Imagine you hail from Asia, Africa or South America and have been accepted to a college in the United States. You have made the necessary plans to attend -- sent in your deposit, obtained the required documents to travel and purchased your plane ticket. As the day to board the plane with your belongings neatly packed in a suitcase arrives you wonder -- have I made the right decision? How will I fit in? Are my English communication skills good enough? Will I adjust to a new culture? According to the Open Doors Report a little over 723,000 students from around the world chose to attend U.S. educational institutions in 2010/2011. Each had their own reasons to leave their native countries in pursuit of education in the United States. Some sought to broaden their learning in academic areas not available in their native country while others wanted to experience a different culture and believed that studying abroad would enrich their lives and future careers. Whatever the reason, they took the risk to change their lives -- even if for a limited time. This may sound like a simple concept -- after all many of us have traveled and experienced a different culture and with the exception of a few minor bumps, have returned with stories to tell and memories for a lifetime. Attending a school in a foreign country is entirely different. From adapting to different living accommodations, adjusting to new instructional styles, meeting academic expectations and making friends, students who study abroad risk everything. Combine these challenges with speaking, reading, writing and listening in a second language and we begin to see how demanding an endeavor this really is. As a college professor, I have educated many international students who face academic challenges that at times seem insurmountable. The constant effort they exert to fit in and complete their assignments successfully often astound me. They often tell me it takes an hour to read and process just a few pages of a textbook. They visit the academic support center a few times for each paper they write. They are constantly looking up words and translating them into their native languages to understand terms and vocabulary they never heard before. I am always impressed by their diligence and ability to aim high and not use their foreign status as an excuse to do mediocre work. Recently a group of students from China approached me to listen to a presentation they were going to make in another class later that same day. They listened carefully to my suggestions eagerly taking notes and strategizing how they would incorporate the corrections I recommended. From improper phrasing on their PowerPoint slides to vocabulary choices that needed to be changed, they listened carefully and left quickly to incorporate the changes. In an effort to do their very best work, they sought to practice in front of an available professor and accept the critiques made. This scenario is just one of many I have similarly experienced. Over and over again, I have witnessed incredible effort and this type of work ethic. Individuals who travel to study in a foreign country should be commended and their extraordinary effort noticed by not only their professors, but by their domestic peers. Too often the extra work they do goes unnoticed. These students have left the comfort of their native environments to explore and grow. It is ironic that they made the decision to study in a foreign country for their own personal growth because their addition to our communities has added diversity to our institutions and provided their peers and professors the opportunity to learn not only about the cultures they come from, but also show us how hard work and consistent determination ultimately triumph. Author and Professor Cathryn Cushner Edelstein Cathryn Cushner Edelstein is a Scholar-in-Residence at Emerson College in Boston and the author of Excuse Me, Can You Repeat That? How to Communicate in the U.S. an International Student - A Reference Guide (Five Star Publications, AZ
Local woman's new book has words of wisdom- By Andrew Merritt firstname.lastname@example.org: Over her 30 years of working in speech and communication, Cathryn Edelstein has seen the difficulties experienced by people who come to the United States and try to learn our language and culture. Edelstein, a Waltham resident and professor at Emerson College, has written a book to help newcomers with that process. "Excuse Me, Can You Repeat That?" takes answers from a survey of 50 foreign students who were asked to describe their experience learning in America, and how it compared with their expectations. The book "demystifes pronunciation, confusing situations and common gestures for non-native English speakers," according to a release. "The rules of communication are not universal -- they are specific to particular cultures," Edelstein said in the release. "International students who learn the language can speak basic English, but the clarity of their speech and lack of knowledge about what to say in daily situational dialogues is less than good, leaving them frustrated with their skills. In this guide, I provide readers with insight into navigating through ways of communicating in the United States, so language and cultural frustrations are lessened." "Excuse Me, Can You Repeat That?" is available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. For more information visit Facebook and ExcuseMe-CanYouRepeatThat.com. Edelstein, 53, also runs a consulting company, Verbal Impact, whose past clients include employees of Fidelity, Hitachi, Homesite, Inktomi, Fox News, Biosphere Medical, MIT and more. Edelstein, who was born in France, has two daughters -- Alexandra, 24, and Carly, 21. Edelstein recently took some time to answer our questions. What first sparked the idea to write the book? I decided to write this book because there are a limited number of easy to use, concise communication guides available for international students who simply need information on how to communicate more effectively. This book includes information on both verbal and nonverbal communication skills. The