Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Beginning Thoughts: Preparing Students to Study Abroad

As I mentioned before, I brought my student some chocolate cookies from Nara; they're called basically "deer droppings" cookies. I took them in today, and told my students that since they'd worked so hard on their papers I'd brought them something from Nara (the packages were in my brief case), and asked someone to volunteer to open them. One of the students did, and when I handed her the package, she instantly recognized it as one of those souvenir packages, and then read out the label (in Japanese) and started laughing. And everyone else laughed, too.

The cookies had chocolate cookie around a small center of chocolate cream. Pretty good (yes, I tried one). And I think the students enjoyed them and enjoyed laughing about them.

We started the second essay today, and did final revision work on the first essay. On Friday, we'll do a proofreading exercise.

I think I've figured out how to make sure everyone knows what to do for the next session (even though it's mostly in the syllabus). I say it in English, and then get someone to translate the most important word into Japanese, so everyone gets that. I'm going to develop one weird vocabulary, though. Today, I learned "hu sen." Yep, you, too, can say "post it note" in Japanese!

I attended a faculty meeting today; they said I didn't HAVE to go, but I was curious (yep, I'm that kind of stupid) and thought it might help me understand how my work here fits the overall picture a bit better. And it was a fairly interesting meeting, and did, indeed, help me see the overall picture a bit better.

In my limited experience, most of the US students I know who've gone abroad have gone where they can take courses in English, though they may also study a second language. So, for example, my American students go to Costa Rica, where they take a class in English about Costa Rican history, and another class about tropical ecology, and a class in Spanish. Or something.

In contrast, the Japanese students from here go abroad to take courses in English (or Spanish, if that's their major). So they really need to have solid English skills to keep up with the conversation in a discussion, to follow lectures, to get through readings, and to do assignments. That's a huge challenge, if you think about it. And from the faculty point of view, it's a challenge to make sure that Host University sends students abroad only after they're prepared enough to succeed abroad in classes in English. And even if a student has the basic language skills, if they choose classes poorly, getting in over their heads in an upper level class they aren't prepared for, they can really get into problems.

Interesting stuff, and important for me to keep in mind as I grade my students and try to help them prepare to study abroad. I may be willing to try different strategies to get information across, but they're unlikely to get that help in a lecture class of 150 students taking intro sociology of something in the states.


  1. Interesting. When I studied abroad in Vienna, I was expected to do all coursework in German. We didn't have the option of taking English-language coursework - well, I suppose I could have found an English-language literature course at the university.

    Maybe I'm biased because of my own experience, but I always felt that those who enrolled in programs to study abroad and take all coursework in their home language are missing a large part of the experience. The people I saw taking part in these types of programs in Vienna were more like extended-stay tourists and often lived in their own little English-language world.

    And I have to say that my Austrian professors were pretty great about working with those of us who weren't native German speakers. Several offered the option of taking oral exams rather than written ones. I think part of it is that they didn't want to read our writing, but they were also able to question us and work through our language issues to see how much we actually learned. But then, I've never seen or heard of a professor in the U.S. offering international students a different exam format.

  2. Good points. I may overestimate the numbers of students who take classes in English (or primarily so). I've never heard of US profs making special exam accomodations for international students; I wonder how many students overall the profs were grading at the time?

    I've only had a few international students; the amusing one was someone from the UK, who took my Shakespeare class. He was a non-English major, so couldn't take a Shakespeare class at home under the UK system.

  3. such an interesting post! love the story of your UK student.

    my daughter is a freshman, studying japanese because she is very set on a year abroad as a junior. she is motivated -- was born in japan [we left when she was still an infant], has studied japanese before, is VERY interested in japanese culture, and even spent a month in japan one summer during HS. becoming proficient enough to take college classes delivered in japanese is going to be a challenge, though.