Thursday, December 13, 2012

'Ideas worth spreading ... '

TEDxTalks has released videos of the presentations from the inaugural TEDxVirginiaTech event held last month on the Blacksburg campus.

Links to each of the presentations can be found on the TEDxVirginiaTech website.

Among the speakers was Caitlin Floreal, a 2006 alumna who spoke on "Using a World-Class Education Where It Is Needed Most." See her video below.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Students bring holiday cheer to Blacksburg nursing home

A number of Language and Culture Institute students made a gray Monday a bit brighter for some local nursing home residents.

Kay Gude and about a dozen of her students, plus Linda Sanford, visited Heritage Hall on South Main Street in Blacksburg. There, they handed out more than two dozen presents neatly packaged in festive bags to some of the men and women in long-term care.

"We went to Wal-Mart and Dollar Tree and picked out gifts based on what they liked and what they needed," said student Amwaj Al Bahar, of Kuwait.

Students visited with the residents and took photos with them as they delivered the presents. "They're like the little Santa elves!" Gude said as she pushed a cart full of gifts down a hallway.

These sorts of visits make the residents smile, said Sherry Reynolds, the activity director at Heritage Hall. "They like seeing the young people and being around the young people," she said. "This really brightened everyone's spirits."

(Click on a photo to see a larger version.)

What do LCI students really think of Virginia Tech?

LCI students discuss some of the things that have surprised them about Americans and share their favorite things to do outside of class. Get the full story from this brief video news report.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Relive the magic of the Holiday Variety Show!

See students and faculty share their talents in an international celebration of the season!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Three cheers for the winners of the Employee Recognition Awards

At the Intensive English Program planning retreat Friday at the Inn at Virginia Tech, Language and Culture Institute director Don Back and associate director Elsie Paredes honored the nominees and winners of the annual VTLCI Employee Recognition Awards.

Light Bulb Award
  • Winner: Georgia Wyche
Georgia was chosen to go to Chile to support our capacity-building initiative at Universidad Austral de Chile. There, she was challenged to assist the faculty at UACh with their English language learning efforts during the Chilean Winter despite the student protests that took place during that time. Georgia made significant strides there by being creative and offering workshops to the community when school was closed due to the student strikes.
  • Also nominated: Chip Hayes, Christine Bobal, Lori Rottenberg
Trailblazer Award
  • Winner: Don Back
Don has distinguished himself as director of the Language and Culture Institute by dramatically increasing the size and success of the LCI. He exhibits a strong entrepreneurial spirit and fosters that same spirit in others. The continued expansion of the English language program, doubling and tripling the number of enrollments, in Blacksburg and in Northern Virginia, is a direct result of his visionary leadership, his recruiting efforts, and his business savvy. He is inspirational by example, always encouraging the development of new ideas and opportunities among his administrative team.
Spirit Award
  • Winner: Linda Sanford
Linda is always willing to offer support and guidance to teachers and students who need assistance.  She works so well with the students: She really listens to them when they have questions, problems, or concerns, and she goes out of her way to help them. Amazingly, she knows their names, family life situations, and future goals. With our student body at around 200, this is very impressive! She has infused a love of reading into students at all levels and works her hardest to make reading enjoyable for them. Linda has her hands full with her regular job responsibilities, but she always makes time for the students and really connects with them. They love her for it! She also crosses boundaries by using her administrative position to help the teachers at the LCI and make sure they have what they need to be successful. Afternoons find her eating her lunch in the teachers’ office and taking time to get to know the LCI teachers. Her consistently positive attitude makes her a joy to work with.
  • Also nominated: Crystal Cook, Susan Hill, Cristina Keeton, Dijana Maunaga-Trajkovic, Anya Sereda, Christine Bobal
Clean and Green Award
  • Winner: Dijana Maunaga-Trajkovic
Dijana is continually working to better integrate new technology into the classroom, and in so doing, she’s helping the LCI’s Northern Virginia Center save paper. For example, she helped her colleagues learn to use a grade-reporting website not just for grading but also for developing flashcards, creating online documents, and other eco-friendly uses. She’s also helped implement Google Drive, which has further cut down on paper usage.
  • Also nominated: Janessa Jackson, Dijana Maunaga-Trajkovic, Christine Bobal
Behind the Curtain Award
  • Winner: Charlene Dandrow
We would not have the IELTS program if it were not for Charlene. She has tackled that position and made it her own. Charlene serves a community larger than just Virginia Tech. She serves everyone in the U.S. who wants to — or is required to — take the IELTS test. She is incredibly customer-service-oriented and treats every client with respect. She also employs many folks in the community and does an excellent job of training test invigilators and clerical markers and ensuring the overall success of the program.
  •     Also nominated: Linda Sanford, Janessa Jackson, Susan Hill, Dijana Maunaga-Trajkovic

