Campus News

Students from around the world enhance their English skills at UB

Students participating in UB’s Intensive English Program.

Instructor Kirsten Reitan leads students in the Intensive English Program's speaking/listening class. Photo: Douglas Levere

By ROBBY JOHNSON

Published August 10, 2018

“I really like it because we get a lot of discussion. In another country when you are learning the language, you are just doing grammar, but you don’t really get the chance to improve by speaking to someone.”
Krzyszstof Sobieraj, student
Intensive English Program

For 33 students from 11 different countries, UB has been their home for the past six weeks as they take a crash course in the English language as students in the summer semester of UB’s Intensive English Program (IEP), which winds up on Aug. 10.

The program, part of UB’s internationally renowned English Language Institute (ELI), provides high-quality, intensive English instruction, pre-academic training and cultural orientation for international students enrolling in American universities, or for individuals who just want to improve their English proficiency.

Students entering the IEP are tested and placed in a group whose members have the same proficiency in English. Students may enroll in the 15-week fall and/or spring semesters, or the six-week summer session.

“It used to be that students would come to us to study English full time,” says Kathy Curtis, associate director of the ELI. “Language training overseas wasn’t as solid as it is now, and the internet wasn’t as prominent in those days. Students now come for more of a variety of reasons. It’s often used as a study abroad program now.”

That’s the case for Krzyszstof Sobieraj, a native of Poland. A high school student, Sobieraj has come to the United States for the summer to improve his English by enrolling in the UB program.

From left, Krzyszstof Sobieraj, Tsz Ho Kiang and Francis Poon speak together during UB’s Intensive English Program.

From left: Krzyszstof Sobieraj, Tsz Ho Kiang and Francis Poon chat during UB’s Intensive English Program. Students say one of the best parts of UB's Intensive English Program is its emphasis on conversation, as well as grammar. Photo: Douglas Levere.

“English is my main foreign language and it’s important to know in this world,” Sobieraj says. “I think it’s really important for me to get better with my language skills. I’ve got one more year of high school back in Poland, so I’m here just for the vacation and then I’m going to go back to prepare for the rest of my life.”

Sobieraj is staying with his aunt, who lives in the Buffalo area, and both are so committed to his English studies that he isn’t allowed to speak in his native tongue the entire time he’s in Western New York. He says mastering English is especially important for him because it’s required for his final exams of secondary school, otherwise known as the matura. He will take four exams: one in Polish, another in English, one in mathematics, and one in a yet-to-be-determined subject.

Sobieraj says the IEP has been vital in helping him improve his English for the exam, noting the opportunity to speak in English with other students makes the class special.

“I really like it because we get a lot of discussion,” he says. “In another country when you are learning the language, you are just doing grammar, but you don’t really get the chance to improve by speaking to someone.”

The opportunity for discussion is also what sold Tsz Ho Kiang, a university student from Hong Kong, on the IEP. He’s also thankful for the diversity the program offers.  

“There are so many people here from different places, so we get to chat with them and share about our daily lives at home,” Kiang says.

He and fellow Hong Kong university students Francis Poon and Sandy So are enrolled in the IEP through study abroad programs offered by their respective schools.

“I’ve wanted to experience different cultures from many different countries,” says Poon. “For example, I want to see how Americans think and how they perceive their current situations. This is a great opportunity because that isn’t easy to do in Hong Kong with its small non-Chinese population.”

So agrees. “I think it’s great to meet so many people from different places, and it’s a great opportunity for me to learn English, since the only time I speak it in Hong Kong is in English class, she says.”

Both Poon and So also say the program was crucial in helping them understand people from different cultural backgrounds.

“There’s definitely some kind of cultural gap and it really takes time to understand how others in the program think,” Poon notes. “The opportunity to improve your English [in this program] really helps that because just being able to understand different accents is one of the challenges.”

So says there’s also a cultural gap among the students at first because the learning styles of Asian and European students are very different.

“A lot of the class is European, and they have a much different way of learning,” she explains. “They love to ask questions, but in Hong Kong we listen, adapt the information, and then we figure it out ourselves if we have questions. I think I definitely improved in asking questions and I’m much more willing to speak up and do things like express my opinion more.”

At the end of the program, Kiang, Poon and So will return home to Hong Kong and finish their degrees. They say the English skills they’ve honed during the past six weeks will be useful in their future studies and careers.

While the majority of the students who enroll in the IEP return home or go on to undergraduate study at colleges and universities across the globe, some enter the Intensive English Program with the intention of enrolling in UB the following semester. This is the case for students like Yi Da Tsai.

Tsai was a master’s student in Taiwan when faculty members from UB’s School of Management paid a visit to his university and talked about UB’s doctoral program. Interested in pursuing a doctorate in finance, Tsai elected to travel halfway across the world to attend UB’s program. He decided to enroll in the Intensive English Program to get acquainted with the university.

“I wanted to get used to the environment here and improve my language skills,” Tsai says. “There’s a good environment of diversity, and the teacher encourages us to discuss a lot of different kinds of issues.

“I think I’m here to get that environment of communicating with people of different backgrounds, and their past experiences really give me inspiration,” he says.

Regardless of the paths the students take when they finish UB’s IEP, they say they’ve found the experience of learning English in a foreign country worthwhile.

“This experience will really help me make more progress in my future study,” Tsai says.