Summer English Language Programs Prepare International Students for University Life
By Jennifer L. Saunders Summer at Penn: just a relaxing time to catch some rays on College Green, take a summer course with a favorite professor or eat frozen yogurt with friends after seeing the latest blockbuster in the air- conditioned comfort of the new Cinemagic?
Not quite. At least, not for the Fulbright and Edmund S. Muskie/Freedom Support Act fellows, who traveled across the globe to enroll in an intensive summer study through Penn’s English Language Programs (ELP). “The ELP have been around for about 35 years,” said Tom Adams, assistant director for special programs.
While the ELP provide English language and cultural training to interna- tional students throughout the year, the summer months are the most hectic. Eleven programs ran over this summer alone. “We have 37 Fulbright Scholars here for three very, very intensive weeks,” explained Dr. Gay Washburn, Penn’s coordinator of the Fulbright summer study.
This pre-academic orientation introduced the Fulbright scholars to American society and academic life by focusing on three components: academic information, social events and introduction to U.S. culture.
According to Dr. Washburn, the scholars come to the summer program proficient in English, but succeeding at a university in a new country requires much more than a working knowledge of the language. The students were immersed in a study of the new technologies that are central to higher education in this country, such as e-mail, word processing and the electronic library.
The participants also attended seminars on a variety of issues—from a look at ethnic diversity in the United States to a review of recent American history— that were enhanced by trips to the Italian Market, the Reading Terminal and a gospel concert at the University Museum.
“The Fulbright scholars each come from very different backgrounds,” Dr. Washburn said. They traveled from 28 countries—including Botswana, Belize, Belgium and Albania—to study topics ranging from special education and international relations to the works of American author Edith Wharton.
The group had the opportunity to share something of their cultures and learn more about each other in a “show and tell” format, and were given the inside scoop on life at a U.S. university from current Fulbright scholars pursuing their graduate work at Penn.
This summer marked the first year that Penn has hosted a program for Muskie fellows. While the Fulbright program brings students from a variety of countries and backgrounds, the Muskie/FSA fellows all come from the former Soviet Union and the Baltic States. “There are eight to 10 special programs [within the Muskie Fellowship] customized for the needs of the sponsors,” Mr. Adams noted. The scholars at Penn’s summer program studied public administration.
Thirteen women and seven men came from eight former Soviet and Baltic States, including Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine and the Russian Federation. “The participants are brilliant—the cream of the crop in their countries,” explained Felicia Porter, coordinator of the Muskie program.
“This has been a great learning exchange on both sides,” she added, noting that “many people here had never heard of Kazakhstan, Kyrgysztan or Moldova. Now [the Muskie students] have seen our towns, and have given us the opportunity to find their towns on the map.”
While at Penn, the participants in both programs attended language, computer and/or research and presentation skills workshops.
The Muskie and FSA fellows also heard lectures tailored to their study of public administration. Mr. Adams ex- plained that “there are a lot of experts on
the subject” at Penn. The many administra- tors and faculty members who took part in the program included Dr. Stephen Stein- berg, assistant to the president; Dr. James Spady, director of the Fels Center for Government; and Dr. Howard V. Perlmut- ter, professor of architecture and management, who gave a lecture on “becoming globally civilized.”
The scholars also took part in a Municipal Day with a chance to meet Mayor Edward Rendell (C’65), a home- stay in Bucks County, a walking tour of historic sites, a trip to Atlantic City and a farewell party in Chinatown prior to their departure on August 25.
Several Penn students spent the summer as program assistants, providing support to the staff and serving as another resource for the participants. “They do everything imaginable, from preparations before the students arrive to answering their questions once they get here,” Adams said. “We couldn’t do what we do without the help of our program assistants.”
While none of the Muskie fellows will continue their graduate work at Penn, “this summer has been an excellent opportunity for scholarly exchange,” Porter said.
The Fulbright scholars always study at a different university in the summer than the one they will attend during the year. Washburn explained that this gives them “a chance to meet more people and create a network across the country. Often these students will stay in touch for years to come.”
After three weeks in Philadelphia, the participants left to pursue graduate work at universities such as Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Yale and Columbia. As their first host, the ELP helped the Fulbright scholars establish a network of international contacts, gave the Muskie scholars the first tools to help them fulfill the mission of their program and provided both with a foundation of information and experi- ence—all in three short weeks of a summer at Penn.
ALMANAC September 5, 1995