All posts by lphung

Why Pittsburgh?

By Andrea Carolina Rodriguez Cortes

English Language Program

Fall 2022

Since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to live abroad. I’ve always wanted to learn to speak different languages. I’ve always wanted to know about different cultures. My first experience living abroad was at the age of 10 when my parents decided to move from Cali, Colombia, the city that I am from, to Volcan, Panama. This little town is known for its peaceful atmosphere, and many foreigners, mostly from the United States and Germany, live there. I remember going to public places and trying to communicate with kids at my age in English. I didn’t speak that much, but I was able to understand a lot because my mom used to talk to me in English. I felt extremely happy when I started making friends and speaking in another language. Unfortunately, we decided to move back to Cali for various reasons, one of which was that we missed our family and friends and weren’t used to living in a small town after spending our entire lives in big cities.

Years later, when I graduated from high school, I decided to choose a career related to languages. My lifelong ambition has been to learn five languages, and I speak three already (English, Spanish, and French). I decided to pursue a career in foreign languages at the University of Santiago de Cali. While I was studying at the university, I worked as an English teacher in a school and as a French teacher in another institute. As my graduation date approached, I  was resolved that once I completed my study, I would look an opportunity to live abroad. I didn’t want to live in Colombia anymore; I wanted to know the world; I wanted to know other cultures; I wanted to improve my English; I wanted to improve my French, and I wanted to have that cultural experience living abroad. I decided to look for options and I found an au pair program in the US. After talking to my parents, I applied to the au pair program, which is how I ended up living here.

When I started looking for families in the au pair program, I found a family that was in Pittsburgh. To be completely honest, I’d never heard of Pittsburgh before as it’s not as popular as New York, Miami, San Francisco, or Chicago. When I decided to come here, people asked me, “Why Pittsburgh?” I looked up the city and discovered that it had many good universities and a Latino population that wasn’t very large, so I could immerse myself in the language, which was perfect. Yes!!  Pittsburgh was the city that I was looking for. Finally, I graduated from the university in December 2019 and moved to the United States in February 2020.  I was living a dream. I had previously visited the United States on vacation in New York, but I didn’t practice English that much. I mostly spoke Spanish, so coming to a city where I could practice English was ideal. The first two weeks were great; everything was going well for me; everything was beautiful—the buildings, the city, speaking English every single day, going shopping—I was experiencing my dream cultural immersion. Unfortunately, two weeks after the lockdown began, I spent several months experiencing the opposite. After the lockdown was over, I began to travel, visiting New York, Los Angeles, Malibu, Santa Monica, and Myrtle Beach from June to December 2020. I was happy again.

When I finished my program as an au pair in February 2022, I decided that I wanted to study in the US, so I applied for a student visa at Chatham, and I was accepted into the English Language Program. I’ve learned a lot about grammar, vocabulary, composition, and communication. My goal is to be accepted into a graduate program in international relations, and I believe that was a good choice to apply to the ELP program at Chatham. So far, it has been great living here. I love the city. Still, when I meet a new person and they know that I am from Colombia, they ask me, “Why did you choose Pittsburgh to live in?” I just said that it was one of the best decisions that I have made. Why Pittsburgh? Because I love practicing the language every day. Why Pittsburgh? Because it isn’t that small or big, which makes it perfect. Why Pittsburgh? Because I love having the four seasons here, seeing the bridges, and enjoying its old infrastructure. Why Pittsburgh? Because I love the Steelers, even though I am still learning about football. Why Pittsburgh? Because this city has opened its doors to me, and I feel so comfortable living here. Why Pittsburgh? Because I have gained cultural knowledge living here, and I wouldn’t change it to live somewhere else. Why Pittsburgh? Because it is the first city where I have lived abroad by myself, and I am planning to stay. If I had to pick a city for cultural immersion again, I would pick Pittsburgh again.

