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What U.S. colleges are doing to help you understand study options during Covid-19

It’s safe to say that 2020 has been a year many would rather soon forget. But if you have been planning for months if not years of leaving your home country for a higher education experience abroad, this year represents a truly unique time. This fall, U.S. colleges across the country are making plans for several different versions of what the new normal of instruction and campus life will be. From your destination college or university, to an in-country pre-departure orientation, to the required immigration documents recommended by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the resources exist to help you travel to the U.S. like a pro.

Connect with college international office staff

I asked several U.S. institutional representatives about how they are responding to the impact of Covid-19 for international students hoping to study at their colleges, and here are a couple of the responses:

Cathy Knudson, East Carolina University, North Carolina
“We have a standard communication plan explaining basic remaining steps and arrival guidance; however, it mostly directs them to contact us to discuss their situation. We are doing a lot of individual outreach via WhatsApp to explain the options students have for enrollment and what steps to take. A lot of attempts to ease anxiety.”

Kara Wagner, Calvin University, Michigan
“We have created emails and a website with arrival information for incoming students. We are also holding an option of online or on campus for those that can get a visa in time or are in the States currently. We have asked students to arrive on campus August 14 for August 22 orientation but are prepared to work with them on arrival dates. We do not have many students who are able to arrive on campus this fall.”

No one can provide you, as a new incoming international student, all the details you will need to know about getting ready for life at your college as well as the international student office can. It is vital that you maintain close contact with your university in the weeks leading up to arrival and orientation.

Consult local pre-departure experts

While your U.S. college knows everything you need to know about what to bring for your studies, how to get to campus, and what to do once you arrive, others closer to you can assist you in getting ready mentally for your journey. The U.S. Department of State’s EducationUSA network of over 400 advising centers in 170+ countries provides pre-departure workshops for international students preparing for their arrival. These sessions are all virtual meetings at present and may attract between 20 and 300 people getting ready to travel.

Comprehend required immigration documents

By now you realize the most significant step to realizing your study abroad dream in the United States is the last one: immigration control.

Before you arrive, make sure to review the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s useful Study in the States site, in particular the Preparing For Your Trip to the United States page. On this site, the team at U.S. Customs and Border Patrol outline all the relevant documents (and where to keep them) as you travel to the United States. The best advice recommends that you carry with you on the plane the most essential documents you will need: academic transcripts, passport, I-20, admission letter, financial documents, contact information for the international student office at your college, and any medicines you need.

In the end, your success shortly after you arrive at your college or university will depend on how well you have prepared.

The View From Campus: Research Liberal Arts Colleges in the U.S.

This month we hear from Matthew Beatty, Director of International Admissions and Financial Aid, at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, on the important topic of researching college options as an undergraduate student.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?

A: Vibrant, friendly, and academically inquisitive.  

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?

A: The College is best known overseas for delivering high-quality academic programs and generous scholarship awards.  The Concordia Language Villages – which are cultural and language immersion programs offered in the north woods of Minnesota – are also popular programs for students both locally and globally.

Q: What are your top academic programs?       

A: The most popular undergraduate programs at Concordia are Biology, Business Management, Computer Science, Music and Psychology

Q: How does your institution use an IELTS result in the admission process?

A: International students whose native language is not English must demonstrate proof of English proficiency for admission to Concordia College. One of the most popular standardized exams for meeting the language proficiency requirement is the IELTS exam. Applicants who successfully earn a 5.5 (or higher) on the IELTS exam, and meet all other admission standards, may be admitted to the College.

Q: What is the most significant challenge most international students have when considering the U.S. for post-secondary education?

A: Culture shock.  Once the excitement of studying in the U.S. fades, most international students suddenly find themselves struggling with local customs and new ways of living.  They become fatigued with speaking in a different language, eating different food, socializing in a new manner, and adjusting to new classroom expectations. Fortunately, Concordia College offer lots of support to new international students including a Center for Student Success, International Student Advisor and Holistic Health Center.

Q: How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for study?

A: The process leading up to studying abroad can be lengthy.  Students and families need time to research institutions, gather academic documents, save money and submit application material far in advance.  They’ll also need ample time to apply for a student visa and say good-bye.  Therefore, I recommend prospective students begin the planning process at least 12 months prior to their anticipated departure date.

Q: What factors should students use to narrow their range of choices from over 4000 accredited colleges and universities down to a manageable shortlist of institutions?

A: To narrow their range of choices and help find the “best fit” institution, I suggest the following three strategies:

  1. Academic Program(s): Try to narrow down your list of potential colleges by only looking at those that provide your preferred academic program (or major) – and excels in areas related to that program.  If you haven’t decided on a major yet, then consider 4 or 5 academic programs that sound intriguing to you while leaving yourself some room to explore. 
  2. Size: The size of your college will impact your educational experience.  A large school means lots of people to socialize and interact with and larger class sizes.  Larger institutions also offer an abundance of co-curricular programs. 
    On the other hand, smaller schools often provide a closer relationship with you and your professors because of their smaller class sizes and individual level of academic accountability. 
  3. Cost: The most common perceived barrier for international students is the cost of studying in the United States.  However, if you devote sufficient time to the research process and consider a wide range of U.S. colleges and universities, I’m optimistic you’ll find one that meets your budget. 

Q: If international students come across self-described “liberal arts colleges” in their search what do they need to know about these institutions?             

A: Prospective students should keep the following in mind as they do their college research and consider liberal arts colleges. 

1.  Undergraduate Focus: There are approximately 200 private, liberal arts colleges in the U.S.  The majority of these colleges only offer undergraduate programs. This means faculty, staff and administrators at liberal art colleges focus 100% of their time and energy on the undergraduate student experience – inside and outside of the classroom. 

2.  Holistic Education: Liberal arts colleges allow students to explore a variety of disciplines. Unlike some academic programs at larger universities, their course requirements are not as regimented.  This means liberal arts students have the flexibility to study multiple disciplines simultaneously, or even two majors, while still graduating in 4 years.  At Concordia College, nearly ¼ of our students will double major and 91% graduate in 4 years.

3.  Generous Financial Aid: Because the majority of liberal arts colleges are private institutions, their “sticker” price is often higher than public universities.  Fortunately, many liberal art colleges offer very generous financial aid packages.  Their competitive merit-based and talent-based scholarships will significantly lower the net price.  This means students will pay about the same, or possibly less, out of pocket to attend a private liberal arts college than a public university.   

Q: What kinds of students can be successful or “good fits” for liberal arts colleges in the United States?

The undergraduate experience at Concordia College is distinct.  There is a lot of camaraderie that happens, especially the first year.  For example, all new students are assigned to a “Club” during New Student Orientation.  They will also participate in a campus-wide service project early on in the first semesters.  Programs like these create a very close-knit community for students, staff and faculty.  As such, liberal arts colleges like Concordia can be a great fit for students who will be living abroad for the first time.  The friendly environment and camaraderie allows new students to quickly find their niche on campus. 

Also, students seeking a more personalized educational experience where they can be actively involved in different activities, including music ensembles, research opportunities and study away often thrive at liberal arts colleges because of their stature.   

Improving Intonation (Part 1)

A key pronunciation feature that helps you convey your thoughts and feelings with precision is intonation. In its simplest sense, intonation can be described as the melody of spoken language, i.e. the rise and fall in your voice when you speak. The focus here is on how we say things, not what we say.

It goes without saying that the concept of intonation is common to all languages; yet not many pay attention to this area while they speak, as they are so caught up in choosing the right words to express what they want to say. What they don’t realise is that intonation can be as important as word choice if not more.   

Why improve intonation

Here are a few good reasons why it is worthwhile to work on your intonation:

  • Bettering your understanding of intonation helps you become a skilled communicator.
  • Failing to use intonation could mean that listeners may soon lose interest in what you’re saying and switch off.
  • Getting your intonation patterns wrong might give rise to misunderstandings, with listeners even taking offence.
  • Not having enough awareness of intonation can impair your listening comprehension too, as you’re likely to misinterpret what others say.

Types of intonation

Here are some common intonation patterns found in English speech.  

  1. Falling intonation
    In this type, you drop the pitch of your voice at the end of the sentence. This pattern is usually found in:
  • statements
    E.g. I’m going for a stroll on the beach.
  • commands
    E.g. Get your hands off my coat!
  • wh-questions that seek information
    E.g. What’s your name?
  • question tags that invite agreement
    E.g. It was such a lousy film, wasn’t it?

2. Rising intonation
In this type, you raise the pitch of your voice at the end of the sentence. This pattern is generally found in:

  • yes/no questions
    E.g. Do you like my newdress?
  • question tags that seek an answer
    E.g. You haven’t had a fight with Tom,have you?

We’ll be back with more in the next part. Meanwhile, think about whether your pitch goes up and down when you speak in English.

Pitfalls to Avoid in IELTS Letter Writing (Part 1)

Letter writing may be a dying art, but even today a well-written note can leave a lasting impression on the reader. No wonder then that letter writing skills are still in demand.

In IELTS General Training Writing, one of the tasks to complete is a letter that may be personal, semi-formal, or formal in style. The test taker is presented with a situation and asked to respond to it, writing a minimum of 150 words.

Now, writing a letter isn’t exactly rocket science, but if not careful, you could easily lose marks in a test. Here are some pitfalls to avoid when you attempt the letter writing task in IELTS.

1. Purpose is unclear

Written without clear intention, a letter can leave the reader somewhat confused. They may come across a lot of information yet not understand what it is that the writer wants to achieve in the first place. So, read the task carefully so as to identify its requirements, including the main purpose. In IELTS, you’re likely to encounter common, everyday situations that require you to do some of the following: apologise to someone, enquire about something, make arrangements, invite someone, complain about someone or something, and explain something.

On beginning your response, use the first couple of sentences to make it clear why you’re writing. For instance, in a formal letter, beginning with a phrase such as I’m writing to… can make the purpose clear right from the outset.

2. Inappropriate tone

Sometimes test takers get the style of writing horribly wrong, using an inappropriate tone to compose the letter. A personal letter, for example, may have too many words and phrases that sound formal, or grammar structures that indicate a high degree of formality. In IELTS, use of inappropriate tone invites an immediate penalty, which would subsequently affect you overall writing score.

Naturally, it pays to think about who you’ve been asked to write to and how well you are supposed to know them. This should help you decide what style of writing would be appropriate. Once you identify the right tone, keep it consistent throughout the letter to achieve the desired effect on the reader. 

We’ll be back with more advice to help you avoid some of the most obvious pitfalls in letter writing.

Train Yourself to Read Faster (Part 3)

Image courtesy of Sam Greenhalgh via Flickr (2.0)

 

So far in the series, we’ve discussed three things you should do and one you shouldn’t in order to read faster. Here are a couple more things to avoid.

 

Don’t sub-vocalise

Have you ever caught yourself pronouncing words quietly in your head while reading a text?

This habit of saying words in our mind as we read them is called sub-vocalising.

When we first begin to learn to read as children, we do so by saying words out aloud. This practice improves both comprehension and diction. As we grow older, we learn to be silent while reading, but the habit of pronouncing words one by one sort of stays with us. The difference, of course, is that by then it’s all done in our head.

There’s no doubt that vocalising text helps comprehension, but it also slows us down terribly, so it’s best to kick the habit.  One effective way to overcome this is to move the pointer faster than the speed at which you hear words in your mind.

 

Don’t re-read everything

Do you sometimes go back to a sentence you’ve just read and double-check to see if you’ve understood it correctly?

Don’t worry if the answer is ‘yes’, you’re not alone here.

When doing a reading exercise, however, fight the urge to re-read, because it may be a total waste of time. Instead, wait till you finish reading an entire section before you choose whether or not to go back to a sentence.

You’ll find that reading some more of the text can help you understand without having to re-read that first sentence.

 

Remember to follow these dos and don’ts, and you should be able to read faster with better comprehension.

 

GLOSSARY

The View From Campus: Finals in the USA

University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

 

In this month’s edition, Dr. Mandy Hansen, Director of Global Engagement, at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, explains some of the more striking differences about academic life at U.S. colleges and universities.

 

Q. Describe your institution in 5 words?

A. Innovative, scenic, caring, safe, and inclusive.

 

Q. What is your institution best known for overseas?

A. We have strong innovation programs and community relationships that complement our academics. For example, UCCS collaborates with the government entities on the National Cyber Security Center and is involved in a unique project with the US Olympic Committee as Colorado Springs is the Olympic City.

 

Q. What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?

A. Business, Engineering, the Arts and Sports related program (like a sports management program for golf and soccer)

 

Q. What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?

A. India, Saudi Arabia, China, Spain, Canada/Kuwait are tied for fifth

 

Q. How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process? How valuable a tool is it in evaluating prospective students?

A. IELTS is used for admission into our undergraduate and graduate programs. We have a baseline score that is required for admission into our degree programs. We use the test as a predictor for academic success in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. These are skills that our students need for success and to feel comfortable with as many classes are focused on group work, note-taking, and interactions that require fluency on all levels.

 

Q. What is finals week at U.S. colleges and universities like?

A. It is a time that many offices on campus pull together to offer support to their students. Here at UCCS, we assist our students during this stressful time by having a free breakfast for students to make sure they are nourished and energized for their studies and keep the library open for longer. These are a pivotal effort to assist in the students’ success.

 

Q. How do finals exams differ from what most international students experience in their home countries?

A. Finals exams abroad are often the only contributing factor to a students’ grade. However, in the United States most classes give a final grade based upon a variety of activities ranging from group work, class attendance, presentations, exams, and papers.

The final exam, which may even be a final paper, lab report, or presentation, is one part of a student’s grade. Therefore, it is essential that international students attend each class and keep up with the assignments that are due throughout.

 

Q. Is it true that how well a student participates in classroom discussions is often a portion of a student’s final grade for a class?

A. The U.S. classroom often includes group work and interactions between the instructor and other students. This type of interaction is fostered when a student enters elementary or primary school as a child.

Collaborative activities and team projects are the norm and are often values that an employer will want from employees. Having confidence in speaking up, participating, and being involved is essential for success.

Six Ways to Improve Your English Pronunciation (Part 3)

Image courtesy of Jamelle Bouie via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

So far in the series, we’ve spoken about four pronunciation features that a learner should try to improve – individual sounds, word stress, sentence stress, and weak forms. Let’s now explore two more such features.

 

5. Chunking

Ever heard of the word chunk? In a very general sense, it means a piece of something larger.

While speaking, it’s important that we package what we say for the listener so that they are not overwhelmed by too much information. And chunking helps you do just that! Breaking up long sentences into smaller chunks helps the listener understand better.

For instance, if someone were to ask you for your phone number, how would you like to give it to them?

Method 1

9876543210

Method 2

98 (pause)

765 (pause)

432 (pause)

10

Obviously, any listener is likely to find the second method easier, because the pauses in between help them take in information more easily. Now, let’s take this approach and apply it to a sentence.

Text

Did you know that London is the capital of the United Kingdom and has one of the largest immigration populations in the world?

Text with chunking

Did you know (pause)

that London is the capital of the United Kingdom (pause)

and has one of the largest immigration populations in the world?

 

6. Intonation 

In simple terms, intonation can be described as the music of a language when spoken. The rise and fall of the speaker’s voice changes the meaning of what is being said.

As you can see, in the first example, use of a rising intonation signals that speaker B is excited, whereas the falling intonation in the second example indicates displeasure or disappointment.

Use of appropriate intonation patterns does matter a lot, especially when asking questions, ending a sentence, using question tags, expressing feelings, or contrasting two things.

Without it, you run the risk of giving listeners the impression that you are not confident or not in control of what you are saying.

Remember, read up on these pronunciation features, introduce them while speaking, and you’ll start sounding better and better.

How Punctuation Can Improve Your English Writing (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Emily Mathews via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the first part, we looked at two of the most widely used punctuation marks: full stops and commas.

This week’s post explores some less common ones, starting with the exclamation mark (!)

 

Exclamation

Originally known as the note of admiration, an exclamation mark (also known as an exclamation point) is used to show strong forms of emotion: excitement, surprise, pleasure, anger, etc. It can also accompany words that represent sounds, or appear at the end of short commands.

Used Example
at the end of a short word or phrase that expresses an emotion: Look out!
Ow! That really hurt!
after a word that represents a sound: Bang!
at the end of a command: Stop!

 

Question mark

As the name suggests, question marks go at the end of direct questions. Another use is in question tags, where a short question phrase is added at the end of a sentence to check if it is correct. Question marks are also sometimes added within brackets to signal that the writer is doubtful about what has just been said.

Used Example
at the end of direct questions: Where were you born?
at the end of a question tag: You eat red meat, don’t you?
to express doubt: They say operating the new machine is quite easy (?).

Remember, you should not add a question mark after an indirect question. For example:
He asked me where I was going. ✔ (He asked me where I was going?)

 

Hyphen

The most important function of the hyphen is to link words or parts of words. Though its use has become less common over time, a hyphen is almost unavoidable when there are certain types of compounds (having two or more parts) in use.

Used Example
in compound adjectives: a custom-made car
when two nouns (e.g. court martial) are turned into a compound verb: to court-martial someone
when a phrasal verb (e.g. to break up) is turned into a noun: The break-up left him shattered.

Despite being one of the most important features of written English, punctuation is often taken lightly by most people; but skilled use of punctuation can help take your written English to the next level.

Deike’s Story: Feeding My Passions

Deike Rosenbusch

 

Last week, IELTS Award winner, Deike from Germany shared her experiences of using English to travel and work around the world. This week, she tells us about her passion for sport.

 

Deike: My passion is sport climbing which is a form of rock climbing that relies on permanent anchors fixed to the rock. We usually climb between 10 to 30 metres high, always on a rope with a partner.

 

I like the physical challenge of it, but also the mental challenge, because there’s always the risk of falling. But if you get into it and manage to climb all the way up, it’s the best feeling.

 

I love to climb all over the world and have some friends who share the same passion. Last year, we went to Thailand and Laos to climb and I’ve been travelling (and climbing!) throughout Europe with my boyfriend.

 

Now in London, I got a membership at a local climbing gym and enthusiastically joined the ‘parkrun’ initiative – a 5 km run every Saturday in most of the parks of the city. It is a great way to do sport and get to know British people.

 

Looking into other possibilities for runs in London, I stumbled across the ‘Cancer Research UK Tough 10’, a 10 km run in Epping Forest in the north of London. This is a charity run to gather donations to support cancer research. I signed up and joined the fundraising activities connected with the run. Although not easy at first, I was able to raise money to support this good cause.

 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who supported me, especially the British Council Germany who generously contributed the biggest amount to this! The run itself was a great experience and even though walking was rather painful for a couple of days afterwards, I am sure to sign up to the next ‘Tough 10’.

 

GLOSSARY

rely (on something/one)
Form : verb
Meaning : To depend on someone/thing 
Example : I know I can always rely on my friends
when things get hard.

 

enthusiastically
Form : adverb
Meaning : in a way that shows spirit, enjoyment or approval
Example : Sally was enthusiastically cheering her team on.

 

initiative
Form : noun
Meaning : A project to tackle a problem or improve a situation
Example : Global health initiatives aim to wipe out infectious diseases

 

How Punctuation Can Improve Your English Writing (Part 2)

In the first part, we looked at two of the most widely used punctuation marks: full stops and commas.

 

This week’s post  explores some less common ones, starting with the exclamation mark (!)

 

Exclamation

Originally known as the note of admiration, an exclamation mark (also known as an exclamation point) is used to show strong forms of emotion: excitement, surprise, pleasure, anger, etc. It can also accompany words that represent sounds, or appear at the end of short commands.

 

Used Example
at the end of a short word or phrase that expresses an emotion Look out!

Ow! That really hurt!

after a word that represents a sound Bang!
at the end of a command Stop!

 

Question mark

As the name suggests, question marks go at the end of direct questions. Another use is in question tags, where a short question phrase is added at the end of a sentence to check if it is correct. Question marks are also sometimes added within brackets to signal that the writer is doubtful about what has just been said.

 

Used Example
at the end of direct questions Where were you born?
at the end of a question tag You eat red meat, don’t you?
to express doubt They say operating the new machine is quite easy (?).

 

Remember, you should not add a question mark after an indirect question. For example:

He asked me where I was going. ✔ (He asked me where I was going?)

 

Hyphen

The most important function of the hyphen is to link words or parts of words. Though its use has become less common over time, a hyphen is almost unavoidable when there are certain types of compounds (having two or more parts) in use.

 

Used Example
in compound adjectives a custom-made car
when two nouns (e.g. court martial) are turned into a compound verb to court-martial someone
when a phrasal verb (e.g. to break up)  is turned into a noun The break-up left him shattered.

 

Despite being one of the most important features of written English, punctuation is often taken lightly by most people; but skilled use of punctuation can help take your written English to the next level.

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