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June 1997 - Issue No. #27 (p.14)
Intensive English Programs (IEP) in North America generally experience their highest enrollments of international students during the summer months. Yet this time period is also the one which sees the fewest American students on campus. As a result, cultural and linguistic interactions with Americans, particularly with minority groups, are likely to be quite limited outside the IEP program.
In order to alleviate this situation, the Intensive English Program at West Virginia University has for several years offered international students the opportunity to attend a multicultural camp in July in a rural environment in West Virginia. The camp lasts 5 days, during which the IEP students are housed in a dormitory with American students and are fully integrated into the learning and social activities which promote intercultural understanding. The IEP students serve as cultural ambassadors through both individual interactions with the American participants and formal hands-on presentations about each of their cultures.
The Multicultural Camp is sponsored by the Extension Service at West Virginia University in cooperation with the Department of Foreign Languages and the West Virginia Department of Education. The camp is primarily designed for West Virginia high school students and has the following purposes:
Participants in the camp can select workshops and presentations given by teachers from many different countries (Brazil, China, Colombia, Germany, Iran, India, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Zimbabwe, Sweden and others) on topics which address the education system, geography, government, family life, marriage, religion, and language of their own countries. In addition, issues of global importance are included in the schedule, such as homelessness, world hunger, international conflict, and diversity awareness. Recreational and social activities also reflect the multicultural theme of the camp, with music, dance, food, sports, and games from many countries.
Students from the Intensive English Program may choose to attend the program for the five day period or to participate in activities for one day. Students who stay at the camp for five days incur no extra expenses as the program pays the modest fee, but they are required to fulfill certain requirements. Each IEP participant must write a daily journal to be submitted at the end of the program and each one must participate in presentations and/or activities about his/her own culture. In addition, it is expected that all students take advantage of opportunities for interaction with Americans and other international participants and that they conform to the spirit of the camp. An accompanying Teaching Assistant from the IEP is available to deal with any problems that may arise and to encourage interaction between all participants.
Last year, seven IEP students took advantage of the opportunity to attend the Multicultural Camp for five days. According to a survey completed after the camp, the participants' reasons for attending included practicing English, making American friends, learning about other countries, having the experience of camp life, and having fun. With one exception, the students who decided to go were intermediate level students, aged 18 to 25, who were not intending to enter academic study at the university, but were interested in acquiring English for general or future professional purposes. Two of the seven decided to return to the IEP after two days because the camp did not meet their expectations, but the remaining five stayed until the end of the program and reported the overall experience to be satisfactory to excellent.
According to the survey, the IEP students most enjoyed giving presentations about their own countries, working in groups, and the evening social activities. They least liked the famine simulation day when they were required to fast to simulate the Irish potato famine. All the participants reported that there were many opportunities for interaction with others and the majority stated that their English skills improved through the camp experience. All were satisfied with the dormitory arrangements and all stated that they would recommend the Multicultural Camp to other IEP students, although some felt that the time should be shorter, two to three days being the preferred length of time.
All the students who stayed for the five days gave cultural presentations about their countries and demonstrated folk dances and songs. Some of them reported surprise at how little the high school students knew about the location and geography of their countries. The journals written by the students provide detailed information of the day-to-day activities at the camp and their reactions to the behavior and attitudes of American high school students. The following excerpt from one of the journals illustrates the type of learning experiences to which the IEP students were exposed:
"Today it was a nice day. First because I really enjoyed the morning class where we had "Country Sessions." I attended the class which was talking about the American Culture and I was amazed that l was almost the only one who did not understand any Spanish. Since most of the classmates were from Latin America and quiet a few of them did not speak English, the session was mostly spoken in Spanish. With the help of my friends from the IEP though, I was able to follow the topics what they had been talking about. Later on, I gave in formation about Switzerland for almost one hour. There again, it has been the younger persons who kept me asking about my country. I really think it is a great camp for teenagers who are interested in foreign cultures and habits. I even found a new friend today. It is a 13 year old boy from Charleston. ......."
The positive feedback from last year's Multicultural Camp has provided useful information in the planning of IEP student participation in the camp for the coming year. Since some of the students reported that they would prefer to attend for a shorter period of time, one option this year is to send small groups of students on day trips, thus increasing the participation of students who would not be interested in spending 5 days at the camp, yet would benefit from the opportunity to meet and interact with Americans and other international participants.
The relationship we have formed over the last few years with the WVU Extension Office is clearly a mutually beneficial one in that the IEP is able to provide some of the international 'flavor' for the Multicultural Camp while the IEP students are able to take advantage of the program to practice and improve their English skills and knowledge of North American and other cultures at a time of year when the university campus and community is limited in such opportunities.
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