Dear Future IEI Student,

Dear Future IEI Students,

We are so glad that you’ve chosen to join the IEI this semester! As a way of welcoming you, some of our former students have written you a few postcards sharing their experience and some advice. We hope you will find their kind words encouraging and insightful.

See you soon!
























Shall We Dance? International Prom Night

12986873_10209551145402213_759490503_oFor many Americans, high school prom stirs up fond or quite possibly embarrassing memories. We might think about who we asked or how we got asked, what the after party was like and what group we went with. But for others, prom is just a funny word or tradition.

Prom is an American high school tradition where students hold an end of the year dance before graduation. It’s been portrayed in movies, television shows, and books, but it’s the details of the event that make it so exciting and memorable for young adults. Depending on your school’s culture, it may be uncommon to go with a group of friends rather than a date. But one thing is for sure, everyone can agree that the thrill of prom comes from dressing up, eating and dancing with your friends, planning an after prom party with your closest friends, and enjoying the four years of hard work that got you to this celebratory moment.


April 8, the IEI along with International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS), hosted their very first International Prom Night at the YMCA from 7 to 10 pm. I interviewed IEI teacher and Social Activities Coordinator Chris Huh, who was also in charge of the event, to understand a little more of what inspired her to make this idea come to life.

“American students get to experience prom so now international students can experience it too. Since domestic and international students are both invited, it’s a good way to wrap up International Week where American and international students will be able to mingle and learn something about other cultures,” explained Chris. “When students first heard about the event, they were confused and had no idea what prom actually was. We had to post pics and show them proper prom attire to explain the concept.”


We may not be high school students, but at the end of the year it is only fair that IEI students be given a well deserved evening of fun and great company. So, after collaborating with the ISSS, it only made sense that the theme reflect International Week’s focus on sustainability and environmental awareness.

As a result, the prom’s theme was Enchanted Forest. I went to the event myself to take a look at how a high school prom was going to be recreated on a college campus. I watched as students sheepishly walked in with a smile, dressed in tuxes or beautiful traditional clothing. Next to the welcome sign laid a banner printed with the words, International Prom Night 2016 where guests could write their name and what country they were from. It was a perfect and beautiful representation of the diverse yet unified community seen that evening.

As guests poured in, the cupid shuffle line dance was being taught and soon right after that, the cha-cha slide took center stage, literally. I was not sure how comfortable the students would be to dance, but I was taken aback at the sight of how willing and carefree everyone was to hop and spin along with the music.


No prom could be complete without food to supply the excitement and energy. I’m not sure whether or not the students were more thrilled when the song, “Gangnam Style” by South Korean singer, PSY, came on or when they realized there was catering from YoriQ, KoFusion, and Y Eatery.


Didn’t make it this year? Not to worry. During my interview with Chris, I asked her whether or not there would be a second international prom night. “If the first one is a success, and there’s a really great turn out, then we would definitely bring it back next spring,” answered Chris. Around 100 guests attended the event and between eating, dancing, and talking with friends, they were all smiles!


It might just be a dance to us or a fun time to play dress up, but for IEI students, this Prom Night was a chance for them to meet domestic students and do something they had never experienced.


It became more than following an American tradition; instead, Prom Night became something so harmoniously diverse that it truly did stand alone as its own event. More than just dancing to a soundtrack or eating food with a couple of friends, it was a time to belong and be a part of something beautiful. International Week brings a variety of cultures and backgrounds together to celebrate the commonalities rather than the differences that make us uniquely human.

Written by IEI Communications and Marketing Intern, Erin Lin

Like Mother, Like Daughter

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A lot of students might feel comfortable studying with friends, classmates, or siblings, and  this probably seems perfectly normal and common. However, have you ever thought of getting an education along with your mother or father? Have you imagined competing with your parents to see who can get better grades?

IEI student, Dong Joo, has been a role model to her daughter as well as other IEI students, because of her diligence in studying after her retirement from teaching. Dong Joo started studying at IEI this January. While considering different options after her retirement, she decided to do something she had always been dreaming about, studying abroad. Although she spent her career at an educational institution, it was not easy to learn conversational English in Korea due to the different educational curriculum. Until she retired, she could not even imagine that her dream would come true, but with her retirement, she made a big step towards her dream by getting on a plane to the United States. It was also perfect timing because her daughter was a student at University of Illinois and they could spend time together in a place much different from their home country.