A Dreamy Reality

By Andrea Quintero

English Language Program

Fall 2022

Life hasn’t been easy since I arrived in the United States. I came here with my dreams in mind, thinking that everything was going to be a perfect fairytale, but it was also my first time facing the world by myself in a completely different way. The truth is that I had never had to deal with adulthood on my own before coming here. Everything involving adult responsibilities would make me terrified, so I would always dream my way out of everything. Three weeks after my arrival, the pandemic happened. It was hard at first. I didn’t know what to do since I was new here, so having to live with an American host family while being in lockdown under a pandemic instead of living with my own family wouldn’t have been my first choice. I was so terrified that I considered leaving. At the same time, it was exciting, so I stayed. The best part of it all is that never would I have imagined that it was going to be my experience in the United States that would make me become the realistic dreamer that I am now.

Everyone that knows me knows that I’ve always wanted to be in the United States and speak English all day long. In fact, my friends and I would always joke about me being best friends with the Kardashians and being extremely successful in Hollywood, since I’m known for being an acting, music and makeup enthusiast. When I first arrived, I was a different person. I was excited and nervous about my future. (Well, that hasn’t changed much). I used to be more of a dreamer. I used to believe that everything was going to be like a fairytale. Turns out that life isn’t a fairytale, and I found that out the hard way. For a person like me, full of dreams and hopes, it was hard to face reality since no one taught me how to be realistic when I was younger.

I believe that childhood is an important part of what makes you who you are. It is true that you have the choice to change and to decide whether you want to keep making the same choices and mistakes or if you want to turn your life around, but it is hard to completely change if you’ve been raised a certain way. My story hasn’t been easy- nobody’s story is easy- but I can only speak for myself. The reason why I think I’m a dreamer is because in my childhood I needed to escape from my reality. One of the people who protected me from family traumas is my grandma. She encouraged me to think about another world and to use my imagination to ignore the pain of the violence happening just on the other side of the door. Thanks to that, I was able to travel in my imagination and to dream about being happy in a world that was violence free. I would also picture myself as an artist on a stage or in a movie set. That’s where I escaped the most. I don’t blame my mom or dad, and certainly not my siblings. I believe they are all victims of their stories and how they were raised. It’s just a vicious cycle. The priority that my parents gave me while growing up wasn’t much, so I had to learn most things about life for myself. Being here alone has been teaching me all about adulthood that I didn’t know. I truly love my parents; it just feels like I had to raise myself.

At the International Education Symposium 2022

Since I arrived in the US, I found out that adulthood is interesting. One of my favorite parts has been learning to be independent. I’m learning how to take care of myself, pay bills, buy groceries, and all the things that adults do.  It isn’t always fun though. I miss when I didn’t have to worry about anything, but also the challenge is great because it shows me how capable I am of achieving things for and by myself. My perspective of life has changed. I have become more independent, responsible and patient. Now not only am I a dreamer still, but I’m also more realistic and analytical, which may help me to achieve my dreams in the most rational way possible. I can still picture myself following the arts and being successful, but it may be not as magical as I used to believe it would be. Being here and having learnt all that I have, I know that the climb is going to be hard (if it isn’t already) and that I might not make my dreams come true, but one thing I know for sure is that I made the right decision coming to the United States, a country that may allow me to achieve my dreams just by combining them with my reality.

Making Sense of my American Life

By Chihiro Sakagami, Exchange Student at Chatham University

July 2022

“Shut the front door!” “Did I get 63 points! Seriously!?”

This is my reaction when I got an alphabet test result in junior high school, and this tragic event led me to think about my American life negatively.

Due to my father’s job transfer with Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, I lived in the U.S. between the ages of 1 and 5, and I went to Ann Arbor Hills Child Development Center in Michigan during those five years. I gained innumerable experiences, such as making many American friends, holding a birthday party at a dinosaur museum, visiting states in the U.S., and acquiring easy Spanish vocabularies. If I had not lived here, I would not have experienced these cherished experiences in my life. After I came back to Japan and started elementary school, my teacher asked me to hold English lessons for my classmates, and she gave me some opportunities to talk about my memories abroad. I loved telling my story so much that I might have talked a lot then. In elementary school, I believed that because I was good at speaking English, I must be able to get a higher score than other Japanese students.