Hokie Stone Award
  • Winner: VTLCI Special Programs
Everyone who has worked with the LCI Special Programs has done an amazing job of teamwork and accomplishing the objectives of each program with creativity, professionalism, and just loving their jobs. The special programs director feels incredibly lucky to have such an awesome group of instructors and staff. Those folks are the following: Georgia Wyche, Mackenzie West, Milton Salcedo, Lois Ingles, Nicole Storm, Charlene Dandrow, Ada Chrisman, Caitlin Capone, Pablo Martinez, Pinar Gurdal, Crystal Cook, Alicia Chadegani, Kay Gude, and Katia Wooden.
  • Also nominated: The Language and Culture Institute, Susan Hill, Cristina Keeton, Christine Bobal, Lori Rottenberg
Energizer Bunny Award
  • Winner: Cristina Keeton
Cristina is always positive and helpful to students and staff. Even in a situation that would
frustrate most people, she manages to stay unruffled and work through it. She is also a great
resource for new teachers. Her co-workers know they can always depend on her. One pointed to an experience co-teaching with her that she said was "by far the most enjoyable co-­teaching experience" she'd ever had. Cristina has unbelievably powerful charisma that makes everybody around her feel more energetic.
  • Also nominated: Molly Rogers, Michele Hash, Nicole Storm, Susan Hill, Dijana Maunaga-Trajkovic, Anya Sereda, Christine Bobal, Lori Rottenberg

Red Carpet Award
  • Winner: Janessa Jackson
In a very short time, Janessa has become a truly valued member of our group. She is extremely
courteous with students and is a can-do person who is not a complainer. She uses our scarce resources with no reduction to service to students.
Whenever a new student arrives or calls,
she always takes the time to answer their questions and make them feel welcome. She is unfailingly efficient and courteous.
  • Also nominated: Pablo Martinez, Dijana Maunaga-Trajkovic, Lori Rottenberg

Monday, September 17, 2012

LCI Instructors Teach Local Refugees

LCI instructors have partnered with the Coalition for Refugee Resettlement to teach English to local refugees. 

By Kama Weatherholt Wagner

Instructors from the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute are stepping out of the classroom to teach English language learners in Southwest Virginia.  Beginning in January 2012, LCI teachers Susan Neu and Jason Lovelace spent two hours each Monday and Wednesday afternoon in Roanoke working with the Coalition for Refugee Resettlement.  The CRR, a project of VT Engage, unites local students and professionals with the aim of assisting refugees who have resettled in the area. 
The CRR was formed in 2006 to assist a group of African refugees at the Maple Grove housing community in Roanoke and since has expanded to include four public housing communities where many of the families live.  It is primarily driven by Virginia Tech students, who teach adult ESL classes, tutor children, and provide classes in citizenship.  Most importantly, they offer an open and safe environment so that the refugees feel welcome in the United States.   