market is filled with ESL textbooks, but communication reference guides that contain only the information that advanced speakers of English need are hard to find. This book contains information to fill the gaps -- to help the foreign speaker of English become a more effective communicator. How did you come to work in speech and communication? After earning my undergraduate degree in speech pathology and audiology at Boston University, I attended New York University graduate school earning a master's degree in speech communication. While at NYU I was encouraged by the chair of the department to pursue a career that combined both degrees -- intercultural communication and accent reduction. My first client was a doctor from South America who had difficulty communicating effectively with his patients. He sought my assistance in learning to speak English more clearly so his patients could understand him more easily. We want people to read all of your tips, but can you offer one piece of advice for international students looking to get ingrained in the culture here? It is natural for international students to want to spend time conversing with others who speak their language. However by doing this, they lessen the time they speak English and make it nearly impossible to make American friends. I recommend that international students join groups or clubs that have a diverse membership. By doing this, international students will spend more time speaking English and interacting with others from various backgrounds. There are many cultural clubs, outing clubs and social clubs that exist on campuses. Clubs are always looking for volunteers to help create events -- so why not participate? What's the hardest thing for an international student to learn when he or she first arrives here? I have been told by many international students that the classroom environment here in the U.S. is very different from what they experienced in their native countries. In the U.S. we value individualism which is very different from cultures that function more collectively. Students here in the U.S. raise their hands eagerly, want to be noticed by their teachers and want to share their ideas frequently in class. Students who hail from East Asia, for example, have not been allowed to voice their opinions or share their ideas in class. Their culture is hierarchal and therefore the students are expected to sit in class and listen not be heard. Expectations for participation in classes here leave the student who has not ever had this experience baffled and uncomfortable. Taking the risk to speak out can be challenging for the international student who has never been expected to do so. With so many new technologies, is it easier now for newcomers to get accustomed to our culture? The Internet has allowed people from all over the world to view and read material from other cultures. For example, one can go to YouTube and view videos on almost any topic and even watch segments of television programs. Movies can also provide a glimpse into different cultures. The operative word here is "glimpse." Viewing and reading material from another culture does allow one to get a sense of what that culture may be like, but it is not the same as experiencing that culture. For example, students from other countries often use the Internet to watch American television shows or see American movies before they come to the U.S. Many times, the characters in movies or TV programs are simply stereotypes which are misleading and over exaggerated. I have a blog and the number one most read entry is "Are American colleges really like the movies portray?" So yes, while technology allows for one to view what life may be like in the United States, the information gained from sources considered "entertainment" should be seen as a general overview and not fact. If all campuses were like the one portrayed in "Animal House" or "Accepted" the higher education system in the U.S. would be a failure. Students using technology to learn about life here should be discerning and look more to documentaries and other credible sources to gain realistic information.
--WALTHAM NEWS TRIBUNE
Excuse Me, Can You Repeat That? Cathryn Cushner Edelstein Scholar-In-Residence at Emerson College: The rules of communication are not universal -- they are specific to particular cultures. International students who attend school in the U.S. often prepare for years by learning English. Often they have learned English from a non-native speaker who teaches with the use of a textbook, scripted dialogues and audio recordings. Though the basics of grammar and vocabulary are included, accurate pronunciation instruction and realistic cultural nuances are usually absent from lessons. Lack of speech clarity and an absence of knowledge about what to say in daily situational dialogues often leave these students frustrated with their skills when they actually live and study in the U.S. Expectations of communicating with ease are often challenged because the lessons learned in English classes don't parallel real life situations encountered in North America. Take for example the student who, in their native country, attended classes where the teachers always lectured and the students sat attentively listening. This style of teaching is rare in the United States where classes are most often interactive and participatory. American students eagerly raise their hands hoping to share their thoughts and questions with the teacher and the rest of the class. If a student hasn't prepared for this type of classroom environment, they will be less equipped with strategies to not only participate but to be successful. It is important that English lessons prepare students for real life situations so that when students make that journey to the U.S. or another English speaking country, they know what to expect culturally. By Cathryn Cushner Edelstein, Scholar-in-Residence at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, USA and author of Excuse Me, Can You Repeat That? How to Communicate in the U.S. as an International Student - A Reference Guide Global Education Magazine