January 28, 2011

Snow is a bonus for Taiwanese students at SIUC

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- “We love the weather.” That’s the first thing Kun-Huang Huarng, professor of international trade at Feng Chia University in Taiwan, said to describe how 21 students from his university are fitting in during their visit to Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

“We don’t have weather like this in Taiwan,” he said, referring to the bit of snow and cold Southern Illinois experienced recently. “They all wanted to see snow.”

The students are at SIUC to improve their English skills, to learn about American culture, and to test the waters to see if they want to come back to the United States for graduate school. They are one of many groups that come annually to SIUC’s Center for English as a Second Language (CESL) program.

The Feng Chia University students are here on scholarships, and they represent a variety of majors from their home university. Some are pursuing business-related degrees, while others are engineering, science, English or other majors. For some of them, this visit will be the trip of a lifetime. For others, this is a scouting trip -- they’ll be back for graduate school.

“We want them to see what it’s like here, can they imagine themselves here living and studying?” Huarng said.

This is Huarng’s first visit to SIUC, but groups of students from Feng Chia visit SIUC regularly. Consistently, they report that the English program is an excellent learning experience, that Salukis and other Southern Illinoisans are friendly and approachable, and that the SIUC campus is beautiful.

Cheryl Ernst, CESL lecturer and point person for the international student groups that come for the program, said friendliness is not a frivolous factor for students coming here from another country.

“They’ll tell me that if they get lost on campus, someone will approach them and offer to help them,” she said. “We actually have to warn them that people aren’t necessarily so friendly or helpful everywhere.”

Huarng said word gets back to the home university about the hospitable SIUC atmosphere, and parents worry less about their children -- even though these are grown children -- going so far from home. The students themselves, he said, feel more comfortable about venturing out into new experiences when they know they will probably encounter a friendly face to help them.

During the several weeks they are here, the students are in class for about 20 hours a week, Ernst said. Besides language acquisition skills, they follow a rigorous syllabus in which they learn about aspects of American culture.

Their non-classroom time is filled with learning experiences, too, but in a more casual way. For example, one of the first fieldtrips was to University Mall in Carbondale.

“They spent a lot at Hollister,” Huarng said. “We don’t have a Hollister. And they eat a lot while they are here.”

Huarng said nearly everything is different for the students while they are here. The food, of course, is very different, he said, and the residence halls are set up differently. In the first week, the students got a look at Southern Illinois landscape with trips to Bald Knob and to Pomona Bridge (cut short due to icy roads), and that was different. So was observing geese and hawks.

As for what is similar -- not very much is, Huarng said. The students will see both a men’s and a women’s Saluki basketball game while here, and Huarng said basketball is popular at home in Taiwan. Other planned trips include Giant City State Park and Lodge and a local winery. This group of students is here through Feb. 12.

Ernst said the students are eager to share their culture while they are here. They hope for conversation partners, and for opportunities to visit area classrooms. Individuals who want the chance to learn about Taiwan and help a student improve his or her English skills, or teachers in area grade, junior high or high schools who would like to invite some international guests, can contact CESL at 618/453-2265.