Susan Neu and Jason Lovelace
Surrounded by colleges and universities, the CRR has access to many resources, including instructors at the LCI.  From January to May, Neu and Lovelace taught an adult ESL class for four hours each week.  The students in their classes were primarily women in their 40s and 50s, mothers and housewives with young children.  The children often accompanied their parents to class, where they worked independently on their own homework and even helped their parents with their studies.  The adults were frustrated when they saw how quickly their children were learning because they wanted to develop their skills at the same speed.

Unique obstacles sometimes slowed the process.  Some refugees, already fluent in their native languages and French, were learning to speak English as a third language.  On the other hand, many were not literate in any language and had to first work on understanding the concepts of words, letters, and writing. 

For Lovelace and Neu, the experience was challenging but rewarding.  “I was able to focus more on the student side of teaching,” Lovelace said.  Neu agreed, adding that she found great value in teaching this particular group of students. “It was important to scale our goals down,” she explained, “and to realize that tiny baby steps are enough.” 

In spite of the barriers they faced, the students were determined to learn to read and write in English.  Lovelace and Neu focused on using visuals, creating their own booklets with pictures and words.  Lovelace had particular success with a shopping lesson focused on food and clothes.  “They had fun and seemed to understand and relate to that topic,” he said.  Neu had a similar experience when teaching students about greetings such as hello and how are you.  She was happy to reach the stage where she “felt like there was true recognition.”

Progress was slow but steady, and both instructors believe that the experience was ultimately beneficial to the students.  Lovelace looks to the future for evidence of his students’ success – “I hope that one day they’ll be out in public, something will click and the light bulb will go off, I learned that!"
On Sept. 17th,  LCI instructor Kay Gude will continue the project, and she says she’s looking forward to this new teaching experience.  “I’m excited to work with the refugee students because I enjoy helping newcomers build their language foundation.”  

Monday, July 23, 2012

VTLCI Welcomes Fulbright Scholars This Summer

The VTLCI is hosting an intensive academic preparation program for 35 Fulbright scholars in July and August. In partnership with the Institute of International Education and the U.S. State Department, the VTLCI welcomes 35 Fulbright Scholars from all over the world in a program to help prepare them for graduate studies in the United States. Scholars will spend 3 weeks, beginning in July, on the Virginia Tech campus focusing on technology in the classroom, research skills and service learning. They will visit Smithfield and participate in lectures by Virginia Tech faculty.

If you have questions about programs at the VTLCI, contact Amanda Johnson, Assistant Director for Special Program at 1-9348 or

Thursday, July 5, 2012

NCR LCI Students at the National Portrait Gallery

Two students, Omamah Ashmeel and Abdualah Alreheli, from the Northern Virginia campus of the LCI describe their expriences at the portrait gallery in Washington, DC.

Field Trip to the National Portrait Gallery
By Omamah Ashmeel

I was very excited about the trip; I'm always excited when routine changes. I love art and museums and what was exciting the most is that we would have a tour guide because wandering in an art gallery without knowing the significant of each portrait is useless and with my knowledge and background, I would not even recognize the presidents. What I loved the most was the sculpture of Rosa Parks. This was a moving story of a brave woman who changed the future of the nation by refusing the inequality of that time. The sculpture itself is quite interesting it is made of wood showing her vulnerability yet her determination compared to the cops arresting her. They appear to be a bit flat in dimension while her portrait is more three dimensional. Her head is big while their heads are small and that might be an indication of will power and a bigger mind in her favor. An additional interesting aspect in the sculpture is the colors of her clothes. She is dressed in red, blue and white as if the artist wanted to emphasize that she's a patriotic and deserved her rights like any other American. Another artwork that I found very interesting was the JF Kennedy portrait. Unlike  other presidents' paintings, this one is abstract with vibrant colors and visible brush strokes. In the portrait kennedy's posture is unusual, he appears to be leaning forward as if he's about to stand; also he's dressed casually without his jacket on. Lastly, the Contemporary American Art section was fascinating with all different materials used from neon lights to wood.

