Sitting in the UC Rotunda at CMU, it is not uncommon to hear four or more languages as students from a plethora of origins hammer away at their keyboards. It does not matter from what town or nation one hails, homework does not discriminate.

“It’s really interesting to be able to walk through the UC or even Grawn Hall and hear all the different languages people are speaking,” accounting major Christian Conley said. “I’ve heard Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, Indian, Urdu, we’re kind of seated in the middle of nowhere in Michigan, and to be able to see so many different languages and cultures, it’s just amazing.”

Conley, a Troy senior days away from graduation, is unique in that he is one of relatively few American students currently enrolled in the English Language Institute’s conversation partners program.

Signing with the program at the beginning of the fall semester, Conley was assigned Loudi, China native and doctorate student, Chenwu Yang, within a week.  Now about four months later, he could not be happier with his decision to register at a time when the on-campus international student population has reached an all-time high and internationals are in demand of English speaker more than ever. Yang could not be more appreciative either.

2009 Intenational Student Body Composition

The number of international students has increased dramatically in recent years. Indian graduate students and Saudi Arabians have been the two largest contributors to this change.

2011 Intenational Student Body Composition

Within half a decade, the number of Saudi Arabian students attending CMU increased 710 percent. This same period saw the founding of the International Student Organization (the largest multinational culture RSO) and the Saudi Student Club (the largest single culture RSO) on campus.

For the pair, their bond will extend beyond university and the program, with Conley saying the two will stay in touch and already have a planned trip to a Red Wings game over break and a Tigers game in spring, among other activities, as friends.

“I’m actually learning a language myself and it’s kind of common knowledge that the best way to learn a language is just have conversations with people,” Conley, who is learning Spanish in his spare time, said. “I originally just thought it would be interesting to be the person on the other side of the conversation.”

The conversation partners program itself combines one American student with an international student of the same sex for the duration of at least one semester. They are encouraged to not just talk, but also engage in activities with one another and slowly learn each other’s culture.

Associate director of the ELI, Caitlin Hamstra, said the ELI’s international enrollees doubled solely within the past year and American conversation partners like Conley are in increasing demand.

Hamstra, who was on leave for the semester, is normally the head of the conversation partners program. She said typically international students must face waiting times between one and three weeks before being assigned an American volunteer, and it is not unusual to be paired in a group including at least one other international student.

“Usually, there are way more international students than American volunteers, so that’s always been a little bit of a struggle for me, getting enough volunteers to meet with our international students,” Hamstra said. “International students really want to meet somebody and get the practice; there is a big incentive for them because they gain a lot.”

Yet despite this fact, in the past semester, multiple American students were forced to wait times far beyond a week while Maria McNeel was the temporary head of the program.

Lansing senior Jennifer Vandenhaute said she waited at least eight weeks between registering for the program at the beginning of the semester and being paired her partner, Yukun Wang.

Vandenhaute said after she registered, there was additionally no contact from the ELI to let her know she was a part of the program when she applied in September.

“I heard nothing, then was assigned with Yukun in November,” Vandenhaute said. “I was excited, but really surprised.”

While Wang was able to receive Vandenhaute as a conversation partner within a week, many international students were forced to wait far longer.

Mohammed Almushajrah is a 24-year-old Saudi Arabian student attempting to learn the English language while his wife pursues graduate studies at CMU. He said he waited a month before being at last paired with a partner shortly before Thanksgiving break.

“I love American films, most of the English I know comes from (movies) that I have watched,” Almushajrah said. “I have been waiting for a (conversation partner) so I can improve my English, it has been (hard) finding an American friend who I can talk with and help my English.”

While Hamstra was on leave, Maria McNeel served as head of the Conversation Partners program. She did not comment on the story.

Conley said he greatly enjoyed his experience.

“I would do it again and I would actually encourage anyone to go out and do the program,” Conley said. “It’s learning another culture, while teaching someone else your own. Experiencing something from the almost opposite from the other side of our continuum, it’s just a different lifestyle in China than America, and it’s cool to see a little snapshot of that.”

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Today I viewed Reason.tv’s “Violent Crime Decreases After San Francisco Stopped Prosecuting Drug Users.”

The story was essentially a feature on San Francisco’s chief of police and former narcotics officer, Greg Suhr. Suhr believes his unique approach of effectively decriminalizing small time users of certain drugs (and disbanded the same narcotics unit he was once a part of) was a primary contributor to the drop in violent crime in the city. Suhr said this was because doing so freed more resources for police to pursue more important types of crime.

For it’s 3:33 entirety, I believe Reason’s video is well done. It initiates with an effective opener where the video starts immediately with an important and effective quick blurb from Suhr that summarizes his beliefs, before cutting away.

Specifically, it begins, “I’m a narc. I’ve been a narcotics guy forever, but I’m just telling you, I’ve always felt bad for the people that were addicted to drugs.”

Reason than promptly cut away to its logo and provided about 20 seconds of background information along with an infograph that indicates accuracy for Suhr’s claims in the city reducing violent crime.

My only real complaint is most of the video itself is from the actual with interview with Suhr. There really isn’t a great deal of b-roll and most of the b-roll used where either static images (which based on what I saw, seem to be largely photos in the public domain and not taken by Reason itself) or immensely brief.

That being said, the story is effective in providing a narrative with a strong, well-spoken central character.

There was somewhat extensive use of music, but all of it was ambient and not really noticeable, with the only exception being the music that played during Reason’s brief introduction. I belief the somewhat heavy handed music that quickly played in the beginning was effective, as I went from being slightly zoned out to immediately attached to the story after hearing it.

Overall, it was a solid and effective piece, with my sole complaint being the lack of more entertaining and perhaps relevant b-roll. The strong central character makes this story best told with video, I just wish there was more.

By Wyatt Bush

Authentic Chongquing hotpot. Even in Chinese restaurants, in the U.S., hot pot is a relative unknown.

A pungent aroma of Oriental spices encompasses the air and strangles the senses of those unaccustomed. Situated in the kitchenette/laundry room of Herrig Hall’s third floor at Central Michigan University, sit half a dozen Chinese international students, uninhibited by the sharp, stabbing scent, enjoying a meal unlike any other in Mount Pleasant.

It is here where Zhengzhou native Yukun Wang prepares the customary Chinese cuisine of winter known as “hot pot.” Consisting of a boiling stew and a variety of food sides including beef, tofu, broccoli, crab, and a metric ton of scorching spices, the meal is prepared and consumed in a fashion entirely alien to American eyes.

Each ingredient is plopped into the stew one at a time, and placed in a community bowl. From this common bowl, each of the dinner’s attendees grabs with chopsticks one or two of the foodstuffs at a time, either eating them or placing them in their own personal bowl, which contains even more spices and condiments depending on individual preference. As all this dining occurs, increasing quantities and variants of foods are placed into the stew. To properly experience hot pot, one must cook while consuming.

Within solely the manner these students eat, a communal affair of constant crossing and forced interactivity, the cultural contrasts between China and the United States are apparent. Also apparent is despite the scene occurring on American university soil, the de facto language of this small gathering is Chinese, not English.

Adjustment has not been exactly easy for Wang, a 20-year-old junior studying graphic design in her first semester in the States. She is unlikely to finish the year with a final grade score greater than a C, in at least one of her three ELI courses. As such, she must take these classes once again before she is permitted unrestricted entrance into the general student body, delaying her expected integration by a full semester. Wang said a contributing factor of her postponement was the inability to interact with enough fluent English speakers in an environment as friends. According to the Office of International Affairs, since 2009, the number of international English Language Institute/undergraduate students attending campus increased 171 percent, from 260 to 445 students, 337 of which are currently enrolled in the ELI. While the ELI has significantly expanded its operations, many students face similar struggles as Wang.

Students by Country of Origin

The number of international students has increased dramatically in recent years. Indian graduate students and Saudi Arabians have been the two largest contributors to this change. The total number of Indians and Saudi Arabians increased from 106 to 222 and 42 to 340 respectively in the past five years.

Meanwhile for Wang, hot pot remains one of many activities she has been unable to fully enjoy while abroad. However, that was a sacrifice she was willing to make in order to study at CMU, the only American university the Guangxi Arts Institute would allow her to transfer her two years of credits.

“You don’t know what hot pot means to me, for me, it is like a sandwich,” Wang said. “I was excited I was coming to another different country, and still see it as a chance to travel and to open my eyes.”

To graduate from the ELI, internationals must pass a language reading, writing, listening and grammar fluency test administered the Monday before classes start in the fall semester, to begin their college career at CMU. ELI director Richard Forest said about half are able to do so. Otherwise, they are placed into one of five steps of the ELI program, depending on their individual language proficiency.

These steps are divided into the Intensive Program and Dual Program. The Intensive Program consists of four levels, each requiring a semester to complete, and students are not permitted to enroll in classes outside the ELI. Next, there is the Dual Program, which students enter upon either placement or completion of the Intensive Program. Though the Dual Program consists of only one level, it may take two semesters to complete, as students are deemed able to enroll in general university courses in addition to the ELI’s. In order to complete each level of both programs, students must complete all the language courses with a minimal grade of a C. Though it depends individually on the student, the ELI may take anywhere from one to six semesters to complete.

International Student Body Composition 2009

International Student Body Composition 2014

In addition to the demographics undergoing dramatic change in the past half decade, the number of students underwent great change as well. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of total internationals students on campus increased 88 percent, from 564 to 1062. The 2014 fall semester saw a record high of 386 new students attending the university.

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Since Wang was placed in the Dual Program of the English Language Institute, it was expected for her to take one year of English-language courses, which would be relative equivalents to 400 level foreign language classes for English speakers, as well as a few general curriculum courses open to any students attending the university.

On the recommendation of a professor, Wang recently enrolled in the ELI’s Conversation Partner program, in order to be paired with an American student to act as a friend and casual guide to the English language. After waiting more than a week, just prior to Thanksgiving break, Wang was relieved to be paired with a conversation partner.

Some students are forced to endure waits far longer than Wang’s. Mohammed Almushajrah is a 24-year-old Saudi Arabian student attempting to learn the English language while his wife pursues graduate studies at CMU. He said he waited more than a month before he was at last paired with a partner.

“I love American films, most of the English I know comes from (movies) that I have watched,” Almushajrah said. “I have been waiting for a (conversation partner) so I can improve my English, it has been (hard) finding an American friend who I can talk with and help my English.”

Though international students face long queues for conversation partners, the in-demand English speakers they need have encountered long waits as well.

Lansing senior Jennifer Vandenhaute said she waited at least eight weeks between registering for the program at the beginning of the semester and being paired her partner, Wang.

Vandenhaute said after she registered, there was no contact from the ELI to let her know she was a part of the program when she applied in September.

“I heard nothing, then was assigned with Yukun in November,” Vandenhaute said. “I was excited, but really surprised.”

Forest said he was unsure of the cause in discrepancy between the wait times of English-speaking and international alike, but that it may in part be the result of its regular program coordinator, ELI associate director Caitlin Hamstra’s, leave for the semester.

Maria McNeel, her temporary replacement as head of the program by the ELI, did not comment.

Regardless, Forest said the ELI has expanded its role across campus to better assist with increasing numbers of international students lacking English fluency.

In addition to the invention of programs such as the conversation partners, Forest said within roughly the past half-decade, the department increased faculty members 250 percent, from 10 to 25. Furthermore, the ELI courses themselves expanded from its origins of being contained within solely Ronan Hall, to Anspach, Moore, Wightman and almost every academic hall on campus.

Still, some students are falling through the cracks and are unable to discover or be paired with English speakers in a timely manner.

“Language is the most important thing when you make friends,” Wang said. “If my English super sucks, we won’t become friends.”

For those dining on hot pot in Herrig, the only English speaker to be found is the occasional stray that comes to do laundry on a Sunday night.

Social Media

Facebook: Imagine trying to study abroad in a foreign land where nobody speaks English. Click here to find out more about one university program that helps such students and whether it is readily available for those in need.

For Yukun Wang, eating hot pot is like eating sandwiches. She also doesn’t fully speak English. Check out what it’s like for her and her struggles while she studies in the States.

Twitter: Learning a language is tough for anybody, find out what the university does to help its surging international population.

International students need help from American students to learn English. Why do some wait months before getting an English partner?

This chart captures the surge in international students attending CMU on campus within the most recent years. It specifically provides the visual impact of relatively stagnant international student totals, with the exception of the recent explosion among mainly Saudi Arabian and Indian students between 2009-14.

Charts and timelines are best at presenting information over the course of time. Charts are best used for more data oriented information, whereas it is best to use timelines to plot events, such as those related to crime(s) that occurred over a long period of time.

International students attending Central Michigan University hail from wildly different backgrounds from a variety of different countries.

I have developed a map with an approximated visual representation of the source countries of the international students attending CMU. Each plot represents roughly 10 international students and the figure includes all ELI, undergraduate and graduate students attending CMU, to better depict the variety of homes of these students.

Additionally, I have included a poll regarding whether the university provides adequate assistance for international students.

The number of on-campus international students has increased dramatically from previous years and the nations of origin have changed significantly as well. If it is believed that there is not currently enough resources for students attending CMU, it will have even greater consequences for students who come in the future.

Infographs themselves should supplement stories I may write in the future. That is, they should not be redundant and restate facts, but may further elaborate or may compliment the story with a visual representation of the “bigger picture.”

This past week, I had the opportunity to interview two member’s of CMU’s orchestra and learn of the daily amount of effort needed to perform in CMU’s orchestra (or in the case of one interviewee, to technically still be part of the orchestra, but not actually allowed to perform).

I interviewed assistant principal cellist James Alexander, in addition to the tuba player, Drew Jones. The pair shared the daily amount of practice and weekly amounts of rehearsal required to put on a show, like they did on Nov. 11 at the Staples Family Concert Hall.

I recently had the opportunity to view an audio slideshow in a series of features on Scottish citizens that was held by The Guardian shortly before the independence referendum was voted upon. The story I viewed was that of Phil Robertson, an elderly Scottish man who constructs viking longships.

The slideshow itself was immensely well produced.

Clean audio, great ambient noise of Robertson constructing the boat as well as nearby birds and other natural sounds, excellent/varied photos, and without spoilers, the story itself was brilliant.

Building ships for Valhalla in the 21st century? It would be awesome to grab some friends, sport viking garb and raid the shores of Europe once again. Well, at least until you’re shot.

 Problems

Despite my praises, the presentation itself actually contains many errors in my eyes.

The most noticeable flaw was the apparent lack of any captions, or if there was any, there clearly wasn’t an easy way of discovering how to find them.

In large part because of this, there are several pictures that I believed were not adequately explained enough solely from the audio of the feature. Additionally, there were several pictures that were in need of context. The lack of captions left me confused and thirsting for more information on multiple occasions, despite the proficiency of the pictures themselves.

Another major complaint was the vagueness of some aspects of Robertson’s life. For example, in the beginning, it mentions that the guy used to be a miner among other professions, but never details his current job. Is he unemployed, retired or does he actually make a living off of constructing viking longboats now?

Or does he earn a living by looting/pillaging like the good ol’ days?

My final complaint is the story begins with the biggest cliche in the book, with Robertson stating, “My name is Phil Robertson…” As we discussed in class, there is literally not a single more boring way to begin a story, regardless of what eye-catching content may follow.

Therefore, it is with this in mind, I can only award the audio slideshow itself two Viking horns up, out of four.