As a Korean university student, Dong Joo’s daughter Hyun Ji had the opportunity to study in the US as an exchange student. This motivated her to transfer to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Spring 2014 to study in the Department of Communications. Since she’s been here, she’s had many opportunities to interact with people from all over the world including the chance to study in Japan. The culture and atmosphere that diverse individuals create here taught her to learn various perspectives.

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The moment I saw Dong Joo and Hyun Ji together I thought, “They are such a cute mother and daughter combination!” The smiles on their face were bright enough to show their genuine kindness. From their small gestures to their glittering smiles, they looked very much alike; anyone could tell that they were mother and daughter.

Because it has been almost 20 years since Dong Joo studied English, starting over again has not always been easy. After she moved to Champaign-Urbana, she felt like there were not many things she could do by herself because of her language ability. Sometimes, she wanted to ask help from her daughter with her assignments and many other things that required her to use English. However, Hyun Ji tried to resist helping her mother, not to be cruel, but rather as a learning opportunity. Hyun Ji said, “I want my mom to discover her own way to learn and experience new things. I could help with her homework or even ordering a coffee, but if I do everything for her, I am afraid that she might not be able to learn and experience things on her own. As much as I understand the importance of learning from experiences, I want my mom to have the most valuable learning moments while she is staying here.”

Hyun Ji’s thoughtfulness towards helping her mother encouraged Dong Joo to challenge herself more. With her daughter’s support, Dong Joo was able to have an outstanding result in the IEI Spelling Bee. She was one of the most excellent students in her level. Hyun Ji confessed, “I was very surprised at how hard my mom tried and studied for the competition. She studied for hours late into the night, and her passion motivated me too!”

Dong Joo said, “Watching my daughter trying her best in her classes and learning makes me think that I made the right decision to come here. It is such a blessing to experience studying with my daughter as well as to encourage each other to do our best. While we face challenges with studying and language barriers, we are learning new lessons and growing together.”

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The mother and daughter duo are so much alike and even have the same positive attitudes. My interview with them made me curious as to where their dreams will ultimately take them. Although I may never know, I do know that I will cheer for them as long as they continue their journey.

Do you still think that only your friends, siblings, or classmates could be your study mates? You actually may want to consider the best potential study buddy from home: your parents!

Written by IEI Communications and Marketing Intern, Hyein Lee

No Foolin’! ChitChat Is Awesome!


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Written by IEI Communications and Marketing Intern, Hyein Lee

“April Fools? What is it?”

“The first day of April, is also called, April Fools’ Day. It is a happy day filled with laughter and jokes. Practical jokes are more acceptable, and little cute lies are considered funny. The jokes and victims are called April fools.”

“WOW! That is interesting, because we also have a similar day in our culture!”

The day before April Fools’ Day the third IEI ChitChat of the Spring 2016 semester was held in the basement of the Illini Union at 5pm. Groups of students and some ConvoPartners volunteers gathered and sat at their assigned tables. Even at first glance, it was obvious that the meeting was welcoming and friendly for anyone who would like to join.

IEI intern, Won Hee, who coordinates ChitChat, greeted each student with a smile while distributing name tags.  He introduced ChitChat as a special meeting, where IEI students can have open discussion about current events and practice English outside classrooms. Almost every month, he organizes the meeting by sending reminder emails to IEI students as well as choosing discussion topics. According to Won Hee, the topics are usually chosen based on current events of the month, so students can learn and share what is happening outside the IEI. He also mentioned that students’ participation in ChitChat has been exceptionally outstanding this semester because more students have been attending as the semester goes on. On average, 15 to 20 students normally attend the meeting, but the number has kept growing each month. At the recent meeting, about 30 students enjoyed talking about April Fools’ and their Spring Break activities.

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Each table, comprised of a variety of backgrounds, became a new venue of intercultural communication. The topics and prompts initiated the conversation, and individual’s different perspectives and experiences led the group into the deeper conversation. Chatting about April Fools was not only an opportunity for students to learn about American culture, but also to share their own cultures.

IEI student, Yuki Matsushima from Japan, said that he loves attending ChitChat because he can learn so much about diverse cultures beyond practicing English. Also, he compared the meeting to fair trade; as much as he learns about other cultures, he can teach and share his own culture. At this meeting, while hearing about April Fools’ Day, he also had a chance to educate other students about the Japanese version April Fools.