The first English exam at junior high school came. It was the easiest exam I have ever taken because the only thing that I had to do was to fill the blanks with letters in the alphabet in the right order. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sing the ABC song in the middle of the exam, especially through N to P, which made the task of remembering the alphabet suddenly impossible for me. I remember I sang that song like “…H, I, J, K L, #$%&#$%#, O, P.” One week later, I got the result, and found it to be an impressively low score, 63 points. “What was the point of my life in Michigan? Why did so many other students get 100 points?” I lost sight of myself. I began to feel a kind of guilty of the way I spent time in Michigan and my English proficiency. Since I’m a very competitive person, I started to study English diligently and energetically with my mother who I admire as a fluent English speaker to get a good grade in the next English test. Moreover, I studied English by listening to Taylor Swift’s RED album. However, lamentably, I couldn’t get the top grade in the English test in my class throughout junior high and high school. From my perspective, the reason why I couldn’t succeed in the English tests was that I couldn’t understand the English grammar. In the lecture, my teacher often used words which were difficult for me to recognize, such as adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, and prepositions. I haven’t heard of those words when I learned English in the U.S. I still cannot believe that other students could understand the grammar which makes me feel nauseous even now.

When I was a third-grade junior high school student, I got a ticket to become a school representative in the English Speech contest for students in Aichi prefecture where I lived. To join the competition and win a gold medal was my greatest dream. I did rigorous practice every day with my mother, my American uncle, and a teacher I respected the most in order to make my dream come true. They praised me, “You are a fluent English speaker with good pronunciation and body language.” I got more courage from their support and encouragement, and I started to imagine that I could be a school representative of the speech contest by passing the audition and win at the final English contest. Although I gave my best shot, I lost the audition, and was not able to participate in the contest that I had dreamed of. I realized it is unfeasible to win something regarding English, and I wanted to delete the memory of living in the U.S. This shame and guilt lasted long, throughout my high school and college years, until one miraculous encounter at a café during my stay in Pittsburgh during my summer study-abroad program at Chatham University.

It was a scorching hot day. I found a café in Southside Flats called La Petit Café and Grille. I saw a man sending me a cute smile through the window, so I decided to have lunch there. I ordered a Western Omelet. It was delicious, but I was alone. Two women came into the café and sat next to me. I mustered up the courage to talk to them, “Would you mind if I spent lunch time with you? I am feeling a little bit lonely now.” They said “Absolutely!!” I was cock-a-hoop because they accepted my request. We talked about each other’s country, culture, my artworks, and my life in Michigan. Surprisingly, we talked about Michigan most of the time. And also, I could understand things they shared about their life in the U.S. without having to ask for paraphrasing. We talked for more than one hour, maybe two hours. We were so into the conversation that we forgot all about time. Why could I keep talking for two hours? After I said goodbye to them, I thought in my mind and recognized that it was because I had experienced living in the U.S. I had many memories and knowledge about living in the U.S. to talk about. Before I met them, I felt ashamed of my lifetime in the U.S. because I could not get better grades in speaking and writing English, even though I have an advantage over other students. This shame had been torturing me. However, thanks to this wonderful meeting, I realized I must live life without ever forgetting my feelings of appreciation towards my American life.

Maybe some people have experiences and backgrounds that they are ashamed of. However, I learned that memories have the potential to help you in the future just as my experience in America helped me talk with people for two hours. I now have a changed mindset to appreciate everything that has happened before. If I could go back to talk to my 13-year-old self, I would tell her, “Don’t care too much about your English exam score. Your experience and memories will help you to flourish in the future.”

Trying for Nothing

Trying for Nothing: A Personal Narrative by Habibullah Sorosh

In 2006, I was a second semester student at Kabul University, living in a dormitory. One night a friend told me about the film Osama, an Afghan film, directed by Seddiq Barmak in 2003, and although I had not seen the movie, I felt I knew this story from my own life. Perhaps, it was because I identified with the main character, the bitter story of her life and history, and the sadness of our time. Osama is the story of people who lost their identities under the boots of religious fascism. It is a story of fear. It features an innocent girl who bears the heavy burden of injustice, inequality, and religious extremism. The script is based on a series of painful and real events that all the people of Afghanistan have witnessed and felt.

