Celebrate Your Home Culture at a U.S. College

International StudentsThe international diversity of U.S. colleges can help students keep in touch with their home culture.

The feeling of displacement when moving to another country and immersing yourself in an entirely new culture can often be overwhelming, especially if you’re leaving home for the first time.
But prospective international students should not worry, as choosing to have your college experience in America doesn’t necessarily mean losing touch with your roots.
There are many ways you can maintain your home culture and even introduce aspects of life in your country to your American classmates, who may not have experienced your lifestyle.
First, realize that if you want to study in America, it’s unlikely that you will be the only student from your country studying at your college of choice.There’s usually two or more students from the same country or even school studying in the same academic year, so you won’t be entirely isolated.
Secondly, America itself is a country made up of hundreds of different cultures. In large cities you are bound to find many different international communities and social groups. For example, the Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco was one of the most spectacular experiences of my year abroad, and thousands of people turned out to celebrate the event and enjoy the festivities.
Many campuses will often have an international student residence, and even if you choose to not live there, you can still visit. International houses will often host special events celebrating international holidays and festivals. The University of California – Berkeleys international house, for instance, has an exciting and varied calendar for the celebration of international events. For the Hindu festival of Diwali, a special evening meal was arranged for residents and other students. On Dia de los Muertos, students were encouraged to come to the residence to paint sugar skulls and learn about the traditional Mexican celebration. In addition, an international coffee gathering was held every Wednesday night. Students from different countries would be encouraged to host and prepare or buy popular food and drink from their cultures and celebrate unique aspects of their home countries.
This is a great way to bond with fellow students from your country and educate both international students and Americans. Even outside of your college’s international community, many student-run organizations are dedicated to the exploration of different cultures and offer another base for a strong international community. Examples include campus chapters of Hillel, a prominent Jewish student organization, or UC—Berkeley’s Indian Students Association.Harvard University also has a long list of cultural groups, with clubs such as the Haitian Alliance and the Coalition for East African Peace. Search your college website for the clubs and organizations index to get an idea of the variety of groups your prospective college offers.
If you still find that you feel isolated after arriving at your new college, then take the reins and organize some events of your own to help educate and inform American college students about your international culture. See if your residence hall will let you plan a coffee hour, or set up informal chat sessions with fellow students and residents where a few of you can get together and learn a few phrases in each other’s languages.
There’s no need for concern about losing your cultural identity during your time at college outside of your home country. You should use your time in America to maintain important aspects of your own culture and celebrate the vast multiculturalism that makes up your college community and the wider American society.
Emily Burt, from the United Kingdom, studied at the University of California – Berkeley on an exchange program. She will graduate from the University of East Anglia in 2014 with a bachelor’s in American literature and creative writing. This article was first published by http://www.usnews.com/ 

Consider Studying Abroad While Already an International Student

Studying abroad while already an international studentGoing abroad is not a new idea for someone already considering taking steps to become an international student. But how about setting off on another journey – either an academic exchange or an internship out of the States – while you’re a student at a U.S. university?

I call it the “double-abroad” experience. If you love traveling and crave global cross-cultural adventures, schedule an appointment with the international office at your school today and ask about another study abroad opportunity.

The preparation process might intimidate you at first, but ultimately you will be grateful for this decision. Studying abroad can give you countless opportunities to learn and grow, including the following:

1. Learn more about yourself: Reaching your American dream might already give you an unforgettable opportunity to reflect on yourself. But don’t stop there on the way to discovering your passion.

I would have never imagined that I would be able to switch among three languages to communicate if I did not take a semester abroad. I would also have never imagined that a person with no sense of direction like me could actually use a map to travel around.

A friend of mine discovered a love for Jamaican cuisine and can now cook palatable Jamaican dishes, a cuisine that he was never exposed to in his native country or in the U.S.

Though you’ve already studied abroad in the U.S., a double-abroad experience can place you in different circumstances, improve your problem-solving skills and allow you to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges.

2. Become more flexible: If you find studying in America has already helped you adapt easily to new experiences, you’d be surprised how well you deal with change when you go to another country.

There is no better time to challenge yourself with new places, cultures and lifestyles. I learned to deal with plans that changed at the last minute, cook with ingredients that I hadn’t even heard of before and enjoy talking to diverse people whose personalities might not perfectly match mine. I learned to be flexible in cultures that I knew little about.

3. Hone your intercultural understanding: While you’re involved in a double-abroad experience, you’ll likely have three different perspectives – your reflections from your native country, the U.S. and the country you are visiting.

Living in another country for a semester brings you a fresh view and challenges your existing stereotypes about the world. When studying abroad in Paris, I had a great time comparing its drinking culture with that of the U.S. and of my home country.

College is a time for adventure. You don’t know if you’ll still have the courage in five or 10 more years to take these risks and challenge yourself. Don’t wait until tomorrow to discover the world, to make mistakes and learn from them.

I decided to hop into another study abroad journey and explore different mindsets, cultures and even myself. Think about what you could do during a similar adventure.

Mai-Linh Bui, from Vietnam, is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s in communications, culture and media at Drexel University. Her minors are French and International Area Studies.

Article first published on http://www.usnews.com/

What happens in the brain when you learn a language?

