UM looks to improve foreign students' language skills through homestays

2013-10-25T06:00:00Z 2014-10-03T14:31:43Z UM looks to improve foreign students' language skills through homestays missoulian.com

Maria Stokstad was accustomed to giving out hugs, offering the warm embrace to friends and acquaintances in the family’s Greek tradition.

But for two Japanese students living with the Stokstads while attending the University of Montana, the hugs took some getting used to – a full embrace being far from Japanese custom.

“The first couple days, as a Greek mom, I was throwing my arms around them,” Stokstad said. “They didn’t know how to handle it. By the fifth or sixth day, they would just open their arms and accept it.”

Stokstad hosted the two students from Nagasaki, Japan, in her Missoula home for three weeks last month, completing a trial run for the university’s English Language Institute and its burgeoning homestay program.

The language institute has long accepted students from around the world looking to develop their English proficiency before matriculating into the larger university, or returning to their home country. While enrolled in the program, students have historically lived on campus or in local apartments.

Recently, however, the university saw an opportunity to further integrate its foreign students into the community by matching them with a host family. With the trial run a success, the university is now recruiting host families for the spring semester, when its homestay program launches its inaugural season.

“If they’re integrated into an American family, students are able to be around the English language, not just while taking classes, but also during off hours,” said program coordinator Demetra Rivard. “The English they’re exposed to in the home isn’t necessarily what they’d see in textbooks.”

Rivard said such university programs are rare. When looking to develop the program at UM, there were few existing models to turn to. The program went through a short trial run this fall, looking to balance the responsibilities of the host family with the needs of the student.

In the Stokstad home, communicating wasn’t always easy, given the language barrier. But over the course of three weeks, the family slowed its conversations while its Japanese guests learned the nuances of an American household.

“The biggest reward was the development of our relationship,” Stokstad said. “As we slowed down our family conversations, we were able to dig a little deeper into their culture and share a little more from our hearts. It was fulfilling for myself, and it was lovely for my children.”

Stokstad takes delight in recounting her family’s experience playing host. Insistent at first on drinking green tea, the Japanese students eventually took a liking to coffee. While it’s not common in their culture to hug, the two students became accustomed to doing so.

Around the house, Stokstad said, her family made a conscious effort to speak slowly and to engage the students in conversation. The students were shy at first, but the family encouraged them to give their English a try.

Stokstad said the students gained confidence during their stay and went home with a good experience.

“In addition to language improvement, it was the fact that they stepped into a new culture and took that risk,” Stokstad said. “We would definitely do it again. We would consider a longer stay and other cultures as well.”

***

The English Language Institute is currently hosting 95 students from around the world – Morocco, France, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia and China, among others.

The program has been on campus for 20 years and has grown over much of that time. It also has come to serve as a recruiting tool for the university, helping international students improve their language skills before entering the university to pursue a degree.

The homestay program looks to enhance that experience.

“The program provides a student with a 24/7 immersion experience, and it takes learning beyond the classroom,” said Sandra Janusch, director of the English Language Institute. “There’s research showing that a lot of learning happens at unplanned times. This makes the whole experience of learning a language a richer experience.”

Ko Yukitake left his home in Tokyo to attend the English Language Institute. In Missoula, he’s been dazzled by the “many trees and animals – squirrels and deer,” which he’d never seen growing up in Tokyo.

While he’s leaving the institute at the end of the fall semester in December, he would consider the homestay program were he to return to Missoula.