National Portrait Gallery
By Abdualah Alreheli

Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute coordinated a trip to the National Portrait Gallery, allowing its students to acquire a new cultural experience which the school anticipated to be highly beneficial to them.  The management of the Institute was eager to find a qualified person to clarify to students the importance of the art. When the students arrived, they realized that the museum was dedicated to American history and were astonished with the culture they saw through each portrait. This novel experience for the students was partly due to the fact that typical museums are not always specific to a particular country. During the visit, the students were able to see a display showing a myriad of images of past United States presidents, along with many other pictures, which illustrated significant events that have occurred since the discovery of the States. A particularly impactful image was that of a black woman who was arrested because she refused to get off of a bus. Ultimately, the students were very pleased to have this unique and exciting opportunity, and they were also grateful to Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute’s management for always striving to assimilate foreign students into this great country.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Humphrey Fellows at VTLCI

Hubert H. Humphrey Fellows at the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute

The Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute is currently hosting fifteen international Fulbright scholars who are participating in the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Long Term English Training Program. Fourteen countries are represented, including Brazil, Burma (Myanmar), Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Haiti, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Panama, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela. At the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute, the Fellows are working diligently to refine their academic language skills. Their curriculum includes content-based instruction on intercultural development, conflict resolution and leadership skills. In addition to their formal coursework at the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute, the Fellows have participated in volunteer activities in the Blacksburg community and in classes on the Virginia Tech campus.

In the community, the Fellows recently volunteered at Micah’s Backpack, preparing meals for students and families who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. The Fellows joined other volunteers who gather every Thursday evening at St. Michael Lutheran Church to help package meals for students.  Not only did the Fellows enjoy packing meals, but they also benefited from engaging in conversation with local volunteers dedicated to running Micah’s Backpack. 

 Humphrey Fellows volunteer at Micah’s Backpack

On campus, the Fellows participated in Professor Eric Kaufman’s course on Leadership in a Global Society. The Fellows interacted with students in a discussion on the personal and professional competencies required for effective leadership in a global, diverse and, multicultural society. The Fellows also participated in Professor Elizabeth Fine’s course on Multicultural Communication. Professor Fine’s students engaged with the Fellows on topics related to communication, including the process of exchanging meaningful information across cultural boundaries in a way that preserves mutual respect. 

At the end of the training program, the Fellows will move on to host universities, including American University, Arizona State University, Cornell University, Emory University, Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, Syracuse University, Tulane University, and the University of Minnesota.  At these locations, they will further their own research projects in diverse areas, including agriculture and rural development, environmental policy, HIV/AIDS policy and prevention, human rights, and journalism.  The Fellows will engage in professional networking activities and non-degree graduate level study in order to obtain expertise that will be applied and adapted in their respective countries.

The Fellows will be on the Virginia Tech main campus through August 2012. Invitations to visit classes, departments, businesses and government offices are welcome and should be directed to program director Robert (Bert) Wilson at or 540-231-5730.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

VTLCI Students Place Second and Third in VATESOL Writing Contest

By Kama Weatherholt

The Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute is proud to congratulate two of our students, Abeer Almaimouni and Hamdan Alohosani, for their success in the VATESOL Writing Contest!
This year’s contest prompted the students to write about the topics of advocacy and inclusion.  Abeer and Hamdan wrote thoughtful and insightful essays that related these issues to the experiences of ESL students.  Abeer, a student at the Blacksburg LCI, tied for second place with her essay titled “ESL Students, Campus, and Community.”  Hamdan, who studied at the LCI in Falls Church, received third place for the essay “ESL Community and Inclusion.” 

Abeer Almaimouni, an electrical engineer from Kuwait, is studying in the United States on a full scholarship from Kuwait University (KU).  After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she briefly worked as a part-time teaching assistant at KU before becoming a trainee engineer at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor.  She then worked as an electrical maintenance engineer at Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC), an experience that proved difficult. 
Abeer accepts award from Don Back
Abeer explains, “The fact that I was the first female engineer in the Electrical Maintenance Division represented a major challenge to me. I had to work in a very male-dominant working environment, and I needed to work in hazardous areas and very harsh physical conditions. After working for two and a half years in the maintenance field, I had earned a great deal of respect from my colleagues and my superiors for my hardworking nature and dedication.”   

After her work at KNPC, Abeer decided that it was time to return to the world of academia.  She graduated from the LCI program this May, and will now be moving on to the University of Washington in Seattle to begin her graduate studies in electric power engineering.  After obtaining her PhD, she will return to her home country to join the faculty of the Electrical Engineering Department at Kuwait University. 

Hamdan Alohosani
Hamdan Alohosani came to the Falls Church VTLCI from the United Arab Emirates.  Upon completing high school, Hamdan received a prestigious Distinguished Student Scholarship, a prize that is awarded to only twelve high school graduates throughout the UAE each year. 
Hamdan recently completed the advanced level at the VTLCI with an outstanding academic record.  He held perfect attendance and a 4.0 GPA over four terms of study.  He will continue his hard work in the mechanical engineering program at Virginia Tech this fall. 

In addition to his study of English, Hamdan has always enjoyed and excelled in science, and he won several global competitions while in high school.  He also explains that he likes the state of Virginia because of the beautiful scenery and the friendly people.   

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

UAE Scholarship Students Accepted to VT

Abdulrahman Aljaberi and Hamdan Alhosani, both from the United Arab Emirates and recipients of the prestigious Distinguished Student Scholarship, have been accepted to Virginia Tech in the fall as undergraduates.
Abdulrahman will study Electrical Engineering, and Hamdan will study Mechanical Engineering. Both have been model students at the LCI with perfect attendance rates and a perfect 4.0 GPA since they began in Fall 2011. Congratulations to both excellent students who are well on the path to academic success!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

VT Phi Beta Delta Awards Scholarships

Virginia Tech's Gamma Omega chapter of Phi Beta Delta is pleased to announce the winners of the Spring 2012 scholarships, which are made possible by the generous support of the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute.

Both graduate and undergraduate students are eligible to apply; selection criteria is based on good academic standing (3.2 GPA undergraduate, 3.6 GPA graduate), enrollment in credit-bearing programs with language and cultural engagement components, and trips to non-traditional destinations for extended stays. Tech-managed programs, bilateral and International Student Exchange Programs, Virginia Tech Direct, and non-Tech programs and independent programs with a clear academic goal, qualify for consideration. All applicants are required to submit an essay that describes how their experience will promote the values of the organization, and winners may be requested to present at a Phi Beta Delta event upon their return. Awards of up to $5,000 may be issued at the discretion of the selection committee. Scholarships are awarded in the fall and spring semesters.

The following students were awarded scholarships:

Brooke Reynolds is the recipient of a $4,000 scholarship to be applied to her Fall 2012 semester study program at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso in Valparaíso, Chile.
Jeremy Rommel has received a $4,000 award to fund his Fall 2012 semester in Argentina or Chile.
Gregory Kralik has been selected as the winner of a $1,000 scholarship to participate in the Summer 2012 'From Rainforest to Reef' program in Belize led by Professor Marcella Kelly.
Lyn Moore, a native of Leesburg, Virginia, is a doctoral candidate in the Human Development: Marriage and Family Therapy program who has been chosen as the recipient of a $1,000 award to attend the 'South Africa: Lifespan Community Services and Education' program in Mafikeng, South Africa during the Summer II semester.
Megan Murray has been awarded a $1,000 scholarship to participate in a Francophone Studies program in Rabat, Morocco during the Summer 2012 semester.

My Valdivia Travelogue VIII

By Georgia Wyche

The first semester has begun and things have picked up at UACh. Part of my teaching load includes teaching Psycholinguistics, Advanced English Grammar, and a class on phrasal verbs for the English department. I’m substituting two of the classes for a teacher who is on maternity leave. The teacher comes back to work in the middle of April.  So far it has been an enriching experience and I’m also happy to be working with the English pedagogy students once again.

