Japanese University Students Learn English and U.S. Culture at CSI

This summer, the College of Staten Island’s Center for International Service has been working diligently to make the world a little bit smaller. The Center has hosted four groups of university students from Hong Kong, China, and Japan, and one group of middle school technology teachers from Spain, who are visiting the College and New York City to improve their English language skills, but also to learn U.S. culture or sharpen their professional skills.

The latest group, who will be visiting until the end of this month, consists of 24 students from Meiji University in Japan who are immersing themselves not only in the English language, but the culture of the five boroughs of NYC.

Mitsuki Murakami, who is studying English and Japanese Culture back in Japan, comments that in New York City, “everything is really big and different from Japan–the people, the culture, and also the climate. I’m impressed and really excited.”

Kanto Kumaya, a Global Japanese Studies student, who says that he has experienced rural areas and Manhattan on his visit, so far, notes that “I think it is very good to see both the countryside and the big city, so this experience is very good for me.”

Another English and Japanese Culture student, Saeko Inoue, says that New York City is “so exciting and awesome. I want to speak English very well and because of my experience I can maybe become a good English speaker.”

According to Ann Helm, director of the Center for International Service, “this ‘American Language and Culture Program’ focuses on communication skills and English for academic purposes as well as American language and culture. Students study four days a week and explore the five boroughs of the city in specially designed “English in Action” excursions. There is an American culture seminar that helps to integrate their experience with knowledge and analysis.” The Hong Kong programs also had a service learning component.

Two instructors, Shari Friedman and David Bridston, are teaching English to the students, while the Center’s Deputy Director, Barbara Clark, serves as the instructor for the Cross-Cultural seminar, which she developed based upon the book, American Ways: A Guide for Foreigners in the United States, by Gary Althen, a former mentor of hers back at the University of Iowa.

“The course,” Clark explains, “is designed to not only go over ideas presented in Gary’s book, but also to engage students in discussions about what they are experiencing here in New York. Since students live with host families in Staten Island, there are usually a lot of good examples from their homestay experience to use as a basis of the cross-cultural differences between Japanese culture and the U.S.”

As for the importance of combining a cultural component to language instruction, Clark notes, “As with any language learning, culture is a key component to that experience. In other words, both language and culture go hand-in-hand…Students are expected to improve their English-language skills, but also the adaptation skills required to live in and adjust to a new culture other than their own.”

The Meiji group is the last of five groups that the Center has hosted this summer, joining other groups that have come to campus over winter break or in past summers. Both Joanne Riggio, the Academic Coordinator of the English Language Institute at CSI, and Clark, who also coordinates the program with the help of staff from the Center, are hopeful that the programs will continue. “These are our first two years,” Riggio explains, “and so far, so good. We hope to continue our partnerships [with institutions abroad] and it’s been a positive experience overall. The students are having fun, and they’re getting not only the academics–the English language proficiency skills–but they’re also getting that cultural component, which many other places don’t offer.”

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