ConvoPartners Spotlight: Unexpected Happiness in Ordinary Happenings

ConvoPartner volunteer Dan shares his homemade cookies with IEI students on the Quad.
ConvoPartners volunteer Dan shares his homemade cookies with partner Shunta and a friend on the Quad.

“ConvoParters was a huge morale booster for me when I needed it most,” explains Dan Zangerl, now a long-time, committed volunteer in the program.  “I learned more and more about other cultures and myself”.

Dan signed up for the ConvoPartners program in 2012, unsure if anything would come of his once-a-week meetings with an international student.  However, since then, he’s had a unique experience because he’s been partnered with 15 ConvoPartners in just 2 years. (Usually, volunteers only hang out with one or two IEI students per semester).  Learning a little something from each international student, Dan has enjoyed making memories with them and hasn’t looked back.

Having spent many hours with students from different countries and cultures, Dan has found that you can learn things you wouldn’t otherwise know when you take the time to get to know the person behind the “international student” label.  “Media can tell you what to think or how to perceive certain cultures, but it’s usually at a distance,” explains Dan, “when you meet the actual person, there’s a whole new dynamic when different cultures meet.”

Currently, Dan’s ConvoPartner for the fall is Shunta Hasegawa from Japan.  They say that doing simple things can be fun! Their shared love of food has brought them on a few “spicy” adventures.  They’ve tried Mexican food, burgers, Chicago-style pizza, BBQ, and Chinese food.  Shunta told of his love for pizza. “It’s a special treat,” Shunta says, because he does not get to eat it often in Japan.  Dan introduced Shunta to his dog, Loki, and taught him how to bake delicious chocolate chip cookies.  They’ve explored the Champaign-Urbana community, and they even sometimes work out together.  Dan helps Shunta with English pronunciation, and Shunta helps Dan with Japanese in preparation for his hope to enter a teaching program in Japan.  They both expressed a joy and excitement when telling about all the times they’ve hung out together.

Shunta’s time at the Intensive English Institute has helped him to realize that you can make many friends from all over the world.  “It’s easier to befriend native-English speakers than you think.” He says that his experience in the US so far has showed him that his time here has been more than just about learning English; it has also been a lesson in culture and Western thinking.

Together, Dan and Shunta hope to complete their rounds to C-U’s most popular restaurants.  Shunta wants to go to New York before he heads back home to Japan this December. He hopes to master baking Dan’s chocolate chip cookies so he can share it with his friends back home.

Shunta is a sophomore student from Konan University in Kobe, Japan. He has been in the US since August and he says he enjoys studying at the IEI; he says his teachers are great!

Dan is a community member of Urbana.  After his family moved here, he took an interest in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL).  By poking around online, he stumbled across the IEI’s ConvoPartners program.  Since joining, he’s met people from all over the world and has even helped some students move on to other universities and prestigious programs.

Dan advises people to take opportunities to ask casual questions.  You don’t have to feel pressured to understand everything at once.  Asking simple questions and giving the students room to talk can go a long way.  When there is honesty and openness, sometimes you might find yourself, along with the international student breaking down assumptions and barriers created by the media and other societal stereotypes. “You may find that you are more similar than you think.”

~ written by IEI intern Melody Chiang


Update: IEI Halloween Happenings

Things seem strangely quiet here at the IEI after last week’s Halloween fun. More doors were decorated, votes were cast and the winner of the door decorating competition was our lovely office manager Rhonda! Here are some more photos of the haunted halls of the IEI as well as some of the fun from the Halloween party that took place at the campus YMCA last Friday night.IMG_0127

The winning door.. Rhonda's Halloween Photo Booth
The winning door.. Rhonda’s Halloween Photo Booth
It's Peter with a stache!
It’s Peter with a stache!
Anna and some students hiding their real identities.
Anna and some students hiding their real identities.
Gretchen's Bagely Delight Door
Gretchen’s Bagely Delight Door
Debbie's wonderful witches cauldron.
Debbie’s wonderful witches cauldron.
Joy, Diane and Kristin were mysteriously PhotoShopped into green-faced witches... perhaps they're on their way to Debbie's office?
Joy, Diane and Kristin were mysteriously PhotoShopped into green-faced witches… perhaps they’re on their way to Debbie’s office?
IEI Students at the Halloween Party. All dressed for the part and ready to have a good time.
IEI Students at the Halloween Party. All dressed for the part and ready to have a good time.
No words.. just too cute and terrifying at the same time.
No words.. just too cute and terrifying at the same time.
Wizard of Oz comes to the IEI!
Wizard of Oz comes to the IEI!