“The biggest purpose is I would improve my English skills,” said Yukitake. “The other purpose is to experience American life. I’m interested in culture.”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. Elle78
    Report Abuse
    Elle78 - June 13, 2014 11:22 am
    You know foreign students could really use some help with language. So far it is probably one of their biggest problems as I see them turning to for original coursework writing to EssayOnlineStore pretty often. Surely, there is another side of this question: establishing good relationships between different nations. Let us know how it went. Thank you for the article
  2. Alan Johnson
    Report Abuse
    Alan Johnson - October 25, 2013 4:38 pm
    Well, there's nothing about $700,000 in the letter either. You are about as clear as mud with this. But of course you are "reading between the lines." I guess that's where you are seeing what ever you want to see. I guess that's not how they taught me how to read at that University from which I hold undergraduate and graduate degrees. But maybe you are being taught something else these days. If you are being taught that at this university, then I agree, there is a big problem.
  3. Nikki's Niece
    Report Abuse
    Nikki's Niece - October 25, 2013 12:52 pm
    Dear Alan: It might look funny to you, but in fact it is quite tragic. Whether one supports the current leadership of this university or does not, one has to open one’s eyes to the reality unfolding on the UM campus. The dean of the College of Arts and Sciences intends to cut more than $700,000, which means that many courses will disappear and many talented and popular faculty will lose their positions. The refusal by the Missoulian to cover this unfolding tragedy at UM is quite troubling, and the insistence of the remaining few who wish to defend the current UM administration at any cost reminds one of dogmatic ideological and personal loyalties rather than a genuine concern for the future of the university. Those hundreds of people who received this e-mail message can read between the lines. They understand the content of the e-mail message to say that as happened last spring, a large number of courses will be eliminated while the top administrators receive substantial raises.
  4. Alan Johnson
    Report Abuse
    Alan Johnson - October 25, 2013 10:14 am
    Funny. But I see nothing in the enclosed letter about the destruction of curriculum. Please explain.
  5. Hakon Montag
    Report Abuse
    Hakon Montag - October 25, 2013 6:38 am
    Wow...that means they FIXED IT thanks to my prodding.

    The word 'TO' was missing in the original headline.

    I just write this stuff for fun ya know.
  6. Nikki's Niece
    Report Abuse
    Nikki's Niece - October 24, 2013 10:15 pm
    Really? Really? FYI, Mr. Kidston, the homestay program described here has been an ongoing concern on the UM campus for over two decades. It is not a new idea, but has rather now been adapted from its long history among the university’s foreign student population specifically for use at the English Language Institute. Instead of feeling obligated to report something positive about the university every week, please consider for once reporting what is really happening on our campus. For example, you and Ms. Sherry Devlin might be interested to know that the shameless e-mail below was sent to several hundred members of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences faculty yesterday. It effectively asks the faculty to participate actively in the destruction of a university’s very foundation, namely its curriculum. Perhaps such an attempt as this is not newsworthy enough, or perhaps it reinforces the image out there in the community and in the state that the institutional meltdown continues under the current administration. But at least such a story would be the truth. Whatever the personal biases of a journalist; however much he or she might wish to construct a new reality, reporting on the truth of a situation is what journalistic ethics requires. See below:

    **This message has been sent to all tenure-track faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences**
    Dear Colleagues,
    As you are all no doubt aware, the position the University finds itself in — with lower numbers of students again this year — will necessarily present some budget challenges. Last year we were given quantitative information in the Spring about cuts and we had very little time to have extensive discussions about how best to handle them. We can be sure that we will soon face a situation similar to last year, or perhaps even more challenging. In order to get ahead of any budget issues I wish to form an ad-hoc committee of faculty, staff, and students to review our situation and make recommendations that can be ready by Spring. I would like them to review our financial information, how we handled the cuts last Spring, and examine some scenarios for the future. It is important that we have enough time to examine potential programmatic and human impacts now so we will know how best to proceed. Additionally, we should examine what we might do proactively to strengthen our financial position and to articulate the value and centrality of our teaching and research programs. I have asked the Chairs to begin recommending names of faculty, and I am asking you — faculty and staff — to consider nominations of yourself or others. You also are in a good position to nominate students who might be in a position to contribute to these discussions. I will ask a joint assembly of the Faculty and Staff Advisory Committees to review nominations and form a balanced committee. My goal is that the first meeting can occur in mid to late November.
    Thanks,
    Chris
    -- Christopher Comer, Dean
    College of Arts & Sciences
    The University of Montana
    Missoula, MT 59812


  7. Bones
    Report Abuse
    Bones - October 24, 2013 8:56 pm
    Looks fine to me.
  8. Hakon Montag
    Report Abuse
    Hakon Montag - October 24, 2013 7:26 pm
    Hmmm?

    Maybe the Missoulian Editorial Staff could look to improve their grammar whilst typing out HEADLINES.

    Just a thought...
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