I asked all my friends if they had this film, but no one did. As I was born into a poor family in a village far from Kabul, I had no extra money to buy anything besides food, but I was starting to obsess about how I could acquire the film.  One day, I decided that instead of going to university I would go to Kote Sangi, a public square where workers came to find work. My plan was to wait for someone to hire me, and then I would use the money to buy the film Osama.

When I got to the square, I saw about 300 people waiting to have someone take them to work. Whenever a car arrived, the workers crowded in as everyone was trying to get work. I also joined these workers and ran to every car that came along, saying loudly, “Do you need a worker, uncle? I will take less pay than the others.”

Several cars came and took with them those who looked big and strong. I was worried that no one might ever use me because I looked weak. After five hours of waiting, a Corolla came. All of the workers ran towards it. A handsome man got out of the car and stared at everyone. His eyes met mine. He approached me and said, “Are you a worker?” I said, in a trembling voice, “Yes.” He said, “Get in the car.” We drove to the wealthy area of Khair Khana, and when we arrived at his luxurious and modern house, he guided me inside. As is tradition, he offered me bread, and as opposed to the poor-quality government bread I was used to at university, this was fresh Paraki Naan, the exact kind my mother would make. It reminded me of her and how much I missed her. As I did not have the bus fare to go back to my village, I had not seen my mother for seven months.

The man suddenly and loudly said to his young children, “Come, Nilab, Susan, and Muhammad.” His children came.

I looked at the man and said, “Sir, can you guide me as to what I should do?” The man stared at me for a bit and then said, “Stand up.” I stood. The man turned to his children and said, “Look carefully. This boy is very young and handsome, but, if you do not study, your destiny will be like his.”

Yes! I was a symbol of laziness and illiteracy for his children.

I felt my throat squeeze with sadness, and I could not hold back my tears. I cried. His wife came to me and raised my head and said, “Do not cry, dear. If you studied, you would not live like this now. You could become an engineer or doctor.”

When I felt the motherly care of that woman, I remembered my own mother, who always said proudly to everyone that would listen, “My dear son Habib, from the first grade until now, always got the first position in school.

In the midst of crying and sobbing, I said, “I got the first ranking in school, and now I am also the first in my class at university.”

They were so ashamed to hear this that they gave me 300 Afghani on the spot, which is one day’s wage for a worker. I said, “I did not do anything. I do not deserve a wage.” But the man hugged me and gave me the money anyway.

I left his house with a strong feeling of relief, and the next day went to the DVD store and bought the film Osama.

Throughout my education, I studied with excruciating difficulties, and I got a good result. I taught as a professor at Kabul University, faculty of Fine Arts for 11 years, and with great effort I collected a collection of DVDs for 15 years, which I used in my teaching and research at Kabul University.

When the Taliban came to Kabul in August 2021, and I quickly burned all the documents I had. I set fire to my literary and artistic documents, and my DVD collection. It may seem silly, but when you feel death close by, you are forced to destroy even your identity. My life is a story of people who lost their identities under the boots of religious fascism.

Bio: Habibullah Sorosh is a professor, screenwriter and playwright whose research includes the history of Afghan cinema, the structural effects of absurdist dramas, and Kazakh historical genre films. Born in the Jaghori district, Ghazni province of Afghanistan Habib received his Bachelor of Cinema and Theater from the Department of Fine Arts at Kabul University and Master of Art Criticism at Kazakh National Academy of Arts T. Zhurgenov. For the past ten years, Habib has been a professor at Kabul University in the Department of Fine Arts and Dramatic Literature. He is currently a Visiting Researcher in the Schools of Drama and Art at Carnegie Mellon University where he is researching the fields of theatre, cinema, and art theory.

Habib Sorosh received a scholarship to study English with the English Language Program at Chatham University in Summer 2022. Below is a picture of him and Dr. Linh Phung, Director of the ELP, during a class outing.

High Achievement

High Achievement

By Kirari Ii, ELP Student

Summer 2021

Kirari in the performance

I can’t forget that moment―the view from the stage, generous applause from the audience and that sense of accomplishment.

It was the summer of my first year at university.

“Prrrr…Prrrr…” My phone rang. It was from Mr. Nakamoto who was a representative of a community-based group for local revitalization. The group is working to boost the development of my hometown and get more people to know about my hometown through performances, such as musicals based on its history, place and people. I was a member of the group when I was in high school, but I left the group at after my graduation. I was so surprised to receive his call, and what he said surprised me even more.

“Could you join this summer’s stage to as a performer?”

He told me that the person who had planned to play one of the leading characters couldn’t join this play suddenly for various reasons so he was looking for someone who could take the role.

“There is no one but you,” he added.

I was so confused because I had never heard that graduates could join the stage. In addition, there was only one month left before the performance. Usually, we started practicing for a play for half a year, so I was not confident to get it done in a month. I played the role once when I was a high school student, but everything had changed such as the story, script, and choreography. However, I also really wanted to help him because I was very grateful to him and above all I loved this group and activity. After much agonizing, I finally decided to accept his request.

My big challenge started. I lived far from my hometown to go to university, and I had to go to school every day. Also, I was so busy with many part-time jobs and school assignments, so I couldn’t participate in most of practice sessions. There were only three sessions, including the rehearsal, left for me before the real stage. I couldn’t practice with other group members, so I practiced as well as I could at home. I practiced the choreography using video I received from the group and tried to memorize the script very hard every day. Finally, I managed to join the first practice session three weeks before the scheduled performance. However, I didn’t know anything such as stage’s overall flow and the timing of my appearance. I felt so miserable for my situation because other members, who were much younger than me, knew everything and was progressing with the practice session confidently and steadily. I lost my confidence to perform, and I was crushed by anxiety and fear. At that time, Mr. Nakamoto said to me, “I know you can definitely do it. I asked you because I thought so.”

I was determined to make the stage successful after hearing his encouragement. I did my best for the performance for a month. I think that period was one of the hardest ones in my life because of the tight schedule and considerable pressure.

On the day of the stage, I felt a little anxious but couldn’t hold down my excitement. This feeling made me remember the days before graduation. I knew I could do well because I prepared as much as possible for the day. As I expected, the seats for the performance were full, and I did it! I finished the performance! As the curtains closed, we received a thunderous applause from the audience. I was full of sense of accomplishment that I had never felt before, and the view of the audience’s smile and generous applause were greater for me than any other past stages. Many people came to me and complimented my performance.

Performance Day

“You have done well.” “Good show!” “I love your acting and dance.”

Then, Mr. Nakamoto came and said to me, “I’m proud of you, Kirari. Thank you.”

Tears fell from my eyes.

Finally, I was free from the anxiety and fear, and I felt that my effort bore fruit. I gained more self-confidence than ever before through this experience, making this one of the most precious memories in my life.

Kirari (second left) with her classmates this 2021 Halloween season

Stranger is Not Danger

Stranger is not danger

By Najd Alagl, ELP Student, Summer 2021

“Miss, Miss are you okay?” shrieked a stranger.

I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me. I was staring at his face, thinking, “Are you talking in understandable language or did something messed up just happen?” In that moment, I wasn’t sure of anything. I mumbled, “I’m fine.”

In one of Toronto’s summer mornings, on the intersection between two streets whose names I can’t even mention without wobbling, I was going to my school. I got off the car as my husband saying, “See you later. Take care.” I dragged myself out of the car as if I was thirty-six weeks pregnant, which I was, then I smiled and waved.

I was on my swollen feet, trying to picture myself hopping on the clouds like a silly cartoon. It was a perfect day with a light drizzle, and a lot of puffy clouds. Finally, as the red light turned to green, I started marching my thoughts. I turned my music on and tried to rid my pale face and wear a full-of-life one. I could feel the fragrance of freshly grounded coffee, the fragrance that forces humanity to line up for hours to enjoy it for minutes. People were bolting around as if life was depending on them. But what if life was really depending on us? I shook my head to stop my mind from drifting away.

I was wandering around, rolling my eyes, contemplating the purpose of life. Suddenly a woman tapped on my shoulder. She was saying something, but I couldn’t hear it, not only because of her crazy mad face which I was distracted by, but also because of my loud music. In a second, I raised my hand to pull out one of my headphones. I smiled, thinking she was one of many girls who were going to the same school or some tourist going to ask me for directions. Then I thought to myself, “Hmm, I must appear as if I belonged here or as if I was some expert tourist who knows everything.”

She was blondie, skinny, and furious. Her face was covered in sun burns, and her eyes were extremely insane. She was standing a foot away from me, and then out of the blue she punched my face as if it was a punching bag, or if I killed her precious dog. Then she kicked me the way you kick something to blow off some steam. People around me were shouting and cursing, but not me! I wasn’t sure what really happened. Then another stranger, or I may say an angel, rushed to checking on me with his concerned eyes. He asked, “Miss, Miss are you okay?”

I was gawking at him. Then I smiled and laughed in creepy way. I murmured, “I’m fine.”

He smiled at me, then walked away. I walked, then stopped, then walked again, then stopped, and leaned on some wall. I felt like I couldn’t hold myself. Then I burst into tears. Lucky me – it was only one wave of it. I tried to pull it together, whispering to myself “I’m okay, I’m okay, everything is fine.”

I was on my way again. I could hear my heartbeats. I felt vulnerable. I kept scanning people. Surprisingly, the angel was back. He asked, “Are you sure you’re okay? I’m sorry that happened to you”.

He insisted on escorting me while he kept rambling about what happened. I was looking at him very closely while we were traveling together, trying to remind myself how much I love chitchatting with strangers. I paid no attention to what he said. Then, with my frozen face, finally, I spoke up, “This is where I was heading.”

He smiled and apologized over and over as if what she did was his fault. I smiled back. Then he faded away. I remember their faces as if they were pictures printed in my memories. It’s funny that one random incident with two completely different strangers: One was an angel, and the other was, I don’t know If I can say a devil, but I think anyone in my shoes would say so. People say when they had a terrifying accident, they felt as they were moving in slow motions. I felt the opposite. I blinked, and she appeared, I blinked again, and she was gone. Maybe she was a ghost, but I didn’t believe in ghosts. Maybe I do now.

Summer 2021 BBQ

Let’s Talk Friday and More

Jan 15: Let’s Talk Friday 1

Time: 9-10am US Eastern Time (Pittsburgh Time)

Time zone Converter:


Cost: Free


Join Chatham University students and students from various countries in a Let’s Talk Friday event. You’ll have the opportunity to make friends, share your goal in 2021, and seek suggestions on overcoming the obstacles to achieve the goal.  Please prepare for these two questions in advance.

1. In 1-2 minutes, please tell us your name and three words or phrases that describe your background and why those words/phrases are important to you.

2. In 2 minutes, talk about a goal that you’d like to achieve in 2021 and what obstacles may stop you from achieving the goal.

Please be ON TIME as you may not be admitted to the meeting if you are not on time.

IIE and NAFSA events for International Education Week 2020


The Open Doors 2020 Data Release were released on November 16. Watch the VIDEO RELEASE here. Representatives from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education released findings from the 2020 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange.

Thursday, Nov 19
Now More than Ever: DEI in Global Programming, 11:00am ET

IIE’s commitment to diversity and inclusion has been central to our mission and we continue to practice and reaffirm that commitment in our programming throughout the world. Join a panel of IIE team members from across our global offices moderated by Mary Karam McKey, Head of IIE’s Corporate & Foundation Programs. Panelists will explore regional considerations around DEI as well as incorporating it into program design and implementation. Panelists and locations include:

  • Ethiopia Abebe, Lead, Ethiopia and Sub Saharan Africa (Addis Ababa)
  • Jonathan Lembright, Head, Southeast Asia (Bangkok)
  • Nichole Johnson, Director, Private Sector Program Development (NYC)
  • Evgenia Valuy, Lead, Evaluation and Learning (NYC)
  • Michelle Pickard, Director, Gilman International Scholarship Program (Houston)
  • Akta Sawhney, Senior Program Specialist (New Delhi)

Friday, Nov 20
Now More than Ever: Cultivating Leaders to Address Global Challenges, 11:00am ET

Exchange alumni contribute to society in positive ways and, shaped by their lived experiences, become leaders who are working to address the world’s most pressing challenges. Michelle Dass Pickard, IIE’s Director of the Gilman International Scholarship Program, will be joined by alumni of various leadership development and exchange programs who will discuss the need for these programs in light of current challenges, the importance of DEI in programs, and considerations to ensure that the benefit of the exchange experience does not end with the individual participant.


Cost: $89 for non-members

More information here:

Monday, November 16

Our Future: The Next Four Years, 1:00pm- 2:30pm ET
Examine the outcome of the 2020 U.S. election and how it will impact international education, diplomacy and engagement with the world.

Tuesday, November 17

Social Justice & International Education: Exploring the Intersections, 10:00am- 1:00pm ET

Wednesday, November 18

NAFSA Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization Presidential Panel and Award Recognition, 1:00pm-2:30pm ET
Recognize the achievements of the 2020 NAFSA Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization winners and join us for a live Presidential Panel.

Thursday, November 19

Perspectives on Engaging Today’s Students, 1:00pm ET

Friday, November 20

Fall 2020 NAFSA Research Symposium: A Critical Discussion of Theories, Methodologies, and Practices in International Education, 9:30am-1:30pm ET

Restricted and Expanded: Life During COVID-19

Dr. Linh Phung wrote this reflection to inspire her students to write their own reflection on their experience during COVID-19. She shares it here with the hope to hear more stories and reflections from others. 

Life-changing news came in droves in the week of March 9, 2020. Restrictions on gatherings were announced at the university earlier in the week. The IELTS workshop that I had spent so much time arranging was effectively cancelled. The much anticipated TESOL Convention, where thousands of English teachers would meet to share ideas and get inspired, was called off. On Thursday, after I finished teaching, I gathered my books and work computer to bring home, considering the high chance of not being able to return to work the following week. Then it all became clear on Friday, March 13. We were in “lockdown.” Every “non-essential” worker, not only at Chatham, but in many parts of the state, was ordered to stay at home. The daycare was closed, and my 18-month-old baby was also ordered to “shelter in place.” My husband and I congregated at home with laptops, monitors, and phones on the dining table, trying to work while the baby did everything but allow us to work. What just happened?

New COVID-related vocabularies broadcast on the air and though social media became everyday lingo: positive cases, contact tracing, social distancing, self-isolation, lockdown, and so on. Life had no choice but to go on, but in a much smaller and restricted manner in the physical space of home. In my English Language Program (ELP), some international students were recalled home while others were understandably disappointed with the move to virtual learning and physical confinement. “This is not the study-abroad experience that we signed up for” was the sentiment that many stated. The program carried on with 20 hours of English instruction on Zoom, offered conversation hours and games on Zoom, and gathered for the End-of-Term Celebration on Zoom. There were undoubtedly frustrations, challenges, and Zoom fatigue, but there were also highlights of what was inspiring and heart-warming as we came to terms with the new reality. One such highlight was what students wrote in their submissions to the ELP Writing Contest: words of hope, unity, care, and living life in the moment as well as the humor of “staring straight in the eyes” of the virus with a stern warning that “you can’t divide us.” All of these gave me the positive energy, going into another semester of virtual classes with the determination of making instruction better for students. There is no choice but to persist, is there?

End-of-Term Celebration

With students taking classes from four countries in vastly different time zones in the summer, the summer classes were challenging time-wise, yet diverse and exciting. Overall, I had a stellar group of students, and in the end, I think the semester was a success with students appreciating what they learned from the Reading course and the “Science of Wellbeing” course on Coursera that we were all enrolled in. To me, the “Happiness” course as we called it was a highlight of the summer as we learned about what really matters for our subjective happiness, the fallacies of our mind, and simple-to-understand-but-difficult-to-implement strategies to boost our happiness. Connecting with others, being kind to others, expressing gratitude, and focusing on the here-and-now are not only strategies supported by a large body of happiness research, but also, I think, ones that bring us together as social beings and help us look deeper into ourselves as individual beings. I’m still far from turning those strategies into sustainable habits, but I have some hope that by making these small changes,  I can better maintain my mental health and live a more meaningful life.

Being serious with other TESOL leaders

Now being well into the fall semester without any hope of Covid-19 going away anytime soon, I’ve also come to appreciate the silver linings of a world less restricted by physical barriers. Apart from teaching my usual lessons to college students, I have conducted countless virtual conversation hours for students of all ages. I’ve presented on Facebook live to nearly a thousand viewers. I’ve attended far more conference presentations than in any normal year. I talk with colleagues from all over the world on a weekly basis. I’m collaborating on research with friends and colleagues. I’ve found my professional life expanded. If happiness means having a pleasant life, an engaged life, and/or a meaningful life, I’m certainly having a more engaged work life and feeling good about it.

Fall 2020
The world is now hoping for a vaccine that can be efficiently distributed so that we can soon get back to our normal life: A life with concerts, gatherings, hugs, and kisses that no technologies can simulate. A life when we can go out to lunch with colleagues, visit places with students, and exchange small talks in hallways and on campus walks. However, I also wonder about the lasting impacts of the new ways of teaching, working, communicating, and conferencing during Covid on the future of my work and professional life. Some questions come to mind.
  • What elements of virtual teaching, assessment, and student services will likely stick around?
  • To what extent will university staff go back to work in the office and continue to telework?
  • What are the benefits and challenges of both options? What will encourage more productivity and engagement?
  • Will colleagues from near and far still gather to share ideas across borders or will we retreat back to our local networks?

Dare to make predictions? Please leave your comments!

An Unforgettable Experience with Chatham English Language Program

By Bich Ta, English Language Program Graduate

My best classmate Miku

My name is Bich Ta from Hanoi, Vietnam. I received a scholarship to study English virtually with the English Language Program at Chatham University in the Summer 2020 semester. I am now planning to do a Master’s Degree in Sustainability in Europe.

The 2020 Summer ELP semester at Chatham University truly expanded my horizon for many reasons. Firstly, I studied with two most enthusiastic teachers: Dr. Linh Phung and Prof. Sylvia Shipp.  They were excellent in pedagogical skills, and always supportive whenever I and my classmates needed help. Besides, I had a one-of-a-kind opportunity to make friends with people from different parts of the world namely Japan, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Saudi Arabia. During the semester, they were friendly and helpful to me. Even now, we still keep in touch to talk and study together.

Teamwork with my classmates

In addition, every course in the summer semester was immensely intriguing and useful, which helped me lay a solid foundation for studying academic subjects of my upcoming Master’s course. To be more specific, not only did I gain a deeper insight into American culture, but I was also guided to make appealing presentations, analyze scientific research, and do group projects. One thing I am extremely grateful for is that we studied together about the science of happiness. We all know that the emergence of Covid-19 has changed our lives enormously. And it’s so thoughtful that our teachers gave us the opportunity to find out how to improve our well-being, and learnt the fallacies of the human mind.

Let’s Talk Friday in my eyes

Last but not least, the Office of International Affairs at Chatham University provided us with a wide range of activities outside classes like Let’s talk Friday, Conversation Partner Program, and Kahoot Games. I joined most of the activities, and that was why I felt more confident to communicate with others in English. I’d also like to share good news that I recently achieved an IELTS score of 7.0, an improvement from my previous score after the summer program with Chatham.

Looking back at the whole summer semester, I have no regrets to invest time in studying with Chatham since I learnt many things both for my English skills and social knowledge. If I have a chance, I would definitely love to visit Chatham University one day as I was impressed about the beauty of the green and sustainable Campuses.

Flowers and a rabbit on Chatham campus – Photo taken by my friend Miku

I’m happy to make friends. So, if you want me to share more about my experience with Chatham, please feel free to connect me by email at