies to analyze a collage of images that have impacted underrepresented and marginalized communities in 2020,” says Bell. “The students thought that this was a very powerful lecture and genuinely learned a lot regarding the historical and contemporary implications of events affecting African Americans as seen through their verbal engagement and continuous comments throughout the presentation.”

composite of students from Indonesia holding up signs that spell out THANK YOU SYRACUSE ELI

Indonesian students created a poster to say “thank you” to the English Language Institute.

Indonesian student Tryanti Abdulrahman thought the panel presentation fit well with her class discussions about slavery in the U.S. “I learned a lot on this topic through the lens of injustice,” says Abdulrahman. “The most provoking part of this topic was when our instructor Connie Walters asked us to connect the story to the history in my country.” As a result, Abdulrahman said she has become more culturally responsive and understands how sensitive the race issue is.

Abdulrahman grew up in Gorontalo, a province on the island of Sulawesi. She now lives in Bekasi, a city in West Java, Indonesia. She earned a master’s degree in multicultural education in foreign language teaching from Ohio State University and plans to complete a Ph.D. in reading and literacy for early and middle childhood education at Ohio State University. “My continued studies would provide me with the knowledge and expertise in reading and literacy as well as knowledge about the world, social relations, identities and power,” says Abdulrahman.

In addition to learning about the history and culture of the United States, the scholars found many other beneficial aspects of the Fulbright English for Graduate Studies program. Tretiakova, who has never studied abroad, found the teaching approach much different than what she experienced in Russia. “It was a very valuable experience,” she says. “The teachers provided a logical and clear framework on what needed to be done and provided different methods for research and the logic of each.”

“I appreciate that our instructors gave us meaningful materials and provided clear instruction. Homework and class activities focused on academic language development while teaching us the academic tools we need,” says Abdulrahman. The program provided training on plagiarism, giving the students a better understanding of intellectual property and how to cite works correctly. “I have learned about plagiarism before but with this instruction, I gained a deeper understanding and passed the plagiarism certification test.”

The students who were interviewed said that the most valuable part of the three-week virtual program was the poster project and presentation that was part of their final assignment. “It required me to study my topic in depth and apply the theories and practices of the English language,” says Abdulrahman.

“While all of the lessons were valuable, I think learning how to create and present a poster was the most beneficial,” adds Nuraini. “I had the opportunity to create a poster in a limited time, using minimal resources and then present it to teachers and fellow Fulbright students. While I was anxious to present it, it was a wonderful experience. I now have all the resources I need to perform my best in the upcoming Ph.D. program at the University of Missouri.”

“The Fulbright Program was a chance of a lifetime for me,” says Tretiakova. “It will allow me to advance and to move to an absolutely new level of professionalism.”

“I want to thank the English Language Institute at Syracuse University for a great program,” says Abdulrahman. “The classes challenged me to think, perform and grow to a higher level. The virtual program offered quality program content and a high standard of excellence. I want to thank my instructors for facilitating such a positive learning environment and teaching me lessons that I will carry over into my life’s journey. They truly made this three-week program one of the best I’ve ever had.”

English Language Institute Provides Training for Medical Professionals from Around the World

Cuban native Yusdanie Fernandez, the son of a farmer and a teacher, lived in small town situated between the mountains and the sea. After completing high school Fernandez graduated from college with a degree in nursing and began his medical career as a neonatal intensive care nurse. Later he became an intensive care nurse in the cardiovascular unit.

In 2015, he completed his studies in medicine and became a doctor. His diploma came with an offer to provide medical services in the Cuban medical missions in Venezuela. “I was in a small indigenous town called San Carlos del Rio Negro,” he says. “It was in the jungle of the Venezuelan Amazon next to the Black River and was only accessible by plane. I was able to learn about the culture of the Yanomami Indians and offer them health services in a small hospital that had an emergency room.”

After a year in the Amazon, Fernandez arrived in Miami, Florida, with the help of a religious organization that assisted immigrants looking to resettle in the United States. He soon relocated to Syracuse with the hope of continuing to work in the medical field. Currently, Fernandez manages an Embassy Suites Hotel while he navigates the process and paperwork necessary to become certified to practice medicine in the United States.

Rosa Gomez

Rosa Gomez received a bachelor of science degree in nursing from Calixto Garcia University in Havana, Cuba, followed by specialized training in the ICU. She earned a master’s degree focused on women’s health and has worked as a nurse for 26 years. Since arriving in Syracuse three years ago, Gomez has been working as a medical assistant with the hope of earning the credentials needed to work as a primary health care nurse.

The dream of becoming a doctor came true for Alexander Gonzalez Delis when he completed his studies at the Superior Institute of Medical Sciences in Santiago de Cuba. With two post-graduate degrees in family and one in ophthalmology, Delis worked in three different countries before coming to the United States. His exemplary work as a doctor earned him honorary citizenship in Brazil.

These three individuals and 11 others are sharpening their English language and written skills at the English Language Institute (ELI) through a partnership between University College and Le Moyne College. The Welcome Back Center at Le Moyne is part of the national Welcome Back Initiative which addresses the need for more culturally and linguistically diverse health professionals living in Central New York. The center was made possible through the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation Grant, which helps re-train foreign medical professionals.

Jordan Burns, the recruitment specialist in the ELI, says that the relationship with Le Moyne College was established to develop pathways for students to complete English language training to prepare them for college and careers. “Because of our existing relationship with Le Moyne, they requested we partner with them to provide training to these medical professionals,” says Burns. “We were able to develop an appropriate course of study for the students, test them and enroll them in a matter of weeks.”

“The purpose of the center is to help these students get re-certified in the United States so they can practice medicine again,” explains Liz McCaffery, director of the Welcome Back Center. “Developing the students’ English language skills is an integral part of their success and preparedness. The certification process is very complicated and expensive. If our students don’t speak English well, it’s difficult to navigate.”

Alexander Gonzalez Delis

McCaffery says that immigrants who want to become medical doctors in the United States have to register with the U.S. government as a foreign student through the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECSMG). “The registration process can be cumbersome and there are a lot of steps.”

Delis says that despite his current medical skills, it’s been very difficult to join the health system in the U.S. “Since I’ve arrived in Syracuse, I’ve been searching for opportunities to improve my skills,” say Delis. “The programs at Le Moyne and Syracuse University are making it possible to pursue my goals.”

Olga Oganesyan, assistant director of the ELI, says the participants are taking their learning experience very seriously. “The exam the students are required to take to practice medicine in the U.S. covers not only medical knowledge and terminology, but language skills as well,” she says. “The students are doing very well and are active participants.”

ELI instructor Michelle Sands says that the students are working to overcome barriers such as spelling, pronouncing and writing medical terms in the English language. While her students from Cuba spent several years studying English in medical school, they didn’t anticipate moving to the United States and therefore, did not always retain all of the information.

Sands’ students agree that reading comprehension is a difficult part of the medical board exam, specifically extracting the necessary information to finish within the time limit. “The students in my class are doctors or registered nurses,” explains Sands. “Their ultimate goal is to become certified to practice medicine in the United States.” The English language instructors at the ELI use a variety of strategies to help them achieve that.

“I’m very excited to be receiving this training that will open doors for me to continue to dedicate my life to health care,” says Fernandez. “My experience at the English Language Institute has given me resources I didn’t have.” He says that the ELI instructors consider the various cultures of their students when teaching them the different and rules of language. Other students in the program are from Haiti, Congo, Rwanda and Dominican Republic.

There are many aspects of living in the United States and Central New York that the medical professionals appreciate. Fernandez loves living in Syracuse where the lakes and forests are enhanced by the rich history of the region.

Rosa appreciates visiting downtown during the summer while working to obtain the tools she needs to become a nurse. Gonzalez says that being part of Syracuse University is one of the best things that has happened in his new life in America.

Each one of them appreciates the opportunities afforded them through the programs offered at Le Moyne College and University College’s English Language Institute.

COVID-19 Impacts American Experience for International Students

ELI instructor teaching onlineThey traveled to the United States from seven different countries to learn English in an academic setting at Syracuse University’s English Language Institute (ELI). Socialization and cultural immersion are a significant part of the program, but beginning on March 23, more than 60 ELI students from across the globe lost those features of their American experience.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students and instructors had to change the way they learn, teach and socialize. Instead of visiting Niagara Falls and other local landmarks that are highlights of the ELI’s program, students are isolated in dorm rooms and off-campus housing. Only four of the ELI-enrolled students were able to return to their home country before the borders were closed to international travel.

In an effort to adhere to the social distancing directives from the Governor of New York State, ELI instructors had to deviate from their standard teaching practices in creative ways and keep the students engaged in order to minimize their restlessness and loneliness. The international students had to adjust to the and the absence of interaction with fellow students who understand what it is like to be away from their home country.

“Many students express their disappointment that their long-awaited ‘American experience’ has been altered and expectations lost because of social distancing and shutdowns,” says ELI instructor Rebecca Mindek. “But it amazes me that, at the same time, they still remain thankful for the quality of instruction they are receiving through online learning.”

ELI instructor David Patent says research shows that learners who exhibit strong self-efficacy are more likely to adapt to online learning than those less confident or with less experience monitoring their own learning. “That certainly has been the case in my class,” he says. “Those students who stay organized and asked clarifying questions generally perform as well or better in an online format than in the face-to-face classroom.” Patent said that while moving to an online format of learning was highly disruptive, he found that the good habits many students started to develop during the first half of the semester or previous semesters allowed them to more easily adjust to the change.

“All students are impacted by stress, but theory has proven that a language learner’s success is particularly vulnerable to psychological factors, especially during a disruption such as COVID-19,” adds instructor Amy Walker. “Therefore, low stress is the key.” Walker said that ELI instructors are playing an increased role in managing students’ mental health by fostering conditions that enable them to relax so they can easily participate in and benefit from the institute’s lessons. Creating a discussion board has helped her students and share their feelings about the upheaval in their lives.

Instructor Michelle Sands teaching international students online

Instructor Michelle Sands teaches Accuracy (Grammar) to level 2 students enrolled in the English Language Institute.

Jiacheng Li, from China, said that since classes transitioned to online learning, he has experienced a lot of warmth and kindness from the staff and faculty at ELI. “Every day the instructors ask about the situation of our families in our home countries,” he says. “I really appreciate their efforts and concern and will always remember it.”

ELI instructor Olga Oganesyan says it’s important to help the students adapt to life in the U.S., especially since their experience has been altered. “It is crucial to understand cultural difference,” she says. “Our job is to teach students how to be understood in a new culture.” As an immigrant and a non-native speaker of English, she can relate to her students on a different level. “Telling them stories from my personal experience of adjusting to life in a new culture builds stronger instructor-student connection and motivates the students,” she explained. Oganesyan said that the ELI functions as a home away from home. “Many of our students are young adults that are far away from their families for the first time. Creating a warm and comfortable environment is necessary for their successful adjustment and academic success in the U.S.”

While managing their classwork, connecting with their families is critical and gives students and parents reassurance that they are all safe. Qingqing “Jessica” Hu, from China, connects with her family via phone and video calls on WeChat. “We talk about my studies and what is happening,” she says. “They focus on my and health and remind me to wear a mask when going out.”

“I have always kept in touch with my parents and relatives in my home country,” says Li. Since the pandemic, his contact with them has increased. “I am able to video chat with them each night before I go to sleep. I update them about the situation here in Syracuse and what is happening across the United States.”

As a graduate student, Li does not live on campus, so he no longer has face-to-face contact with the other ELI students. He limits his travel to grocery stores to pick up necessities. “The hardest thing about the past weeks is the need to adapt to the new self-isolated lifestyle.”

Overall, students are managing the adjustment to online learning and the mandate of isolation and social distancing. Patent advises other instructors teaching international students to prepare short, recorded tutorial videos to help them acclimate to the culture of the program. “The videos might introduce syllabi, salient content and language objectives and tips for keeping organized and being responsible for their own learning,” he says. Resources such as these are then available for students to refer back to as needed.

“When the pandemic outbreak came to New York City, Syracuse University responded quickly and immediately formulated safe, thoughtful and effective measures,” says Li. “I’m very grateful for the efforts made by the University and the ELI.” Li says that as a student from China, he knew the severity of the virus that was spreading across the world. “There are no borders when facing a worldwide disaster. Everyone is a part of the same family on our planet,” he says.

Pilot Project Gives Global Access to Student Research

Mai NguyenAs an English teacher in Vietnam, Mai Nguyen knows firsthand the crisis in the education system in her country. Her mission now is to call attention to the issue by bringing awareness to the relationships between teachers, parents and students in order to affect change.

Nguyen, who is a Fulbright Scholar, spent four weeks this summer in the English Language Institute (ELI) graduate studies program administered by University College. When the program required a research project, Nguyen knew exactly what she would explore—“Creating a Happy Educational Environment in Vietnam.” In her presentation, Nguyen talked about the disintegration of the education system due to miscommunication, violence and immense public pressure. Mental health issues, achievement syndrome and suicide among students are just a few of the topics Nguyen highlighted. Her poster project was presented to fellow students, and administrators across campus.

Nguyen is now a graduate student in the School of Education majoring in teaching and curriculum. While her poster project is now hanging in her room, her research has been made available to a global audience through a partnership between the ELI and the Syracuse University Libraries.

SURFACE is an electronic database maintained and run by the Libraries. Its purpose is to utilize open access, a free repository of research articles available to readers across the globe. The database is available to faculty, students, alumni and authors who are, or were, affiliated with the University. “Other databases that are licensed through collections are not available to those who are no longer or have never been affiliated with Syracuse University,” says Amanda Page, open publishing and copyright librarian. She and her colleagues Tarida Anantachai and Deirdre Joyce spent months collaborating with the ELI staff and instructors to develop this pilot project. Graduate students Prathamesh Datar and Euphemia Brewer Fasama also assisted in the development.

“It’s a great resume builder and because the students’ works were published as open access, they will retain all copyright of their posters and research,” says Page. “This project helps the students when they go on to another college or university. It gives them a head start—they’ve done the research, cited their sources correctly and had it published.”

“For international graduate students like Mai Nguyen and her fellow Fulbrighters, providing this opportunity to publish their ideas on a platform like SURFACE is extremely motivating,” adds ELI Director David Lind. “By making these ideas accessible and free to anyone, anywhere in the world, Syracuse University Libraries is doing a great service to international education.”

Nguyen’s first graduate course this semester was Understanding Educational Research. Through her poster project in the ELI, she was able to share what she learned with the hope that one day, she’ll return to Vietnam and contribute something to the educational system. “This project reminds me why I’m here,” she says. “This is a global topic. For many in education, there needs to be mindfulness in teaching, learning and communicating.” Nguyen says that mindfulness is just one of the solutions to a better system of education. “If the people in Vietnam, especially the parents, know about a situation they will have greater awareness of some of the issues students face.”

“Collaborating with the ELI and all of the contributors on this pilot project has been a joy,” says Anantachai, who is an outreach librarian. “It’s been really exciting to come together and expand the scholarly opportunities of this program, and especially to support the inspiring research and contributions of the Fulbright Scholars in the process.”

SURFACE, Syracuse University’s repository for local and global readers, was launched in 2010. Syracuse University Libraries’ Open Publishing Team is committed to providing all students, faculty and staff access to the resources and services needed to publish their research.

The ELI, established in 1979, provides a pathway to achieving English language proficiency. It delivers English courses for many purposes, including academic, business, general and law, and can customize courses for cohorts of students from across the globe.

English Language Institute Students Win Contest and Trip to United Nations

four students standing outside in front of row of international flags
English Language Institute students visited the United Nations where they took a tour. From left are students Mengyao (Wendy) Wang; Junhui (Carol) Yang, Miwa Mashiko and Haohui (Nate) Pan.

Five English Language Institute (ELI) students were among the winners of the Pan Global Challenge, a project sponsored by Blackstone LaunchPad to address the issues of cultural and language barriers between domestic and international students. Students were asked to develop innovative solutions that could be products, services or technologies that lead to better global communication.

ELI students Junhui (Carol) Yang and Haohui (Nate) Pan won first place for proposing that students receive academic credit for joining and participating in Syracuse University clubs and organizations.

ELI students Miwa Mashiko, Mengyao (Wendy) Wang and Merve Gencturk won third place for their idea of creating a Syracuse University dictionary app. The app would allow international students to ask questions about common names or terms on campus, such as “What is HBC Gifford?”

First place students received a monetary award and several winning ELI students traveled to New York City in March for a tour of the United Nations.

Wang says the experience was magnificent, especially seeing the 193 flags on display outside the United Nations building. “I was so proud when I saw my country’s flag,” she says. “I learned a lot from the tour guide, but also from the Syracuse alumna who met us in New York City.”

The students also had the opportunity to view the art collection. Each country is allowed to bestow one gift to the United Nations. The collection represents a diversity of cultures and periods in history. “Gifts included a Peace Bell from Japan, a Buddha statue from Thailand and artwork representing significant and historical events that took place throughout the world,” explains Pan.

Yang was most impressed with the general assembly hall. “Delegates from all over the world gather there to negotiate for the same goals; for peace and a better future,” she says. “In that hall, nobody is mediocre; everyone is equal.”

The English Language Institute (ELI) provides intensive English instruction to international students and visiting professionals at all proficiency levels.