Students from Mali Prepare for Graduate School at IUPUI Language Training Center
September 24, 2009
- Camilla Butcher
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Four agricultural scientists from Mali knew just a little English when they arrived in Indianapolis in June to prepare for graduate studies. But thanks to help from the Indiana Center for Intercultural Communication (ICIC), a language training center at IUPUI, they hope to learn enough English to study agriculture at U.S. graduate schools, including Purdue University, next spring.
Their goal: to bring critical food production, processing, management and marketing skills back to their homeland when they return.
The four are part of the USAID Sorghum, Millet and Other Grains Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP) Mali Training Program to help improve research capacity in Mali. They all work for the Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER), an agricultural research institute there.
Learning modern agricultural production, food processing, management and marketing techniques in the U.S. – particularly from schools like Purdue – could significantly enhance the quality of life for people in Mali.
“Food security in any developing country is very important. The CRSP research, technology transfer and training activities will help them care for themselves,” said Lonni Kucik, part of the program team at Purdue.
But the four food scientists have to overcome one critical challenge before they start their graduate-level coursework: They need to master English.
“It all depends on their English skills,” noted Kucik.
That’s where ICIC enters the picture. The nationally-known English training center, part of the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, specializes in English for Specific Purposes training.
ICIC instructors created a program for these students based on the English skills they needed for graduate school, and their specific field of expertise. They take language classes in the mornings, and periodically go on agricultural-related field trips in the afternoons.
One field trip was to the Indiana State Fair. The four did more than just sample elephant ears. They were given agricultural related research assignments at the fair. They were particularly fascinated by an exhibit on genomics research.
Starting this fall, they are also enrolled in regular classes at IUPUI in order to prepare them for the rigors of an American university classroom.
While in Indianapolis, they are staying with local families near campus.
“It’s total language immersion because they are living with a family,” said Kucik. “They eat with them in the morning and evening and ride the buses in and out. It helps them learn the culture.”
“It’s a good idea for us to live with host families,” said Fatimata Cisse, the lone female of the group. “It’s a good way for us to practice our English. And it’s a way for us to know how Americans live.”
Students Bandiougou Diawara and Mamadou Dembele both live with the same family. Their host mother has gone out of her way to make them feel as comfortable as possible, even going to the trouble to make them African food.
“It was very good but it was not exactly the same,” said Diawara. “She‘s really nice. She asks about school. We can practice with her. It’s like having a second teacher.”
The four have worked hard in their classes and have made great progress, notes Honnor Orlando, ICIC’s Assistant Director for Training and one of the group’s instructors.
“I met with them in June when they first arrived and then again in July,” said Kucik. “I believe there was a big improvement in just one month.”
“When I first came here in June and took the (assessment) test, I could understand the writing, but I had problems speaking and listening. I have improved. Now we can have a discussion,” said Ahamadou Aly.
Indeed, the four are now conversing easily in English, discussing their lives in the U.S. The first day of regular classes at IUPUI was a major victory, said Orlando.
“After the first day of class they came back and they were so excited. They could actually understand it,” she said.
“It was very interesting,” Aly said. “Now we can understand what is being said.”
They will take the English proficiency exams in November required to gain admission to graduate school at Purdue and Kansas State University, where they plan to take classes and continue research.
The ICIC program is providing critical preparation for the students, notes Kucik. “We think it is a good collaboration.”
“The program here is very good,” said Mamadou Dembele. “The teachers do their best to make us understand.”
“It’s a good learning program,” agreed Cisse. “I would give them an ‘A’-grade.
For more information on ICIC or its programs, please contact Camilla Butcher at 274-2555 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.