Category Archives: Reflection

Competitiveness, Motivation, and Opportunities in Language Learning

By Linh Phung, English Language Program Director

Vietnamese Ao Dai
Vietnamese Ao Dai

I started to learn English in middle school in Vietnam when I was 11 years old. My class specialized in English, so I had more English lessons than any other subjects. During my middle school and high school years, I was extremely competitive and determined to be the top student in class, and so I studied with great intensity. I maintained my number one ranking throughout my high school years and won a third prize in the national English contest, which allowed me to choose a university to attend without having to take the much-feared national entrance exam to universities. I chose the College of Foreign Languages at Vietnam National University to continue my specialization in English. In college, I had more opportunities to communicate orally in English through class discussions, debates, and presentations. However, I was still very exam-oriented. I spent a significant amount of time on studying test preparation books, including TOEFL and IELTS, because course exams were often similar to the exercises in those books. In addition, I listened to the news on BBC or VOA, watched American movies, and read English magazines, few authentic materials that I could find in Vietnam at the time.

With high scores in the TOEFL and GRE tests, I moved on to do a Masters degree in the U.S. My language development continued through interactions with others in English. During my MA, reading articles in the field was difficult because of the new content, as was following group discussions. I was mostly quiet in the first year of my MA. I knew I needed to continue to improve my English. I found chatting useful, so I made friends online and chatted often. I also watched popular TV shows like Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond. When I had to write papers for classes, I spent time reading and taking detailed notes. I earned As in all but three classes because of my papers.

Now as a professional living in the U.S., I use English comfortably for a variety of purposes. I know that my English is still changing as I continue to learn new words and learn new ways to talk about certain topics in my field and relate to other people. I have more confidence in many professional circles, and I’m more outspoken. I’ve never made it my purpose to sound like a native speaker, but I do wonder how my English will evolve after years of living in the U.S.

Looking back, I realize that my competitiveness gave me motivation to study English, and my motivation pushed me to seek more authentic and interesting materials in English than any of the classes at school or in college could provide me. Apart from classroom work, these materials fostered my love for English and developed my skills beyond doing mechanical exercises. In language learning, practice (in the sense of doing exercises) alone does not make perfect. Reading and listening to interesting materials and using English to communicate ideas makes perfect!

It Was Not Expected: A Reflection on the U.S. Presidential Election Result

By Chris Musick, Associate Vice President for International Affairs

Chatham Students' Walkout on November 2016
Chatham Students’ Walkout in November 2016

“Shock” might be the best word to summarize the result of the United States presidential election.

While many people in the United States are feeling optimistic about the next four years, many others are feeling targeted. The xenophobic and vitriolic statements made by the US president elect have caused anxiety among different nationalities, racial and religious groups, and genders in the United States and abroad. There is a legitimate fear that the president elect’s words have empowered hate groups in the United States. There have been reports in the United States of increased episodes of racist graffiti and harassing verbal attacks on minority groups.

Emotions have run high across the United States in the days following the election. Many students at Chatham have openly expressed their disillusion, confusion, anxiety about the future. Faculty and staff have been contemplating the implications and ways to provide support to students.

There have been open forums at Chatham in which students expressed their thoughts, feelings and concerns. There have been on-going, mostly non-violent, protests across the country and in Pittsburgh. Chants of “Not my president!” are heard. As I write this, a 15-minute “walk out” is planned by Chatham students at 3 pm to establish Chatham as a “sanctuary campus.”

Dr. David Finegold, President of Chatham University, wrote in a statement to the campus community the day after the election:

“Regardless of what happens in our daily politics, I hope that here at Chatham we can continue to focus on our core values: gender equality, inclusiveness and acceptance, dialogue and civic engagement, and the pursuit of a more just and sustainable world. That is the community we want to create and the values we seek to foster in the classroom, on campus, and that we hope our students carry with them after graduation. Over Chatham’s nearly 150 years, we have persevered through many profound political transitions and societal changes, and I’m hopeful that we and the country will weather this one too.”

International students have been witness to an unusual American election. They are seeing both good and bad traits of the United States. The experience is educational and is one they will long remember.

The new president of the United States will take office on January 20, 2017. As an educational community, we look forward to learning about the changes to come. Chatham will continue to be an accepting environment for all students regardless of nationality, religious beliefs, gender orientation, race or political orientation. We are a community in which ideas are shared in a tolerant environment that is supportive of human dignity and equality.

Chatham will continue to provide the highest quality education to international students in a safe and protective environment.