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Spring Break was another hot topic during ChitChat. Each student seemed excited to talk about their spring break, whether they stayed at home or traveled. The conversation was not only about what they physically did, but it included how they emotionally thought and felt during the period of time. It also continued to pleasant hypothetical imaginings of what they would have wanted to do if they could have second spring break. While discussing a single topic in various dimension of depth, students were able to learn and practice expressing their opinions, thoughts, and feelings logically. IEI student, Gustavo Guzman who is studying Academic English Level 500, described that he has found the IEI ChitChat beneficial and helpful, because he can be exposed to daily conversational English more frequently. Furthermore, he appreciated the opportunity to practice speaking English outside the classroom.

For some students, ChitChat can be “killing two birds with one stone.” Since some IEI teachers offer extra credit for attending the meeting, students have a chance to boost their grade while practicing English. Additionally, the extra credit offer has encouraged students who do not feel comfortable speaking English to talk naturally, which helps them have more confidence.

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From beginners to advanced level students, IEI ChitChat has offered an entertaining and beneficial learning environment. Every meeting, students bring their unique cultural perspectives to the table. While they share their thoughts and learn others’ experiences, students build strong relationships among themselves as well as improve their language proficiency. One can recognize through watching students’ smiling faces and passionate enthusiasm that ChitChat is a brilliant way to enhance their understanding of both English and diverse culture. IEI invites you to ChitChat!

Academic vs. Everyday

written by IEI Communications and Marketing Intern, Hyein Lee

In order to support students’ future academic plans and career paths, the IEI offers different class options to help meet students’ needs. All students are placed into the most appropriate level for them, ranging from Level 100 (beginner) to Level 600 (advanced). Students that place into levels 500 and 600 can then choose one of two tracks, Academic or Everyday, for their core Listening-Speaking and Reading-Writing courses which each meet for a total of six hours per week. Along with the electives offered, upper-level students have many choices to make.

For students, it might not be easy to decide between the Everyday and Academic English track as they advance into higher levels instruction. And there is no right or wrong choice, but one may be a better option than the other depending on students’ needs and interests. Academic or Everyday, that is the question!

So, let’s take a closer look at the first choice upper-level students will need to make – Academic or Everyday?

Academic English

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In general, the Academic Reading-Writing (ARW) and Academic Listening-Speaking (ALS) courses are designed for those who plan to enroll in an American university. Being in an American classroom can be exciting, but it also can be overwhelming without proper preparation. For those who are planning to continue their college level education in the US, the upper-level Academic track might be the best choice.

IEI teacher, LuAnn Sorenson, describes ARW as a bridge between ESL programs and college level courses. Once an English language learner reaches a higher proficiency level, they might feel that it’s more difficult to progress and see improvement. However, ARW challenges students to enhance their academic writing skills through three major papers and reading assignments designed to help students improve with constructing arguments. Notably, the textbooks used in the course are extremely similar to those used in American college classrooms. Therefore, in this track, students will be presented with opportunities to practice the same writing strategies that domestics students do. The class might be out of students’ comfort zone if they don’t generally enjoy writing, but it can be a positive way to start improving, with an enthusiastic and encouraging class environment.

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LuAnn said the most helpful benefit from ARW are the one-on-one conferences. During the conference, each student has a chance to discuss the issues and questions about their writing skills with the instructor, which helps improve their writing objectives.

Similarly in Academic Listening-Speaking, students are able to practice taking notes on lecturers and participating as they are expected to do in an American college classroom which is not something all students are familiar with. Students also learn how to interact with other students and participate in class discussions. They practice how to work as a team, give feedback and criticism appropriately, and present materials to their peers. In some countries, educational culture does not necessarily require students to express their thoughts and opinions interactively. However, active participation is an important value in the American classroom.

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IEI student, Mario, started in Level 600 Academic English track this semester and he’s in love with his classes. He said the IEI programs are well organized, and if students follow the curriculum they can improve their English in a very efficient manner. Also, one of the reasons why he loves the Academic track is that the class challenges him in a positive way. He firmly believes that what he is practicing right now will be beneficial for pursuing his master’s degree in the future. Mario is a great example of how the IEI can empower students through their English language skills that will lead to a successful future.

Everyday English

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The Everyday English track is a great way to learn both the English language and American culture. Jim Sosnowski, an Everyday Reading and Writing (ERW) teacher, explains this course as an excellent opportunity for students to learn about American culture by digging into the text of an English language novel and other reading material. Along with readings, students are also expected to write a short reflection every week which encourages them to reflect on their experiences and culture and how that relates to the novel they are reading. Another great aspect of the class is that students can practice writing emails for different contexts and audiences.

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Valerie Abbot, an Everyday Listening and Speaking (ELS) teacher, said she truly enjoys teaching her class because of the unique features of the Everyday English classes. Since the class focuses on daily conversation based on culture, students are very engaged. Students watch video clips from recently released TV shows and movies, and discuss new expressions as well as cultural aspects of media. The class discussions sometimes develop into a cultural melting pot as students from different cultures bring their own perspectives into the class discussion. This produces wonderful intercultural communication. The communication strategies that students learn and practice is like “coffeeshop talk.” The conversation starts with small talk, finding common ground, sharing opinions, and then transitions to deeper topics.

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Everyday track student, Ahmed, has been enjoying learning English in the Level 600 Everyday English track almost a year. He loves his classes because he can focus on improving specific areas of communication such as small talk and storytelling. He especially believes that the Everyday Listening and Speaking class provides an entertaining learning experience through the use of movie clips and discussing American culture. His goal it to attend the University of Illinois to become a translator. His IEI coursework has been an excellent resource for him regarding interpersonal and intercultural communication, which he will definitely find useful in his future career.

How to Decide?

Whether students choose Academic or Everyday, the ultimate goal of both is singular: learning English! Academic and Everyday tracks are just two different options to reach this ultimate goal, and at IEI, students can freely choose depending on their future plans.

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General English Language Learning Tips

Here are top five English language learning tips from both Academic and Everyday track teachers:

  1. Everything is a learning opportunity; keep an open mind!
  2. Challenge yourself. Don’t be afraid of getting out of your comfort zone.
  3. Make goals for yourself. Small and specific goals will motivate you and bring you closer to larger accomplishments.
  4. Take advantage of the many opportunities that the IEI offers.
  5. Maintain strong self-discipline, and also practice good time management.


No matter what a student’s needs and interests are, the IEI is here to help!

Girl Talk Across Cultures (aka. My Experience as a ConvoPartners Volunteer)

written by IEI Communications and Marketing intern, Erin Lin

Over a cup of coffee and a warm lunch at Panda Express, two girls sit at a booth taking selfies together on their phones.
“Silly face!”


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Jiyeon (left) and I.

“Okay, now normal!”

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“No, no you have to filter it.”

A couple seconds pass while one of them works out the kinks and cleans up the image.

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“I love it! Send it to me.”

The other one laughs, “We only have one normal picture together. Oh well, this is what girl time is all about.”

I started working at the IEI as a Communication and Marketing Intern not long after spring semester began and decided to take the opportunity to sign up as a ConvoPartners volunteer. Even though my main role consists of helping with the social media side of the IEI, I wanted to take advantage of any opportunity I could to meet the dedicated students that make this institution so unique. The ConvoPartners program pairs volunteer university students, faculty, staff, and community members one-on-one with IEI students for weekly casual English conversation and mutual cultural exchange. It’s also a great way for an IEI student to learn more about the campus and create new lasting relationships.

I was nervous about being paired with a random student and also concerned as to whether or not we would get along. I was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs and decided to major in English and Communication once I started studying at the University of Illinois in the fall of 2013. My parents are from Taiwan, but besides interacting with some relatives over the years when I go back to visit, I’ve never made connections with international students close to my age.  However, when I met Jiyeon Park for the first time, I knew we would have more than enough to bond over. Despite the fact that Jiyeon grew up in the suburbs of Seoul, went to an all-girls school for most of her life, is majoring in MCB (Molecular Cellular Biology) and listens to K-pop (Korean pop), talking with her has never been difficult.

Jiyeon told me that being proficient in English will help her better understand MCB, since there are a lot of terms in English within her major. Before coming to Urbana-Champaign, she was in New York studying English, but decided to apply to the IEI after a friend recommended she apply. Even though there is so much going on in New York City life there can be very overwhelming; living in Urbana-Champaign feels more like home since she’s used to a more calm suburban-like atmosphere.

Some days when we meet up we’ll feel like getting a cup of coffee at Caffe Paradiso, eat a sandwich at Potbelly’s, or attempt to go ice skating without breaking any bones. I remember seeing Jiyeon pull lipstick out of her bag and we chatted about makeup and Korean beauty products for the next thirty minutes. I told her what the most famous trends were in the United States and she showed me Korean fashionistas and the biggest beauty buzz in Asia. And of course, girl time for us would not be complete if we didn’t talk about boys. Like two pre-teens, we sometimes talk about past boyfriends, best dates, and cute guys while giggling in between stories.

In the little time that I’ve known Jiyeon, I’ve learned a lot. I asked her once, “What’s your favorite thing about American culture?”

She paused for a moment and said with a smile, “I like how people are much more open here and say hello when you walk down the street. You do not see that in Korea.”

There’s always something new to discover when we meet up. In addition to our conversations helping Jiyeon with her English vocabulary development, I’ve also helped her with her handwriting. The first time she saw my handwriting she was amazed that I always wrote in cursive. Jiyeon asked if I could teach her and so I wrote out each letter of the alphabet from upper case to lower case so she could put her name together. In turn, she showed me the Korean alphabet and when I asked if she could teach me how to write my name in Korean, she patiently guided me through the process.

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“Erin” in Korean. Not too bad for a beginner, right?

At the end of the day, we’re both a pair of girls in our twenties dreaming about our future careers and who we’ll meet several years down the road. No matter what our backgrounds may be, there is a deep and understanding connection between the two of us that surpasses my love for pasta and burgers and her fondness for Mandu Guk (Korean dumpling soup). Jiyeon has taught me that regardless of background and geography, there are many things we all share and I’m more than thankful to have been a part of this journey and discovering this with her.

Finding, Stating, and Pursuing Her Purpose

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Ximena with IEI classmates and teachers at the Fall 2015 Welcome Picnic

Some paths to discovering your life’s purpose are not direct and are heavily influenced by those we meet along the way. At the IEI we help students strengthen their skills and articulate their goals in order to pursue their life purposes.

For IEI student Ximena, friendships made while studying abroad changed her career direction and academic pursuits. After graduating high school in Colombia, Ximena spent a year at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. studying in a one-year Business Administration and Professional English program. While there, she met two lawyers from Saudi Arabia who shared with her their role in helping developing countries through the field of international law. The prospect of helping others, making a positive impact as well as helping women and girls affected by domestic violence held great appeal for Ximena.

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Ximena and some Georgetown classmates at a fundraising event in Washington, D.C.

She went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Law from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Cali, Colombia and was hired by a very reputable organization in Bogota upon graduation.

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Ximena with her grandmother and mother after graduating from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Cali, Colombia

Though she was working in a law-related field, her responsibilities were not focused on the social justice issues she was most passionate about. So, while still working, she pursued a graduate degree in international law. Then after graduating in May 2015, she decided to pursue a law degree at Illinois. Unfortunately, at that time it was too late to apply for law school, she enrolled in the Fall 2015 session at the IEI.

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With colleagues at a conference in Colombia (2013)

Upon arriving in Illinois, she spent a week in the large city of Chicago. However, when she traveled two hours south to Champaign-Urbana, she was a little concerned. “There are no buildings. There are no mountains!” Her first two days here she was a bit scared and still in shock because it was so different. But after a few days exploring her new city, she started to feel more at home because people were friendly and the slower pace of the town began to grow on her.

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First time in the Midwest! Chicago summer 2015

Though Ximena had studied English for many years, most of her previous language development had focused on pronunciation and speaking. At the IEI she was challenged to improve her academic English and to do things expected of students in the US: writing research papers, preparing presentations, thinking critically, and learning US academic classroom culture.

She also didn’t waste any time communicating her academic and professional goals to IEI Academic Coordinator Gretchen Forman who began meeting with her regularly to help Ximena complete her Law School applications, CV, Statement of Purpose, as well as scholarship applications.

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Ximena and IEI Academic Coordinator Gretchen Forman at the Fall 2015 IEI Final Reception

When not in class or working on her Law School documents, Ximena found opportunities to be a part of the local Immigration Forum and volunteer with a lawyer at the Immigration Project. There she worked with women who have immigrated from Central and Latin America who needed help gaining access to government visa assistance for victims of domestic violence.

As a result of the help she received from the IEI Academic Coordinator, her volunteer work in Champaign-Urbana, her English language development provided by her IEI classes, her passion for helping others through international law, and strong academic background, Ximena was accepted into the Illinois Master of Laws (LL.M) program starting Fall 2016 and was awarded a scholarship!

Ximena has been able to find, state and pursue her purpose. How can the IEI help you do the same?


at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign