New Program Gives Language Learners a Jumpstart

Danielle McColgan ’14
Contributing Writer

As the nation continues to recognize an increasingly globalizing 21st century, a new international education program has emerged to keep Smith at the forefront of the surge.

Beginning in July, the Office of Nondegree Programs will unveil a pilot program for girls around the world who are still mastering English and are interested in pursuing an undergraduate degree in the United States.

The program seeks to bridge the gap for students who are exceptionally bright, but who want to sharpen their English language and critical thinking skills before navigating the complex discourse of the United States educational system.

This four-week program, designed in partnership with the International Language Institute located in downtown Northampton, will combine English language learning instruction with cultural immersion activities.

According to Sarah Craig, the director of the Office of Nondegree Programs, the typical day of a program participant will include English language instruction in addition to writing and speaking intensive classes designed to enhance students’ critical thinking skills.

“I think that just being in this atmosphere and getting a feel for what it’s like [is helpful]; it’s partially the academics of it and [partially] just getting ready to learn English in this setting,” said Rosamond Hayden ’15, a student worker in the Office of Nondegree Programs. Preparing students to access higher education in the United States is not only about increasing English language skills, but also about enhancing cultural literacy. To address the cultural immersion aspect of the program, Hayden noted that “In the afternoons we’ll encourage students to go downtown, and we’ll take short trips together. On the weekends we will do local excursions.” Visits to New York City, the Berkshires and other northeastern cultural centers will be planned in order to give the students a chance to experience American culture. The students will also have the opportunity to participate in college tours at other schools located in the Northeast, such as Harvard, MIT and the schools in the Five College Consortium.

The program is designed to benefit girls who have mastered the “basics” of the English language and each applicant must include their TOEFL score along with their application. According to Craig, since it is difficult to gain access to the TOEFL test in certain parts of the world, “we decided on using an online application where we ask them to write an essay, and we’re also going to do a Skype interview just to make sure that they’ve mastered the basics.” This, she argued, ensures that all students, regardless of access to TOEFL testing, have an equal chance at gaining admission to the program.

Once the students arrive in July, it is hardly difficult to imagine the types of issues that may arise. As they balance working 20 hours a week on English language learning, interacting with other students and Smith staff and navigating the American cultural landscape, issues of homesickness and culture shock may become some students’ reality. As such, ensuring students feel comfortable and supported during their four-week stay in Northampton is a priority of the program.

Smith’s partnership with the International Language Institute serves not only to strengthen the effectiveness of their ELL curriculum, but also to ensure they have staff equipped to deal with students’ personal issues. The Institute focuses on cultural immersion, especially for people who are working in an international context on a short-term basis. The program coordinates have also been closely consulting with Associate Dean of International Students Hyrar Tamzarian to create an effective orientation and support system for students from all backgrounds.

Under Carol Christ’s presidency, Smith has expanded its efforts to become a campus with a global focus. Craig hopes the program will allow Smith to continue this precedent as a leader in global education by encouraging more internationl students to consider. “For someone growing up in China or Qatar, the idea of coming to Smith cold may be just too much,” she said. “But if they came here for four weeks and got to know us and the area, they could turn around and start considering us for undergraduate studies.” The Office of Nondegree Programs has already received inquiries about the program from students in Iraq, Russia and China, and are expecting even more. Indeed, the future of the program seems as bright as its prospective students.


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