Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fall is in Full Swing

The 2013 – 2014 school year is off to a great start! 
We have already had our first cultural field trip, and it was to an American family’s home. We played yard games and ate good food!  Thank you Mr. Bicknese (instructor) for a fun time had by all!

As we begin this school year, I want to introduce you to several new exciting things about our program:
1) Our program name has changed to the Intensive English Program (IEP).  Within the U.S., this is now a more common name for our type of program. 

2) The Intensive English Program is now housed under the Center for International Education.

3) Our Intensive English Program webpage has been revamped, and now has a user-friendly interface to find the information you need:

4) The Intensive English Program now has a comprehensive three levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.  The intermediate level was added.  Each level takes one semester to complete.

5) Two new instructors have joined our team, and their names’ are Kevin Moon and Irina Varzavand.  Pictures soon to come on the website!

We look forward to another great year!

Sarah Bjork
Director, Intensive English Program

Friday, June 21, 2013

Spring 2013 Service-Learning Opportunities: Good Samaritan Society

This past Spring 2013 semester at Upper Iowa University’s ESL Institute has included some excellent opportunities for ESL students to be involved in service-learning in our community! Each year, students have the chance to collaborate with a few different groups in Fayette County, extending their hands in service and their learning beyond the classroom. In fact, these service-learning experiences go hand-in-hand with their American Culture curriculum and are included in the semester’s field trip schedule.

This semester’s 3 service-learning opportunities each gave ESL students the chance to share their cultures with community members of all ages through different avenues. Outings to the Good Samaritan Society in West Union, Iowa; Oelwein High School in Oelwein, Iowa; and North Fayette Middle School in Fayette, Iowa comprised this well-rounded service-learning itinerary.

The students’ first service-learning opportunity occurred in mid-March at the Good Samaritan Society (GSS). To give a bit of background information, the GSS is a residential home that primarily serves and cares for the elderly. The project for the afternoon comprised of students sharing stories from their cultures with GSS residents, followed by a sampling of cultural food. This visit to GSS was in conjunction with the center’s Community Coffee event where residents, staff, and local community members are invited to gather together to enjoy a special program with different featured guests each month. For the past few years, students enrolled in the UIU ESL Institute have been March’s featured guests.

Prior to their afternoon here, as part of their American Culture classes, students went to the UIU library to search for children’s books that told classic stories from their native cultures. This past semester, 8 different countries were represented by our ESL student body, and each of them was able to be well represented by the books the students found in the broad children’s collection here. Students then practiced English conversational and oral reading skills before preparing to read these stories aloud one-on-one to GSS residents during their visit.

ESL student Chenle (Bill) from China reading to a Good Samaritan Society resident

Students wrapped up their time at GSS with some light refreshments they’d brought to share with the residents they’d read to. The night before, 3 French ESL students prepared crepes with the help of the UIU cafeteria. Heated and coupled with delicious toppings, some students served crepes and tea to the residents while others continued building relationships with those they’d gotten to know that afternoon. Upon departure, the GSS staff and community volunteers also present at this event thanked the students for their service with chocolate chip cookies!

ESL students Johnathan from Martinique (left) and Romain from France (right) preparing crepes

ESL students expressed that they all had unique experiences interacting with the residents. In fact, some of them even stated they’d like to come back for another visit in the future! In addition, many of them had never visited an American care center before and learned about the differences between elderly care in their home countries and the US. Grateful for this opportunity of service and reciprocal learning, it was clear that both the ESL students and those at the GSS had a positive and enjoyable afternoon sharing stories, cultures, and even a snack.

ESL student Lucie from France getting to know a Good Samaritan Society resident

Next, check out the second and third service-learning opportunities of the semester ESL students had at Oelwein High School and North Fayette Middle School!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

First Spring Field Trips

ESL students and staff at John Deere Tractor Works

Even as snow covers the ground and cool temperatures linger in the northeast Iowa air, the spring semester at Upper Iowa University is in full swing. Though it may not feel like spring, warmer weather will be here soon; however, ESL students don't have to wait for the snow to melt in order to enjoy the first field trips of the semester!

So far, ESL students have enjoyed 2 different outings this spring. The first occurred in late January during the second week of classes. The group took a short drive to West Union, a small town about 15 minutes north of Fayette, for a fun, casual afternoon of bowling. West Union has a nice bowling alley, and, during their visit, the group had it all to themselves. The bowling alley staff was very accommodating and even offered to open up early just for them; they were very welcoming and helpful to all the students and provided them with a very enjoyable visit!

Some of the ESL students had been bowling before either in their home countries or in the US; others had never held a bowling ball before. This allowed each student to have his or her own unique experience! The group of 22 students, 2 International Ambassadors, the ESL Program Coordinator, and an ESL instructor divided into six teams for some healthy competition, and each took their time playing two games apiece.

Many of the students expressed how much they enjoyed the trip upon arriving back at UIU and seemed grateful that they were able to have both an educational and fun cultural experience while still having enough time in the day to relax with friends and do homework. Having many local travel destinations in the northeast Iowa area at their disposal is definitely a perk to living and studying at UIU. Having opportunities to experience some of them while learning about American culture is also just one of the many benefits students have while enrolled in the ESL Program!
Two weeks later, the second trip of the semester took the students to John Deere Tractor Works in Waterloo, a city about 1 hour southwest of Fayette. John Deere is one of the biggest companies housed in Waterloo and is an important component of northeast Iowa's economy. At their assembly plant (Tractor Works), the group was able to see the production of tractors and other John Deere products that are used around the world. Through an informational film, the students learned about the company's history and influence, along with the kinds of machines and tools they produce. This was a great introduction to what they were about to see next!

The group then divided up onto three separate trolley carts pulled by smaller John Deere utility tractors for a tour ride around a portion of the production floor, narrated by a very knowledgeable long-time employee who now works as a tour guide. A couple of the many components of the tour included seeing parts of the tractor frames spray painted their famous "John Deere green" by computer-guided robots and learning about the difference between the tractors John Deere manufactures for North American use compared to those they design for European use. At the end of the tour, the students had a chance to browse the company gift shop filled with various John Deere logo-ed merchandise and pick up a souvenir to remember their experience.

Some of the ESL students and International Ambassadors that joined them both expressed how much they enjoyed this trip as well. They liked the format of the film and tour, along with the opportunity to see a working production plant in "real life" compared to what they'd seen on television and online. They also were grateful for the chance to have a better understanding of a company that is so widely known and regularly visible around their current home in Iowa and the Midwest!

Within the next couple weeks, ESL students will have two more opportunities to experience new facets of American culture through field trips just like these. Want to know where they went and what they did? Check back soon for more updates!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Informational Essays by Our Advanced ESL Students

           Kentaro Harasaki - 1st Place


            How did your language form? As you know, there are many languages in the world, and they have different beginnings from each other. They have their own ways of usage, and sometimes they are very unique. Japanese is one of the most unique languages in the world in the form of written communication. It has three different systems of writing: Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana.

            Kanji was brought into Japan from China long ago. A long time ago, the Chinese used Kanji as the way to show the shapes of things around them such as body parts, animals, and plants. Therefore, it is possible for us to recognize what it means by looking at the shapes of them. For example, “” means “mouth” and “” means “forest”.  According to the Kanjigraphy website in their article the “Origin of Kanji”, they report that a Chinese historiographer named Ts'ang discovered how to represent things in writing with a symbol called Kanji about 5000 years ago. He got a clue by a footmark of a bird on the ground covered with snow (2005). In addition, the Japanese also used a Kanji character to show different meanings. For instance, “” means “sky” and also “empty”. In fact, this later function makes it difficult to learn how to read and write Japanese. People use Kanji in the same way today as they did years ago.

            Hiragana is the Japanese letters which were made by Japanese in the 9th century, and it is very essential for understanding Japanese. In the olden days, the Japanese tended to write as fast as possible so that they could write a lot of documents in a short time. As a result, its shape was broken down, and Hiragana was formed: 安→あ. It was mainly used on a personal level like a diary, which was more common among women than men. According to Simon Ager (2011) in his article “Japanese Hiragana” from Omniglot website, he says that the original name of Hiragana was “Onnade” or “women’s hand”, and it was mostly used by women until the 10th. Now, its important function is to be a connection between words and also within words. The highlights in the following sentence shows how Hiragana connects words: 音楽好きですWhen Hiragana helps to make words, it looks like this: するHiragana can be connected because it has no meaning unless you use it in a proper way.

            Katakana is another type of letter which was made by the Japanese, and it is very useful. In the olden days, the Japanese used to use Katakana to help them understand documents from China, and it was also easy to write. Katakana was made from a part of Kanji. Today, it is used to represent words from other countries. For example, “America” is “アメリカ and “food” is “フード”.  According to the Nihongo o Narau website in their article “Katakana Writing”, they explain “Non-Japanese names are written in katakana. Sometimes it is also used as a replacement for ‘difficult’ kanji or for emphasis. Animal and fruit names are often written in katakana for these reasons” (2006).         

The Japanese use these three different types of writing systems, which have their own origins and functions. Kanji was introduced into Japan from China and it shows different meanings. Hiragana was made from Kanji and it works as a connection. Katakana was made from a part of Kanji, and it is used to show foreign words in Japanese. Therefore, written Japanese is one of the most interesting and amazing languages in the world.


Ager, S. (2011, February 30). Japanese Hiragana. Retrieved

September 27, 2012, from Omniglot website:

Katakana Writing. (2006, September 9). Retrieved

September 27, 2012, from Nihongo o Narau website:

Origin of Kanji. (2005, November). Retrieved

September 27, 2012, from website:

Dickson Paz - 2nd Place

Venezuelan Sports

Most of the people in Venezuela like to have a sports life.  In Venezuela, most of the people like to play sports because this is the best way to have a healthy life. However, a Venezuelan baseball player needs to start to play at a very young age to get new abilities sooner. Soccer in Venezuela is one the most played sports because it is the oldest sport in Venezuela. Nowadays, some Venezuelans do not like to play basketball because basketball in Venezuela only has a short tournament each year, and athletes like to play all year. Venezuela has different kinds of sports to play such as baseball, soccer, and basketball.

The most important sport in Venezuela is baseball because it is one of the oldest and most popular sports in the country. Venezuela is like a factory for making good baseball players because they begin to play very young, and that is the reason that a Venezuelan baseball player gets abilities to play very well. Venezuela has the most important little league baseball corporation, where children play from three years old to eighteen years old. After this period, some baseball players are chosen to play on a professional baseball team. The Venezuelan Baseball Professional League is constituted by eight teams, and this league has one of the most popular teams in the Caribbean, which is Leones del Caracas. Venezuela has won seven Series del Caribe, and Leones del Caracas has won three of them. This league has a high level of baseball teams, so Venezuela has a lot of professional players playing in the major league such as Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Gonzalez, and Felix Hernandez. Venezuelans also have a hall of fame player, which is Luis Aparicio. In the article “Sports and Baseball,” the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela says that in seventy-two years, 270 professional players from Venezuela have been playing for many major league teams. In 2006 and 2008, eighteen Venezuelan baseball players were called from the minor leagues to play at the highest level, and this is a new record established by Venezuelan players.

Soccer is the oldest sport in Venezuela, and it is one of the most popular because it has been played for over 100 years. A soccer player in Venezuela begins to practice very young with a professional team, so each team has a lot of players that can play at a high level. Venezuela has a professional soccer league, and it is constituted by two divisions: Division I and Division II. Venezuela has one of the most popular soccer teams in South America, which is the Caracas FC, and this team has won eleven titles in Venezuela. Venezuela has a professional team that represents Venezuela in international tournaments, and this team is called La Vinotinto. When La Vinotinto plays, the fans fill the whole stadium for support, and they scream at the top of their lungs. According to Bell (2004) in the article “Soccer Report; Venezuela Showing Progress” from The New York Times, Venezuela is the only country that has never participated in the FIFA World Cup. Venezuela has a horrible record, 7-51-7, in qualifying matches since 1965.

Basketball in Venezuela has been becoming popular through the years. In the article “Basketball Becomes Infectious in Venezuela,” National Public Radio says that a few years ago, basketball became a domestic craze, one of the reasons it is becoming popular is because of Greivis Vasquez. Greivis Vasquez starts on offensives as a point-guard, and he plays for the University of Maryland (2009). The Venezuelan Professional Basketball League is the top competition in this sport. The Venezuelan Professional Basketball League has a short tournament where the best team of ten teams is the champion. The Basketball Professional League has one of the most popular basketball teams in the Caribbean, which is the Marinos de Anzoátegui, and they have nine titles in this professional league. Venezuela has a professional basketball team with a high level of skill, and they play in a division that is called FIBA. The Venezuelan professional basketball team has never won an international tournament, so they are creating a corporation to promote parents bringing in their children at early ages to learn new basketball abilities so that the Venezuelan Professional League will be more popular.

Venezuela has different kinds of sports to play such as baseball, soccer, and basketball. Venezuela has the most important little league baseball corporation where children can begin to play to get new abilities faster so they can be a professional player in the future. Venezuela has a professional soccer team that is called La Vinotinto, and this team has been the motivation for everyone in Venezuela; the fans fill the whole stadium for support, and they scream at the top of their lungs. The Venezuelan professional basketball team has never won an international tournament, so they are creating a corporation to try to improve their talent. Venezuelans need to continue working hard on these sports like they have been doing so that they can get to an elite level, and in this way, they can start to win a lot of tournaments around the world.


Basketball becomes infectious in Venezuela. (November 11, 2009). Retrieved

September 09, 2012, from National Public Radio website:

Bell, J (April 13, 2004). Soccer report; Venezuela showing progress. Retrieved

September 27, 2012, from The New York Times website:

Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Sports and Baseball. Retrieved from

Diego Castaneda - 3rd Place

Game Consoles          

            Our ancestors played with stones, we play with videogames, with what are our children going to play? Nowadays videogames are very common in our homes and are a very easy way to be entertained. Electronic games are one of the most popular ways of entertainment (Arriaga, Esteves, & Gaspar, 2004). Every console has a different area were they are specialized for. There are three major game consoles in the market that are frequently played: PlayStation 3, Xbox, and Wii.

            The PlayStation 3 is a very nice console developed by Sony. It is probably the most common console because of the PlayStation Network. The PlayStation Network allows you to play online with players all over the world and it is free. You can also download games directly to your PlayStation 3 using the PlayStation network. According to PlayStation 3 official website, the PlayStation 3 is the only console in which you can reproduce Blue-Ray movies (2012).This makes the PlayStation 3 have good quality graphics, making the player feel like it was real life. The PlayStation 3 has the biggest amount of games, and also the biggest variety of game types.

            Another good console is the Xbox. This console is developed by Microsoft. It is very famous for having a game that no other console has; Halo video game. Halo is a very recognized game for its multiplayer maps and game types. The Xbox Live gives you the opportunity to play online with other players, but the membership for the Xbox Live is $ 79.99 for one year. The Xbox also has an application called “Kinect”. This application’s function is to read your body’s movements without using any type of control on your body. Xbox’s official website says “There’s just you. And if you ask us, that’s all you need”(2012). Xbox is the first console to have this type of technology.

The Wii is a console developed by Nintendo, and this console is popular because of its classic games. The Wii is a console in which you will not always use a common control, and the Wii is more focused on using your body to play such as your arms and legs. This works by grabbing a control and moving the arm in the direction you are asked or with platforms in which you stand up and balance your body. The Wii was one of the first videogames in history to bring us great classics to play such as Mario and Donkey Kong.

All three of these consoles accomplish their purpose to entertain people. We now know that there is a console for every one of us. These consoles can call our attention by their variety of games, multiplayer platforms and great classics.  We cannot tell which one is the best because each one has a unique feature. At least we know that there is not a specific age for play video games, so we all can enjoy playing them.


Arriaga, A. & Esteves, F. &Gaspar, A. (2004). Playing with Violence. In Business,

Technological, and Dimension of Computer: Multidisciplinary Developments (Chapter 17). Retrieve from,8&Search_Arg=video%20games&Search_Code=GKEY^*&SL=None&CNT=10&PID=RvxWXMbiumsI3Kc5pfWaXsb&SEQ=20121009213359&SID=1

 Xbox 360 + Kinect.(2012). Retrieved September 17, 2012, from

Xbox official website: 

Long Live Play.(2012). Retrieved September 17, 2012, form

PlayStation official site website:

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Descriptive Essays by Our Advanced ESL Students: Who is a good language learner?

Wu, Yuzhang

Language is one of the most important community tools today. Language can help you communicate with everyone all around the world. A good language learner is someone who chooses different ways to learn that encourages them to grow in communication. Therefore, a good language learner is someone who learns about the culture within the language to understand communication more deeply, listens carefully to everything a native speaker says in order to improve pronunciation, and takes every opportunity to speak in public to learn by error.

In order to learn how to communicate effectively, a good language leaner takes interest in the culture of the language to understand the language at a deeper level. A good language learner always goes to the library to find history books. The history books have a lot of information about language culture. From researching a lot of history books, the good language learner knows part of the language culture and some background information about it. Therefore, he can communicate more accurately because he knows what is behind the language.

Every good language learner tries to master pronunciation so that others can understand him. One way a good language learner does this is by doing to the country of the language because he can then know the true pronunciation of the language. Through the daily talking with local people, he can easily review what he learns. Also, he can record what his friends have said and spend time imitating their talking habits and pronunciation. This will help improve his pronunciation much more quickly.

Learners have to learn the value of speech in public, which takes trial by error. Sometimes errors cannot be caught in everyday conversation, so speaking in public is a good place to study.  He can hear himself out loud and find his mistakes. Some language learners are experts at expressing their thoughts, yet they worry about making so many errors, so they do not speak their mind. A good language learner goes for it! The good language learner has courage to speak publicly and looks for speech errors to correct for next time.

The good language learner needs to learn about the culture within the language to help him communicate more deeply. The learner should listen carefully and try to imitate what native speakers say so that other can begin to understand him more easily. In order to speak well, the good language learner needs to take every opportunity to learn by error via public speaking. When the good language learner begins to get a better meaning out of the language, he can become a better communicator in the world.
Kim, Dongkyu

How many people can say they work hard at learning and enjoy it? A lot of people around the world are learning different languages. There are roughly 6500 languages spoken in the world today. Good language learners use their own way of studying when they are learning a new language. A good language learner is someone who researches language, enjoys learning language, and try to learn it.

A good language learner is someone who researches language. One good language learner that researches language is a man by the name of Vos.F. He started Korean studies at the University of the Netherlands. He is western Europe’s first professor of Korean. He taught the Korean language and Korean culture through the Korean studies department. His students and many Europeans have a lot of interest in Korea as a result his teaching.

A good language learner is someone who enjoys learning language. My Grandmother wanted to learn Korea. She couldn’t learn Korean when she way younger because, at that time, she was poor. Eventually, my grandmother went on study at Soul Academy. She was glad to learn Korean even though she was much order. She said, “I’m so glad to learn Korean. It is a really enjoyable experience learning language.” Her Korean language skills have increased a lot.

A good language learner is someone who is trying to learn. ESL international students try to learn English in class. It is the default posture of learning the language in another country. They have learned the important things of language through their teachers and with great effort. Good language learners try to have a sense of responsibility.

The best language learner keep on open mind for language. It takes a lot of effort and sense of responsibility to be a good language learner. Anyone can have a strong desire to learn a language.

Wang, Donghua

Who is a good language learner?  How can they become fluent more quickly than the other language learners? A good language learner is always good at finding and observing how to correct himself in the language he is learning. A good language learner always can discover a correct way to study the language.

As a good language learner, when you study a language, you know yourself and your own personality; as a result, you know your preferred learning style. Not everyone has the same preferred learning style because we all operate differently and that is why we need a personalized plan to study the language for ourselves. For example, a good language might know he is an intense individual. Therefore, he recognizes that his personality has a tendency to always pursue something. This good language learner knows that because of this, his learning style requires a lot of goals. For instance, he might ask himself to speak with ten people in ten different situations in two days.

A good language learner always can use everything around them to help themselves learn the language. Actually, we have a lot of things around us to help us learn the language such as the language within sports, music, and movie For example, when the good language leaner is playing basketball he actually has to communicate with his teammates, and therefore, he has to use sentences and words in his target language. The good language learner can also challenge his language learning through watching movies and listening to music. The conversations and lyrics provide real life opportunities for listening comprehension. Especially, with movies he can also learn how to communicate with others. If the good language repeatedly takes these opportunities, he will be able to commit his learning his learning to memory at any time.  

The good language learner is not afraid of making mistakes and not afraid of what they do not know. Furthermore, he always remembers every mistake no matter if he is speaking, writing, or reading. He actually not only remembers the mistake, but also knows how to correct it and use it correctly to avoid making it again the next time. In fact, a good language leaner desires these drawbacks in order to have an opportunity to correct them.

            A good language learner should know himself and his own personality, as result; he knows his preferred learning style. At the same time, the good language learner is not only good at using a lot of things around him to help himself learn the language but also is not afraid making mistake and not afraid of what they don’t know. In the end, the good language learners always know how to discover what is he actually need, and then control it.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

First Fall Field Trips

Though it is only mid-September and still early in the fall semester, ESL students have already enjoyed some unique and exciting events as part of their studies at Upper Iowa University! As the new ESL Program Coordinator, I have had the privilege of regularly planning and organizing field trips for the students as an opportunity for them to personally experience the richness of American culture. 

So far this semester, our group of 30 ESL students has gone on two cultural field trips and acquired an initial taste of what Iowa has to offer beyond the city limits of Fayette. Our first trip occurred during the second week of classes on August 29th. One of our ESL instructors and his family invited all the ESL students to his farm in Elgin, Iowa, for a welcome gathering that day. The students enjoyed a sunny afternoon of yard games, a scavenger hunt, a home-cooked dinner, and a chance to become more familiar with ESL staff, fellow students, and the beautiful landscape of northeast Iowa. We all were grateful for the hospitality shown to us and the opportunity to get a first-hand look at the uniqueness of rural living.

Our field trip continued into the evening with a stop at a local corn maze. The students divided into small groups and, with the help of a map, weaved their way through the paths in the corn rows. The director gave students a sheet of questions with answers hidden in the maze that they had to search for in order to complete it. Once completed, everyone ended the field trip by gathering around a bonfire to make their own s’mores – a delicious American treat of graham crackers, chocolate, and fire-toasted marshmallows. 
Yard Games at ESL Instructor's farm
Less than two weeks later on September 8th, ESL students got to experience a new side of American culture during a field trip to the Carriage Classic at the Villa Louis Historic Site in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and Pikes Peak State Park in rural McGregor, Iowa. The Carriage Classic is a driving competition of different classes of horse-drawn carriages reminiscent of the late 19th century. Competitors also dressed in clothing and attire from this period in American history. After leisurely watching the competition, students took group tours of the Villa Louis mansion. This elaborately restored home is located on a private estate once owned by a family who bred and raced horses in the late 19th century. The Carriage Classic celebrates the nature and charm of this estate in its glory days. The ESL students were intrigued by the history this event and site commemorates. 
Picnic at Pikes Peak State Park
ESL students at the Carriage Classic
After touring the Villa Louis, the group crossed back over the Mississippi River to Pikes Peak State Park for a picnic dinner and to explore nature. After the meal, many of them hiked the park’s main trail to view a waterfall hidden amongst the forest and rocky cliffs. Without question, the highlight of the park was the spectacular scenic overlook view of the river and bluffs of Wisconsin and Iowa that stretched for miles. 
Overlook at Pikes Peak
Overlook at Pikes Peak
These two outings are only a mere sampling of all the exciting events and field trips coming up this semester in ESL. The ESL staff and I are looking forward to accompanying the students as they continue to discover many more interesting areas of and aspects about American culture.