Student Spotlight: Abdulrahman Alanazi

Abdulrahman is in his first semester here at the IEI.

At the Intensive English Institute (IEI), we believe that everyone has their own story. Reasons for coming to the United States to study English are significant and inspiring, so we are proud that the IEI is a prominent stepping stone in each of these journeys.

We sat down with one of our current students, Abdulrahman Alanazi, to hear his story about studying English. Abdulrahman, who comes from Saudi Arabia, is in his first semester at the IEI.

Q: What is it like studying away from home?

A: This is my first time in the U.S. It’s totally different [from my home country]: the weather, the culture, the community lifestyle. All different. I don’t feel homesick, though. I’m really enjoying it.

Q: How will studying at the IEI help you achieve your goals?

A: I was a lecturer at a Saudi Arabian university where I taught six different courses. [In the future] I want to be a professor, so I need students to understand me well while I’m teaching. I want to be fluent. Also, it’s helpful to know English for research papers I will have to write, so I want to improve my writing. The University of Illinois is a top university for electrical engineering. [I hope to] pursue my PhD at the University of Illinois once I’m done [learning English] at the IEI.

Q: What do you like about the IEI?

A: Everything! The teaching style is great. The teachers give good techniques to make students understand English better. For example, in grammar, we were taught to draw a picture in our minds before saying something in order to use the word correctly. I feel like I’m improving myself more in writing, reading and grammar classes. I’m learning about and correcting mistakes I’ve had before.

Q: What tips do you have for students who want to learn English?

A: Try to make learning English more fun. Don’t just [learn at school], but make friends and spend time with native speakers to help you improve the language.


Alumni Spotlight: Marc-Ansy Laguerre

marc ansy edited
Marc-Ansy Laguerre teaches how to avoid building mistakes in a video segment.

Here at the Intensive English Institute, our mission is to enable international students with proficiency in English so that they can achieve their personal, professional and academic goals. We asked former student, Marc-Ansy Laguerre how learning English at the IEI has paved a way to help him achieve his dreams.

Q: How has learning English helped you achieve your goals?

A: At the IEI, my English improved quickly. Like its name suggests, it really is intensive English. I learned how to write, read and speak better. I needed those skills because, as an engineer, I have to know how to write reports and speak eloquently to be successful. The tips I learned at the IEI not only helped me in English, but also in my first language since I have become more coherent and cohesive in my speaking and writing.

Q: What was your favorite part about learning at the IEI?

A: My favorite part at the IEI was writing and speaking class. When it comes to writing, the way they taught was very efficient because it was mostly about how to write with cohesion. With that, I can write better and also understand what I read more efficiently. Also, I like the way I was taught to monitor my own personal learning; for example, I learned to do self-evaluation on my presentations. This made me more aware of my strengths and weaknesses which allowed me to improve quickly.

Q: How do you plan on using these skills in the future?

A: My future career dream is mainly to be a Professor in Haiti because I like to learn and teach.

Marc-Ansy is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Structural Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. In January, he started a video show where he explains concepts and tips about civil engineering. You can check out his Facebook page here.


The mirror: looking at stories through pictures

The old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” couldn’t be truer this past April during the Sharing Memories; the Mirror art exhibit. At this event, IEI student, Maureen Riquelme Vasquez opened the window into her own life through her art. She showcased photography documenting her time here in the United States, and the people in her life that made her life worthwhile.

Maureen is from Chile, and began studying at the IEI in August 2015. When she came to learn English, she knew getting involved in the community would make her time in the U.S. more memorable. One of her most recent endeavors began when she signed up to take an art class designed to help members of the Latino community express themselves. Maureen got involved when the teacher of the class reached out to her.

“The photography teacher is from Colombia. She invited me to participate in her class because taking photographs is one of my hobbies,” Maureen said.


Having a community here solely for Latin Americans made the distance from she and her home in Chile a bit smaller. She got to work alongside her class all year and get to make connections with the people in it. Maureen worked week after week to discover new mediums, hone her skills, and explore who she was through photography. The final exhibit this month finally boasted Maureen’s and her classmates’ yearlong journey.

“Our teachers wanted to show our history and how people from different countries see the art from our personal experiences. It’s kind of a look into the mirror our lives,” she said.

During the exhibit, Maureen was proud of the work she and he classmates had done. She said seeing her art reflect her life and her story through the people around her was an unforgettable experience. The end result of all the meaningful work summed up her personal growth. At the exhibit, she was finally able to step back and see the whole picture.


“In the beginning of this project we never saw how far we were going. I’m really impressed about it,” Maureen said.

Though she is going home after this semester, Maureen wants to continue her hobby. She loves taking pictures and will continue to do so everywhere and anywhere she goes. What she has learned in both her art class and in her time studying abroad will be cherished forever. Though she is saying goodbye, the IEI will be forever woven into her story.


Written by IEI Intern Maria Rubin De Celis


Having Fun and Learning Outside of the Classroom

Most people associate hitting the books and going to class when they think of receiving a good education. Two IEI students took their learning to the next level, however, and proved that learning extends far beyond the classroom.

When Yuki Nakamura came to the United States from Japan to study English, he knew that to receive the best experience possible, he would have to immerse himself fully into the language. His first and favorite choice was to embrace and rekindle one of his old hobbies from home—Judo.yuki

Back in Japan, Yuki tried the form of martial arts, nine years ago and loved it. Years later, as he started classes at the IEI this semester, Yuki chose to use his hobby not just to have fun, but to learn English as well.

“I wanted a chance to talk to native speakers. In Judo club, I can talk to native speakers,” he said about accomplishing his goals for joining the class.

Yuki’s goals to learn outside of the classroom to improve English skills have been a positive experience for him so far. Every day in Judo class, he said he gets to practice listening and speaking through explaining different Judo skills to his fellow classmates and listening to what the instructors have to say.

However, though supplementing language skills has been good, the personal benefits have been better, he said.

“In Judo club, it is a good experience for me because I’ve met many people. The most fun experience was when I went to a home party of one of my Judo class members. I got to go  and join the party with other students” Yuki said.yuki2

Yuki isn’t the only student benefitting from joining extracurricular activities. Making new friends and connections was a major reward for Eunsook Choi, too, when she tried dance lessons for the first time this semester.

Eunsook, a student from Korea, joined a dance class this semester after visiting a dance club her host mother was a part of. To learn a variety of dances, Eunsook gets experience in swing, tango, cha-cha, and ballroom dancing, to name a few.

Like Yuki, Eunsook said one of the most helpful parts is the English practice she gets from attending the lessons.Eunsook

“There are women and men on either side, and we rotate partners every five minutes, so I have many chances to speak with native speakers,” she said.

This extra practice makes her more comfortable with communicating in English, and she said she feels as though it has been a helpful part of her time here in the United States.

“I can meet new native speakers and I have the opportunity to speak with them and get to know them,” Eunsook said of the connections she’s made so far this semester.

Being bold and stepping out of comfort zones, especially with language, can be difficult when coming to a country for the first time. Though intimidating at first, students like Yuki and Eunsook prove that getting the fullest experience abroad means pushing yourself, learning, and having fun both inside and outside the classroom.

Written by IEI Intern Maria Rubin De Celis




A taste of culture—IEI students share food and experiences

Peering into the window of someone else’s culture gives an invaluable taste of a person’s context and background. Last week, students got a taste of their classmates’ cultures quite literally as we shared dishes from all over the world at the IEI potluck. From Japanese Sukiyaki and Udon noodles to traditional Taiwanese Three-Cup Chicken, our students had an eye-opening meal that provoked conversation and gave a glimpse of what each of their classmates brought to the table.

potluck IEI 4
Students, ConvoPartners, IEI interns and teachers gather over delicious food and delightful conversation at the IEI Potluck.

Aurianny Angulo, a new student this semester, made one of her favorite desserts to highlight her Brazilian heritage. The round, chocolate spheres, called brigadeiro, are a common treat in her home country. The simplicity of the dish and the novelty to her friends made it an easy choice for her to make, she said. Also, Aurianny mentioned that no party in Brazil is complete without this tasty sweet, so she couldn’t resist bringing it to the IEI either.

potluck IEI 2
Aurianny shows off her Brazilian Brigadeiros.

“It is a common dessert in parties…it’s strange to go to a party where these aren’t there,” she said.

Another student, Maureen Riquelme Vásquez, said she also chose her dish because it was common, yet so unique to her region of the world. Maureen is from Chile and one of her favorite foods from home are sopaipillas, which are a type of fried dough that she paired with pico de gallo, a type of salsa.

Maureen said this food reminded her of home because anyone can easily get them in Chile since they are so versatile and delicious. From street vendors, to food stands, sopaipillas are a staple food all over her home country. However, she said her favorite time to eat them is at home during the winter or on a rainy day. For the potluck, Maureen turned the event into a family affair.

“I chose to bring sopaipillas because my aunt offered to make them. I’m not very good at that,” she said. Maureen even brought her nine-year-old nephew, Sergio, to join in on the fun at the IEI. She didn’t want him to miss out on the opportunity to try new foods and experience the cultural dishes of her friends.

potluck IEI 3
Elsayed and Cheikhani, Fulbright Scholars from Egypt and Mauritania, contemplate which dessert to try next.

Even those who didn’t make foods from their home countries enjoyed their time at the potluck. Daniel Romero Jimenez, from Colombia, came because IEI events are opportunities where students from every class at the institute are able to come together to get to know each other better.

He said, “The food was a good part that night, but what I really enjoyed was talking with other students and ConvoPartners.”

potluck IEI 5
Yuki, from Japan, teaches Daniel and Mustafa, from Colombia and Turkey, how to use chopsticks.

This chance to interact with people from all over the world is what makes the IEI a truly unique place to study. Participating in activities like the potluck, are chances to look into the window of diversity around them.

“In these months, in this semester, I am sharing a lot of experiences with my friends, so it is good to know about what they eat and where they come from,” Aurianny said.

With activities and opportunities to get to know people from all over the world, the IEI gives an unforgettable taste of a cross-cultural experience that extends far beyond the classroom.

pot luck IEI 1
A sampling of the delectable desserts prepared by IEI students and teachers.

Written by IEI Intern Maria Rubin De Celis


What Are You Thankful For?

Thanksgiving is one of the most popular holidays in the United States. Typically you can find families and friends getting together to spend time with one another, and eat a wonderful feast together. During Thanksgiving, many people reflect on what is most important in their lives and what things they are most thankful for.

With Thanksgiving next week, IEI students and interns spent some time reflecting on their own lives. They thought about what they’re grateful for this holiday season and it turns out, there’s a lot to give thanks for:

Najah (student from Saudi Arabia): “My family is important. I will visit my family and we will eat dinner together.”

Yernar (student from Kazakhstan): “I’m thankful about the chance that my government gave me to get an education abroad. For example, right now I’m studying at the IEI to enhance my English language skills…it makes me very thankful and very happy because not all the people in my country can take this kind of chance.”
Taghreed (student from Saudi Arabia): “I’m thankful for Allah because he gives me what I need. I’m thankful for all the IEI teachers because they help me to improve my English. Also, I’m thankful for my parents because they support me.”
Moon (student from Korea): “Visiting my uncle and cousin. For me, this is my last semester, so my uncle said they would have a party for me.”
Maureen (student from Chile): “I’m really thankful for the security that my parents have given me to do everything that I want to do. They are a big support for my brothers and me.”
Aaron (student from Korea): “I’m thankful for my having my family.”
Juan (IEI intern): “I’m thankful for my family, friends, and dogs.”

Written by IEI Intern, Maria Rubin De Celis


Cooking Up New Experiences

There’s always something special and fulfilling about spending time with someone whose background is different than your own. The cross-cultural experience allows for new perspectives and understanding, more than anything anyone could learn from a classroom. This past week through the ConvoPartners Program at the Intensive English Institute, I got a taste of this unique learning opportunity—both literally and figuratively.

The ConvoPartners Program is a semester-long activity the IEI arranges so international students have a chance to pair up with residents of the Champaign-Urbana area on a weekly basis. It helps students practice their English, and allows both partners to learn a bit more about each other and their cultures. My ConvoPartner, Renata, and I had an exceptionally fun evening this past week, cooking and sharing stories from our different backgrounds.

Renata Zakirova is a first-year IEI student from Russia. She surprised me in our regular weekly meet-up by telling me that we were going to make one of her favorite dishes—Russian meat dumplings. I was so eager to learn a little more about Russian cuisine, and hang out with her in the process.

From the moment I arrived at her apartment, Renata was so hospitable—even giving me a cute hedgehog apron and slippers so that I would be comfortable. I felt at home in her company even before we started cooking the homemade meal.

Renata began by showing me how to roll the dough for the dumplings from scratch. Sometimes in American culture, we tend to like things that can be done quickly and instantly. The fact that we were starting from the bare basics even for the dumpling dough was rare for me, and from the start I knew the experience would be one to remember!

After kneading the dough, Renata showed me how to make a lemon cake for dessert so we would have something to do while the dough was resting. As I mixed the batter, the tangy smell of fresh lemons reminded me of home, and I was able to share a little bit about my home cooking background.


We started assembling the dumplings after the dough had fully rested, and combined a mixture of ground pork and beef for the filling. Renata showed me how to put the dumplings together, looking like a potter as she carefully crafted each one. Slowly, one by one, we pinched the dumplings to perfection and they were finally assembled. We then put them in the water to boil, and as they cooked, I got to hear a little bit more about Renata’s story.



Renata said that she and her family used to make these dumplings at home. Her mother and grandmother did everything from scratch, including grinding up the meat. Between stories about her brothers growing up and what primary school was like, I gained a deeper insight into Renata’s story. Her openness encouraged me to tell mine as well, and we had a great time laughing sharing old memories from our pasts. Renata and I got lost in good conversation, and we had to remind ourselves to check on the food to make sure nothing would overcook.


Thankfully, we managed to get everything out of the oven and off the stovetop right on time. After adorning the table with berries, salads, and sauces, it was finally time to eat! The minute I bit into the homemade dumplings, I was so pleased and proud that we made such a great dish. Then, after dinner and dessert, Renata and I finished up with a customary tea party. For over an hour we sat, building memories and friendship over a comforting mug of Russian tea.



Finally, it was time for me to leave, and I left the slippers and cozy atmosphere reluctantly. It was wonderful getting to know each other better while building a new friendship. When I got back to my dorm, I realized that the meal we shared and made together was delightful…but the company we shared was even better.

Written by IEI intern, Maria Rubin De Celis


at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign