Experiential Learning, Service Learning, and Engagement in a University ESL Setting: The Graduate Cohort Program

Experiential Learning, Service Learning, and Engagement in a University ESL Setting: The Graduate Cohort Program

Michael Fields (University of Delaware, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0874-8.ch002


This chapter examines experiential and service learning in the context of an intensive English program for international graduate students, the goal of which is to foster engagement and cultural integration. The service learning project brings together skills in using English in authentic situations, researching, working as a team, communicating with members of the community they would not otherwise have contact with, presenting their project to their peers, and writing a reflection. Evidence is presented in the form of a description and analysis of the program and project, together with interviews with graduate mentors and excerpts from students' reflective writing. It is shown that the project has positive outcomes in terms of increased engagement and development of skills required for successful graduate study in a North American setting.
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The large influx of international students has created virtual language ghettos of foreign students seeking and easily finding the company of their compatriots for help navigating the culture as well as social interactions. While students may develop minimally adequate language skills to attend classes and read textbooks, successful social integration is much more difficult. Left on their own, many international students remain isolated and marginalized, on the sidelines of both the local and academic communities, relying almost exclusively on their own ethnic community as a support network while they are studying in the US. In order to be successful, international students must adjust to their new environment, both academically and culturally, and feel that they are valued members of the academic community (Ramachandran, 2011). However, this is difficult to do on their own, and may affect their ability to participate fully in their programs (Carroll & Ryan, 2005). They may feel culturally isolated, having no practical strategies for making connections with the host community. While making friends, learning about the culture, and participating in cultural activities may be ways to overcome this alienation (Samovar, Porter & McDaniel, 2007), many simply do not have the skills to do this independently. The initiative for cultural integration may need to come from the host university (Sakurai, McCall-Wolf & Kashima, 2010).

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