Haunted Halls of the IEI

IMG_4013Black and orange abound at the IEI this week. Come vote for your favorite door this Thursday and Friday and then join us at our annual Halloween party and costume contest Friday night 7-10pm at the University YMCA.

Here’s a little preview of some of the ways in which the IEI teachers and staff have gotten into the Halloween spirit… keep looking… if you dare… (feel free to comment on your favorites)

Karen wants to make sure you have your costume picked out and the interns want to remind you of Halloween as soon as you enter the office space.
Maggie has lots for you to read about this holiday while Sam and Natalie have been turned into scary spiders.
Argh… the pirates of room R would probably like to trick or treat at room Q but they might end up pillaging the whole candy bucket.
How many students think that English grammar will kill them… well, unfortunately for one poor person it did just that. However, this cute bespectacled redheaded ghost/mummy will cheer you up.
Black and White: Subtly Spooky

Bonus… here’s a photo from a past Halloween party… look at all those fun costumes and dancers!


Leaves and Leaving

Illini Student Union

Right now in Central Illinois we are enjoying a burst of sunshine and color as leaves change from green to beautiful oranges, yellows and reds. This is my favorite time of year as it’s perfect for hiking and gathering around a fire pit with friends. Autumn. Fall. A new season. Change.

It was just last Fall that I had the honor of welcoming eight new students to the IEI. Waiting at O’Hare airport, I wondered what this new group from Angola would be like. They were of course initially exhausted after several long flights, but quickly demonstrated enthusiasm for their new home and English classes. Several of them also demonstrated some amazing dance skills at our Masquerade Ball last Spring.

As with so many of our students at the IEI, these eight were risk takers, willing to leave home to pursue something they knew would have an exponential impact on the rest of their lives. The goal of these eight students – four women and four men – was to improve their English in order to gain acceptance into American universities. Even though some of the group began their time at the IEI in our beginning level, they quickly advanced due to their great motivation and hard work. Two of them are now studying at a university in South Carolina while another two are at our local Parkland College. We are still so lucky to have four with us at the IEI who are preparing for their own new season as their time at the IEI comes to a close.

Two of the students I greeted at O’Hare are students in my Academic Listening and Speaking class this semester. Last week, in the midst of Midterm exams, I asked students to reflect on how far they feel they’ve come this semester and what they still want to work on. Juelma and Sandra from Angola wrote the following, and I asked them if I could share…


“So far, I have been improving so much in English. In this 500 level I have learned to write an essay, which is something that I had been so excited to learn and many difficulties when I started to write without any training. Also, my listening and speaking skills have been enhancing. In the past, I had many difficulties to take notes while listening to lectures, but today I have been better doing that and I learned how to write effective notes…. Moreover, now I feel more confident about my English. I feel very comfortable to talk in English. In the past I was always worried if American people would understand what I say or not…” (Juelma)


“This semester is my last semester at the IEI. We are in the 7th week of the semester. So far I can say that I improved a lot. My conversations are clear and I can maintain the conversation for a long period without stopping. I also improved my writing. Now I know how to write a well done essay. I have learned how to behave in a restaurant. So, I have learned a lot with the classes that I have…. This has been an amazing semester so far. I participate in class activities and I do all my homework. I am really proud of the IEI because they have been proving that it is possible to learn a foreign language.” (Sandra)

Sandra may be proud of the IEI, but we are definitely proud of her and all the students like her who are willing to make a huge change in their lives and join us for a semester or two (or four). Change can be scary but, like the changing leaves, it can also be beautiful.

Sandra and Juelma with their roommate Junelcia doing ConvoPartner Mary’s hair.


My Kind of Town


Question: What US city is known for its pizza, a giant mirrored bean, and miles of lakefront trails and beaches?

Answer: CHICAGO, of course! And this Thursday the IEI will once again take a day away from classes and give students, teachers, and CovnoPartners volunteers the chance to explore this fascinating city that’s located only two and a half hours from Champaign-Urbana. Studying English in the US can’t always be about books and the classroom. You need some field trips here and there. The chartered bus ride gives students and teachers the chance to interact in a relaxed setting and, once in Chicago, there are countless photo opportunities and ways to make memories.

Though some teachers will be using this day back in Champaign-Urbana to catch up on grading and lesson planning, and some students may use the time to catch up on sleep and homework, many students, teacher and staff are excited about how they’re going to spend their time in Chicago.

Here’s what some of them plan to do…
What do YOU like to do in Chicago? (comment below) Some other great reasons to visit Chicago.

Verene Wu (student):“I will go shopping. I want to go to A&F, Zara, Cheesecake Factory, and Godiva chocolate.”
Joon Kim (student): “I haven’t yet made a plan for what I’ll do in Chicago, but I might go to the Sky Deck at Willis Tower and visit ‘the bean.’ I visited Chicago in 5th grade when my mother was getting her degree in accounting at UIUC. I’m sure the city has changed a lot since then.”
Natalie Mullen (activities coordinator): “I’m excited about having lunch at the Art Institute. They choose a special olive oil from Italy each year and I haven’t tried the 2014 selection yet. Oh, and getting some Garret’s Popcorn.”
Abdullah Al Sharif (student): “I want to see the beach, go shopping, and try new restaurants”
Rhonda Kissling (office manager): “Well this Thursday is my birthday and I’m so excited to spend the day in Chicago. I’m planning on having lunch at XOCO, then heading to Bliss spa for a pedicure followed by some shopping at Nordstrom Rack and dinner at Heaven on Seven.”
Yuko Nozawa (student): “I want to eat thick pizza, go shopping, and visit Shed Aquarium.”
Carleen Sacris (teacher): “Well, I need a new passport so I’ll first make a visit to the Filipino consulate. It’s great that there is one in Chicago and I don’t have to travel all the way to New York or Washington D.C. I’ll then probably do some grading at the Art Institute (easier to get things done when surrounded by beautiful things). I’ll probably also do some shopping at Trader Joe’s and end the day with a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art.”
Sam Godin (teacher): “When I go to Chicago, I usually go to different restaurants. One of my favorites is a sushi restaurant called Wasabi. I also like taking the EL (the elevated train, Chicago’s subway) to explore neighborhoods like Belmont, Lincoln Square, and Wicker Park where there are lots of different kinds of shops and businesses. I also hope the weather’s nice enough to eat outside at a park and people watch. I’ll also probably make a visit to the big Apple store on Michigan Avenue to get new battery for my phone and check out the new iPhone 6.”

Teacher Spotlight: Norbert Huether

Norbert with his wife and son in front of the UI Alama Mater

Norbert is one of the newest lecturers at the IEI and we are so glad he chose to join our talented and experienced faculty.

Norb was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but grew up in a small southern Illinois town called Sparta. Norb is the youngest of nine children and fancies himself the most handsome of his five brothers. Norbert has a Masters in TESOL and a Bachelors in Linguistics from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Most recently, he taught at a small university in Pittsburg, KS.  In addition, he’s taught in the St. Louis area and in Japan. His favorite classes to teach are reading and writing and he enjoys teaching every level of student from someone just beginning to learn English to others who are more fluent in the language. Besides teaching, Norb loves hanging out with his wife Sayaka and son Eliot.  He also loves watching movies and antiquing (finding, researching, and selling old things).

“Strange But True!”: 5 Facts about Norbert Huether:

1. Norb is a self-taught juggler.

2. Norb used to have long hair and still enjoys listening to Heavy Metal Music such as Black Sabbath and Metallica.

3. Norb likes to wear a tie every Tuesday!

4. Norb studied Japanese language and culture in college (which he didn’t attend until 10 years after high school!)

5. Norb’s favorite authors are J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and Stephen King.

IEI Student Spotlight: Nisana Theerajaruwat

CollageThere are so many great things about Champaign-Urbana. We might all know the biggies like the University of Illinois, our cultural diversity, the Illinois Marathon, and the Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival. However, it’s sometimes the places we pass by every day that really help to make this city a wonderful place to study and live. One such place was captured in a writing assignment by one of our Summer 2014 students.

Nisana Theerajaruwat from Bangkok, Thailand was accepted into the University of Illinois Masters of Technology Management program in the College of Business. But before she started her program this fall, she decided to enroll in the IEI’s summer program in order to make sure her English language skills were at their best. While at the IEI she enjoyed the small classes as well as the elective classes students in the upper levels can choose from. She found all of her teachers to be very nice and helpful. She also participated in the various activities like the campus tour, and trips to the Champaign County Fair and Chicago. But she said what she liked most was the ConvoPartners program where she had the chance to really get to know some local people and learn some things that she couldn’t in class. One of those things she learned about outside of class was the subject of the analysis essay she wrote for her Academic Reading and Writing class. In addition to describing this local business, she also analyzed what they are currently doing well and what could be improved. The ability to write in this way is so important in American academics where students are asked to think critically and express their ideas clearly in writing. Her experience at the IEI definitely better prepared her for the rigor and expectations of the graduate program she has just started.

Thanks for letting us share your essay Nisana… now, I’m getting hungry…

County Market
There are several public places that are popular in the Champaign-Urbana area such as Illini Union, Alma Mater Monument, Grainger Library, coffee shops, hospitals, and many public parks. People spend their time at different places doing a lot of things. Some of them enjoy chit-chatting in the park. Some study hard by themselves at the library or coffee shops. However, I would like to talk about the place that is not really famous, but it is definitely important to people, especially people who live around it. That place is County Market, the supermarket in Champaign where you can find a variety of products and enjoy shopping in a nice atmosphere.

County Market is a huge supermarket with great location. It was built to provide the best services to people at all times. This sizable store can accommodate more than 200 customers at a time. Located on Stoughton and Fourth Street, near Springfield and a few minutes’ drive from Illini Union, County Market is very convenient, especially for college students and faculty [only a half mile of the IEI]. In front of the building, you will find an enormous parking lot; thus, you do not have to worry about finding a vacant parking space. There are many local buses that stop at the store as well, such as 1 Yellow, 2 Red, 9 Brown, and 12W Teal. When the weather is nice, I usually enjoy walking to the supermarket instead of taking a bus because I always have classes around the Quad and Illini Union, which are not very far from it. The store is established in a good neighborhood, so it is safe for people to go to buy something even when it is late at night. You can count on County Market that it will always provide what you want at all times. Imagine you are so starving at night and there is no restaurant or even fast-food restaurants, how wonderful it is to know that the supermarket is open 24 hours nearby your home! Almost everyone can easily reach this big County Market and look for the items he/she needs because it is really close to the campus and easy to be found.

Shopping at County Market is a nice experience since it is very easy to find products and it offers good prices as well. These advantages make the store considerably attractive to customers in many ways. The stock is organized in aisles, and customers can find what they need by looking at the large labels above each shelf. For example, fresh food is separated from household products. If you want to get an apple, you will find it in a fresh food area, so you should head to that zone instead of looking for it in other areas. I am very impressed with the cleanliness of this supermarket. Inside the building, it looks bright and airy, providing a good experience for the people who are shopping. Not only does it sell various goods and categorizes each product well, but also people can purchase whatever they want at a fair price. This supermarket chain gains buying power and specializes in negotiating with suppliers, so it gets good manufacturer pricing. Consequently, you can find every product here with a reasonable price. One of the amazing facts about County Market is that it is one of the biggest regional chains in the Midwestern and Southern regions of the United States. Accordingly, it is no wonder that it can fulfill customers’ needs in terms of price and product. This friendly store, located in a prime area, is an appealing and popular choice for many reasons.

Although County Market is a great place for food and household shopping, there are some recommendations that I think would be beneficial for the store. The store has a lot of strengths, but the sales can increase even more with the right tools. I personally believe that it would be very nice if the store offered loyalty cards to customers and provided an area for kids. First of all, County Market might need to consider offering a loyalty card to customers in order to keep them coming back. The loyalty card is one of the most effective business marketing methods. It helps to build customer relationships and retain existing customers. This is one of the best ways to satisfy individual customers since it increases customers’ loyalty to the store. Acquiring member cards, customers will feel that they belong to the supermarket. Whenever they want to shop for food or household products, they will think of the store where they obtained the loyalty cards and return to that store. Statistics surprisingly show that a good loyalty program has an ability to tie purchases to customers and bring them back to the store even when a new store has opened nearby.

Second, I totally recommend that the store offer child care services during the parents’ shopping trip. The experience can be more enjoyable while they shop, and children can have a happy time waiting for their parents as well. It is important that the supermarket adapts itself to the trends and strengthens competitive capabilities by being concerned about small but powerfully effective services. If County Market provides loyalty cards to its clients, it would be profitable to both the store and the purchasers. Also, if there is a place for children, customers who come to the supermarket will be more pleased with the shopping experience.

In conclusion, County Market is one of the public places that are very significant to people in everyday life. People can find both necessary and unnecessary things here in a good atmosphere at any time they want. When they are hungry, they can feed themselves at County Market. When they want to wash their clothes, they can find detergent at County Market. When they want to throw a party, they can find all party stuff at County Market as well. You may never notice how it is significant and relevant to your life, but it really is. This meaningful store continues to serve people in Champaign in several ways and every single day.

at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign