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Medaille College’s

Washington International Academy

Washington International Academy represents an innovative, residential, two-semester pre-college English language and American culture program for high school graduates internationally who are academically qualified to pursue a US undergraduate degree but who need to improve their proficiency in English for academic purposes in order to earn unconditional acceptance into most US colleges and universities.

On this American Cultures web, Douglas Anderson, Kari Costello, and Yanjie Cheng are developing the second of the Academy’s five components:

  1. ESL classroom instruction and practice
  2. An introduction to American culture
  3. An introduction to US higher education
  4. Enrollment in select undergraduate courses
  5. TOEFL preparation

Component 2 – Introduction to American Culture

The Academy will afford students a sustained, structured, and meaningful approach to learning more about historic, enduring American beliefs, values, principles, and practices and contemporary culture primarily through experiential, community based learning

  • supervised field trips structured around key themes such as environmental sustainability, diversity, identity, class and privilege, the American political system, holidays and symbols, the role of arts in society, social problems, consumerism, work, leadership, sports and recreation and the American family, students to explore firsthand multiple facets of American life and interact with a cross section of Americans
  • service activities in the community. These field excursions will be aligned with the students’ language development activities in their core ESL courses to enhance integrated, applied learning. The community-based learning serves as a practical language development lab.
  • a year-long Introduction to American Cultures course that will combine level-appropriate readings along with films and discussions. The course work will be aligned with the community-based learning activities throughout the year and provide a location for structured, analytical reflection and integrative learning.

In his 2012 capstone paper, American Ways: A Course in Contemporary U.S. Culture for International Students, School of International Training Graduate Institute student Christopher D. Fitch makes a compelling argument for the value and necessity of an introduction to American culture class designed specifically to address the cultural understanding and transition needs of international students:

These students arrive with an often insufficient understanding of U.S. culture, traditions, or norms. This added cultural adjustment period . . . leads to increased stress and social isolation.

As a practical way to address this common problem, he proposes that higher education institutions implement a “course in contemporary U.S. culture for international students” to address “issues of adjustment, isolation, culture shock, and general misunderstanding attributed to maladjusted preconceptions of U.S. culture and [their] lack of general knowledge about the United States and its people”. Such a customized course would provide international students with the “most pertinent information and . . . up-to-date . . . cultural references” essential for college readiness.

Fitch notes the importance of coupling the “academic in-class curriculum” with campus programming to re-enforce classroom learning and to give international students “the opportunity to apply their knowledge in real-world situations. Ideally his imagined cultural literacy course provides the international students with a “’tool kit’” of knowledge and practical skills to better understand how to “relate to their American student counterparts both in the classroom and in social settings”. Unfortunately, Fitch’s research illustrates that “few [higher education] institutions have been experimenting with course work for international students in U.S. culture”. Medaille’s Washington Academy will therefore fill a gap need for international students entering mainstream American higher education.

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