We all know how easier living/working/traveling abroad is when you speak other languages. Well, there might be another reason to become bilingual…

Kara Morgan-Short using electrophysiology to examine the inner workings of the brain during language learning. Photograph: Yara Mekawi/University of Illinois

Kara Morgan-Short using electrophysiology to examine the inner workings of the brain during language learning. Photograph: Yara Mekawi/University of Illinois

Learning a foreign language can increase the size of your brain. This is what Swedish scientists discovered when they used brain scans to monitor what happens when someone learns a second language. The study is part of a growing body of research using brain imaging technologies to better understand the cognitive benefits of language learning. Tools like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electrophysiology, among others, can now tell us not only whether we need knee surgery or have irregularities with our heartbeat, but reveal what is happening in our brains when we hear, understand and produce second languages.

The Swedish MRI study showed that learning a foreign language has a visible effect on the brain. Young adult military recruits with a flair for languages learned Arabic, Russian or Dari intensively, while a control group of medical and cognitive science students also studied hard, but not at languages. MRI scans showed specific parts of the brains of the language students developed in size whereas the brain structures of the control group remained unchanged. Equally interesting was that learners whose brains grew in the hippocampus and areas of the cerebral cortex related to language learning had better language skills than other learners for whom the motor region of the cerebral cortex developed more.

In other words, the areas of the brain that grew were linked to how easy the learners found languages, and brain development varied according to performance. As the researchers noted, while it is not completely clear what changes after three months of intensive language study mean for the long term, brain growth sounds promising.

Looking at functional MRI brain scans can also tell us what parts of the brain are active during a specific learning task. For example, we can see why adult native speakers of a language like Japanese cannot easily hear the difference between the English “r” and “l” sounds (making it difficult for them to distinguish “river” and “liver” for example). Unlike English, Japanese does not distinguish between “r” and “l” as distinct sounds. Instead, a single sound unit (known as a phoneme) represents both sounds.

When presented with English words containing either of these sounds, brain imaging studies show that only a single region of a Japanese speaker’s brain is activated, whereas in English speakers, two different areas of activation show up, one for each unique sound.

For Japanese speakers, learning to hear and produce the differences between the two phonemes in English requires a rewiring of certain elements of the brain’s circuitry. What can be done? How can we learn these distinctions?

Early language studies based on brain research have shown that Japanese speakers can learn to hear and produce the difference in “r” and “l” by using a software program that greatly exaggerates the aspects of each sound that make it different from the other. When the sounds were modified and extended by the software, participants were more easily able to hear the difference between the sounds. In one study, after only three 20-minute sessions (just a single hour’s worth), the volunteers learned to successfully distinguish the sounds, even when the sounds were presented as part of normal speech.

This sort of research might eventually lead to advances in the use of technology for second-language learning. For example, using ultrasound machines like the ones used to show expectant parents the features and movements of their babies in the womb, researchers in articulatory phonetics have been able to explain to language learners how to make sounds by showing them visual images of how their tongue, lips, and jaw should move with their airstream mechanisms and the rise and fall of the soft palate to make these sounds.

Ian Wilson, a researcher working in Japan, has produced some early reports of studies of these technologies that are encouraging. Of course, researchers aren’t suggesting that ultrasound equipment be included as part of regular language learning classrooms, but savvy software engineers are beginning to come up with ways to capitalise on this new knowledge by incorporating imaging into cutting edge language learning apps.

Kara Morgan-Short, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, uses electrophysiology to examine the inner workings of the brain. She and her colleagues taught second-language learners to speak an artificial language – a miniature language constructed by linguists to test claims about language learnability in a controlled way.

In their experiment, one group of volunteers learned through explanations of the rules of the language, while a second group learned by being immersed in the language, similar to how we all learn our native languages. While all of their participants learned, it was the immersed learners whose brain processes were most like those of native speakers. Interestingly, up to six months later, when they could not have received any more exposure to the language at home because the language was artificial, these learners still performed well on tests, and their brain processes had become even more native-like.

In a follow-up study, Morgan-Short and her colleagues showed that the learners who demonstrated particular talents at picking up sequences and patterns learned grammar particularly well through immersion. Morgan-Short said: “This brain-based research tells us not only that some adults can learn through immersion, like children, but might enable us to match individual adult learners with the optimal learning contexts for them.”

Brain imaging research may eventually help us tailor language learning methods to our cognitive abilities, telling us whether we learn best from formal instruction that highlights rules, immersing ourselves in the sounds of a language, or perhaps one followed by the other.

However we learn, this recent brain-based research provides good news. We know that people who speak more than one language fluently have better memories and are more cognitively creative and mentally flexible than monolinguals. Canadian studies suggest that Alzheimer’s disease and the onset of dementia are diagnosed later for bilinguals than for monolinguals, meaning that knowing a second language can help us to stay cognitively healthy well into our later years.

Even more encouraging is that bilingual benefits still hold for those of us who do not learn our second languages as children. Edinburgh University researchers point out that “millions of people across the world acquire their second language later in life: in school, university, or work, or through migration or marriage.” Their results, with 853 participants, clearly show that knowing another language is advantageous, regardless of when you learn it.

Alison Mackey is professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and Lancaster University.