Nguyen Hai Anh made her first-ever visit to the U.S. from Vietnam this summer intent on gaining English language proficiency. Le Xuan Son, also from Vietnam, was interested in understanding American culture and ideologies. Meanwhile, Shanghai native Tu Peng Wei simply wanted to see for himself what an American university looked like.
Anh, Son and Wei were part of an 18-student cohort that spent eight weeks in a Niagara University summer camp focused on providing English language instruction in addition to correlative immersion into American culture.
Participants included 12 students from China, five from Vietnam and one from Korea. They ranged in age from 16 to 22.
Twelve international students participated in the program last year, the first time it was offered at NU.
The university introduced the English summer camp as a mechanism to advance the strategy of its president, the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., to increase international student enrollment. While the university's plan to establish a worldwide brand continues to unfold, welcoming students from overseas has had an immediate positive effect on its students, faculty, staff and administrators.
"At Niagara University, we are creating an environment that allows students from all backgrounds and cultures to work with one another, and these experiences will be critical as they graduate into an increasingly globalized workplace," noted Maher, who participated in a cookout with campers. "Niagara is also taking on a greater role in terms of developing the Western New York economy. Introducing young people from eastern Asian countries to the beauty, hospitality and dynamism of this region will only strengthen these efforts."
Designed for nonnative learners of English, the summer camp provides four hours of language instruction each weekday. The instruction, which varies by student based on an English language proficiency assessment conducted early in camp, includes practice in conversation, reading and writing enrichment as well as opportunities to work with coaches in the university's language technology lab.
The students, especially the Chinese, relished the opportunity to work closely with the camp's three primary instructors: Kathy Fallon, Jaime Gabrini and Kaitlyn Locey. NU students majoring in TESOL supplemented the learning experience.
"There are about 50 people in each of my classes back home, many more than there are in classes here. So Niagara University is much smaller, but it's much greater," said Shen Xin Yu, a student from Shanghai Industrial and Commerce Foreign Language College. "We received such great information from our teachers here, and I can always ask the teacher questions."
Dr. Deborah T. Curtis, director of Niagara's Center for Events and Management Development, oversaw the program. NU hospitality majors organized the group's daily cultural, recreational and enriching activities that highlighted the sights and sounds of summer in New York.
The group rode the Maid of the Mist, watched fireworks at Niagara Falls State Park, hiked at Devil's Hole State Park, attended Artpark's production of "Peter Pan" and engaged in an NU alumni event at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard (which is owned by Ed Brennan, Class of 1978). On Aug. 1, they participated in the Color Run at Canalside in downtown Buffalo with Curtis and Dr. Debra A. Colley, Niagara's executive vice president.
During their time on campus, the campers also were presented with opportunities to interact with their American peers participating in the Niagara University Senior Term Enrichment Program (NUSTEP) summer academy as well as the international refugees being prepared in Niagara's Hospitality and Tourism Training Institute. The engagement is central to the camp's goal of providing a rich understanding of the English language that also builds comprehension through planned initiatives and shared experiences. The residential component - the campers lived on campus - augmented the experience for the international students as well.
At the completion of the English summer camp, the students received a certificate indicating their English language proficiency level and hours completed.
Yu expressed an interest to return to Niagara University someday, potentially to pursue an MBA or a master's degree in sport management. Several of the students expressed similar feelings, with one of them - Le Thi Lien of Vietnam - having already made plans to matriculate as an NU student beginning this January.
Anh, who presented on the group's experience during a celebratory event on the camp's final day, became aware of NU when Maher and Dr. Hung Le, vice president for international relations, visited her school, Foreign Trade University, to sign a memorandum of understanding last December.
Despite taking a few days to overcome jet lag and dropping her iPhone into a hot tub during a picnic at Curtis's house, Anh was overjoyed with her American experience.
"Niagara University is such a beautiful place, with comfortable weather and gorgeous buildings," she said. "And the blue water, sailboats and lighthouses at Canalside were so beautiful. It was like a movie. I couldn't imagine that it was real."
Colley encouraged the students to tell their family and friends about Niagara University, Western New York and, most of all, the vibrant American spirit of the people who live in the region.
"We want to thank you for coming to our campus," she said. "It's our goal that you leave here with more competence in your language skills so that you'll really be ready to hit the ground running when you decide to earn a degree from Niagara University.
"Go home, spread the word and tell the people you've met to keep in touch with you. We'll see you all real soon."
To learn more about how Niagara University supports international students, visit www.niagara.edu/oir.