Feature News

International students transition to college life, culture with intensive English program

Jan 24, 2017

A growing program at North Central College offers a multitude of benefits for students from around the world.

The English Language Institute (ELI) began three years ago and has already boosted international student enrollment and provided practical experience for American students studying how to teach English as a second language.

The primary focus of the ELI is to help international students learn English and prepare for the culture of an American college and for living in the Chicagoland area. International students typically enroll in ELI before they begin their undergraduate or graduate programs.

“We developed this program to serve and enroll more international students,” says Katherine Pope, director of ELI. “If you just accept international students who are 100 percent ready, you’re missing out on the population we’re catering to now—students who meet academic requirements but need to work on their English before transitioning into undergraduate and graduate courses.”

The goal is to work with international students who want to study in the United States and transition them to college culture and academics. “The students I hope to grow in this program are looking to improve their English and then complete a four-year undergraduate or a two-year graduate program,” says Pope.

She seeks to help international students succeed in their undergraduate or graduate program by ensuring they are fluent in English and prepared for the academic rigor of a 10-week term at North Central.

“We give them the foundational steps so we can build on that throughout the program,” says Pope. “We make sure they’re taking notes, know how to access Blackboard, navigate campus, give a presentation, cite sources—all of the things that don’t necessarily come with just learning English.”

For Karen Contreras ’19, who’s from Mexico and now majoring in human resource management and philosophy, a favorite part about the ELI was “learning more than English, like history, how to give an academic presentation and different academic topics.”

The English Language Institute helped me because I learned about and used all of the campus facilities and academic support services,” she says. “It helped me learn different types of strategies and now I’m more prepared.”

The program is also open to students who are interested in an American year abroad. These students often study English intensively at North Central before returning home. Naperville and suburban community members are also welcome to enroll.

“People from the community who meet the requirements can take part-time classes,” explains Pope. “We’ve had a part-time student from Mexico who works in taxes and wants to learn English to better serve his customers.”

Summer is the busiest time for the ELI, with multiple programs taking place. In addition to the eight-week summer term, there’s a three-week Cultural Immersion Program for adult students and a two-week Summer Language Academy for high school students. “Our two short-term summer programs often focus more on experiential, cultural learning and allow for more activities,” adds Pope.  

"We’ve taken the students into Chicago to see Willis Tower, the Art Institute, the Planetarium and the Museum of Science and Industry and they enjoy it a lot. Sometimes we have students just come for the summer experience because they want to improve their English and take part in the activities.”

The ELI has had “repeat customers” in its three years of existence—students who have recommended it to younger siblings.

“They give us really great feedback,” says Pope. “It’s been fun to see the program evolve and grow in just three years and know that people are happy with it.”

Not only does the program benefit international students, but also North Central students who are minoring in teaching English as a second language. The ELI pairs students to observe and help teach lessons. “We’re able to provide a learning lab for those students and give them some great experience that they can use if they want to teach English in the United States or abroad,” Pope says.

With so much success in just three years, the future of the program looks bright and Pope is hoping the student population in the ELI will continue to grow.

“It’s fun to see them get integrated into the fabric of North Central, because my goal is to have them feel like this is home,” Pope adds.

For more information about North Central College’s international student admission and the English Language Institute, visit northcentralcollege.edu/international.

By Michaela Daly ’18