UM program for international students on the rise

2013-08-27T21:15:00Z 2014-10-19T08:07:27Z UM program for international students on the rise

Seventeen students from five countries crowded into a small classroom at the University of Montana on Tuesday to mark the second day of school.

Language professor Quincie Albrecht apologized for the closeness of the class, but her students didn’t mind. The English Language Institute is bursting at the seams this year and those in attendance were just happy to have a seat.

“I think vocabulary, speaking and grammar (are) a benefit to me,” said Frank Lin of Guiyang, China. “My family told me (UM) is very friendly and a good environment to be in.”

Lin, who hopes to major in business marketing, sat beside a student from Dammam City, Saudi Arabia, who’s pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering. They were joined by students from Japan, Taiwan and Brazil, each looking to make sense of their new surroundings.

Before these students fully embark on their college career, whether at UM or some other institution, they must first improve their proficiency in English and their grasp of American culture.

Verb tenses don’t come easy, the food is unfamiliar and family support may be thousands of miles away across oceans and continents. Toss in the rigors of college and there’s little time to waste.

“They’re dealing with all of this on top of coming to class, homework and intensive English studies,” said Albrecht. “They can get really stressed out. It’s demanding.”

Demanding though it may be, the popularity of the English Language Institute – and the University of Montana as a choice among international students – is on the rise.

More than 600 international students are expected to enroll at UM this semester from 70 countries, a point raised by President Royce Engstrom during his State of the University address last week.

The figures include 170 new students – up from 125 new international students last year. The English Language Institute alone is maxed out at 100 foreign students and more are waiting to enter the program next semester.

“I think what we’re seeing here is a trend in U.S. academia,” said Paulo Zagalo-Melo, director of the Office of International Programs at UM. “It’s both a reflection of international trends and also the university’s efforts to create stronger programs and advertise them in a better way.”


Launched in 1993, the program helps international students develop their language skills and become familiar with American culture before they enter academia as a full-time student.

And the lessons are all around them. In Albrecht’s cramped classroom, posters on the wall offer tips in “American culture clothing selection.” Among the pointers: “Young Missoulians don’t wear Prada.”

Rather, the poster suggested, when shopping for brand-name apparel hip among students, The North Face, Columbia, Mountain Hardware and Keen should be considered when trying to blend in culturally.

“We include components for cross-cultural competence and some workshops on leadership,” Zagalo-Melo said. “Not only do the students get better language skills, but a better understanding of how to live in a cross-cultural environment.”

Zagalo-Melo landed at UM five months ago from the Luso-American Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal. In the past, he has served as director of the Fulbright Commission in Portugal and received his master’s degree from Harvard University.

His multi-cultural background brings added understanding to a program that caters to students arriving from across the globe. Having them integrate into the student body – and the Montana community at large – builds what he referred to as global competence.

It may also help students better navigate the workforce after college. Forbes magazine noted surveys showing that bilingual individuals are valued as employees more than those who speak just one language, and they’re generally compensated accordingly.

“Anymore, it’s all global and interconnected,” Zagalo-Melo said. “It has to include some internationalization in order to meet those goals of helping prepare students. These are new mechanisms universities have to include in their programs.”


Six years ago, Kanau Kuroda from Nagasaki, Japan, entered the program knowing only a few words of English and with no clue how to navigate the UM campus, let along American culture.

Those early stresses are a distant memory, though they still bring a smile to her face.

“I was so scared – everything was new and I didn’t know what to do,” Kuroda said. “It was a big cultural shock. In Japan, we have to respect others so we don’t always express our feelings.”

Six years have elapsed and Kuroda looks to graduate from UM this semester. Nearly fluent in English and now serving as an international student adviser, she met three women from Brazil and gave them a campus tour.

“I know how they feel,” Kuroda said. “I like to advise as much as I can to help them feel more comfortable here and observe new things.”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at

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

(7) Comments

  1. reality check 4 you
    Report Abuse
    reality check 4 you - August 30, 2013 8:39 am
    How many "foreign exchange students" come here and then "disappear?" Lot's of muslim students. We don't need any more terrorists on our shores!
  2. yawn
    Report Abuse
    yawn - August 28, 2013 9:43 pm
    One of the most idiotic, ignorant, and uneducated comments I've ever read.
  3. Bones
    Report Abuse
    Bones - August 28, 2013 7:48 pm
    The U.S. is a country associated with islamist terrorism.
  4. mtmargot
    Report Abuse
    mtmargot - August 28, 2013 6:46 pm
    I'm so happy to see more and more international people in our community! Only through intercultural contact can we understand that stereotypes are just stereotypes (I'm looking at you, "reality check 4 you"). I have met some truly amazing people in Missoula--both American and international! Kudos to the University for providing this service to students and for attracting more culture to our lovely city!
  5. lgjhere
    Report Abuse
    lgjhere - August 28, 2013 1:45 pm
    Congratulations to all at MU. However, being an interntional student in the US isn't easy, given our complex culture and language. An interesting new worldwide book/ebook that helps anyone coming to the US is "What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” It paints a revealing picture of America for those who will benefit from a better understanding, including international students. Endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it also identifies “foreigners” who became successful in the US and how they contributed to our society, including students.
    A chapter on education explains how to be accepted to an American university and cope with such things as a new culture, friendship process and classroom differences they will encounter. Some stay here after graduation. It has chapters that explain how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work for an American firm here or overseas. It also has chapters that identify the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.
    Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and books like this to extend a cultural helping hand so we all have a win-win situation. Good luck to all wherever you study!
  6. reality check 4 you
    Report Abuse
    reality check 4 you - August 28, 2013 12:48 pm
    I not only agree with Johnny Dollar but will add this. How many "islamic" students are here from muslim countries that are associated with terrorism! Oops I said it muslims and terrorism. I wonder how many "American" woman will be scarificed this year as rape victims for the foreign exchange muslim students?
  7. johnny Dollar
    Report Abuse
    johnny Dollar - August 27, 2013 10:01 pm
    student from Dammam City, Saudi Arabia, who’s pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering.????

    Is this fellow lost or did he just come for the beer? No engineering at the Uof M.....nice job Royce, you sold these people down the river.
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