In addition to teaching classes for the English department, I’m also teaching for the UACh Outreach Department. I’m teaching a Basic English class to local artisans in Valdivia. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to teach classes to people from the community not affiliated with the university.

I also recently began working at the Australian Corner, which is similar to the American Corner on the Isla Teja campus. The Australian Corner is located on the Mira Flores campus, which is about a ten minutes bus ride from the UACh Isla Teja campus. I’m teaching Basic English classes to students studying engineering and computer science.

 In the beginning of March, the scientific writing workshop that was held in January had a small ceremony. The students who attended regularly and completed all of the assignments received a certificate of completion.  

The scientific writing workshop will become a class for honors students in the middle of April. I will be co-teaching this class with UACh professor, Dr. Sandor Mulsow. The class will meet once a week until the middle of June. I’m looking forward to working with him.

Along with teaching the classes mentioned, I continue to teach English conversation classes to UACh journalists and I’m doing some private tutoring.  I enjoy working with the journalists because they are a lively group. I’m tutoring a few students who need to brush up on their English before heading to the United States in June.

My UACh teaching experience is drawing to a close in about two and a half months, so I will do my best to make the most out of the time I have left.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My Valdiva Travelogue VII

By Georgia Wyche

VT and UACh Deans
February was a fairly relaxing month in Valdivia because it was summer vacation and Universidad Austral de Chile was closed. Valdivia is a lively and beautiful city in the summer.  During the month, there were many evening concerts and festivals in and around the city. Valdivia is considered a tourist destination in Chile because of its natural beauty and its vast Pacific Ocean coastline.  There are many beautiful beaches around Valdivia where many tourists flock every summer. However, the beaches in this part of Chile aren’t meant for swimming because of the water temperature and dangerous currents. The coast around Valdivia is very similar to the San Francisco and the Portland, Oregon coast.  During the month, I made sure to take advantage of the summer festivities, do some traveling, catch up on some work, and prepare for the visit of the Virginia Tech deans. 

During summer break, I traveled to Chillan and Chiloe Island. Chillan is located eight hours north of Valdivia and Chiloe is located eight hours south of Valdivia. Loreto Quintana and her family invited me to spend a few days exploring Chillan and its surroundings.  It was a wonderful experience and I’m grateful to Mrs. Quitana and her family for having me come to visit.  After visiting Chillan, I spent a week on Chiloe Island. Chiloe is located in northern Patagonia.  I saw penguins in the wild during my stay, which was an unforgettable experience! I still plan on doing some more traveling before heading back to the United States in July. 

Other than traveling to Chillan and Chiloe, I also did some work.  I corrected and graded applied linguistics papers and prepared lessons. Due to the student strikes, the university will be finishing the second semester in the middle of March.  For the remainder of the second semester in applied linguistics I will be talking about “Bilingualism” and “Bilingual Education” and my students will be doing oral presentations. Their final exam will be on March 16th. Teaching applied linguistics and working with the English pedagogy students has been an enriching and enjoyable experience. I’ll miss working with these students and hope to teach applied linguistics again some day in the future.

Georgia and Dr. Rowlands 
Another big event that occurred at the end of February was the visit by the Virginia Tech deans: Dr. Richard Benson, Dean of the College of Engineering; Dr. Jack Davis, Dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies; Dr. Sue Ott Rowlands, Dean of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences; Dr. Lay Nam Chang, Dean College of Science; Dr. Paul Winistorfer, Dean of College of Natural Resources; Dr. Alan Grant, Dean of College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, Dean of College of Veterinary Medicine.  During their stay in Valdivia, they toured new facilities on campus, observed what has changed since their last visit to the university, and collaborated with UACh deans and faculty members.  Hopefully, there are a lot of interesting projects and collaborative ideas in the works for both universities.  I know the Virginia Tech deans are eager to make some of their projects concrete and continue to strengthen the relationship between Virginia Tech and UACh. I was fortunate to be able to spend time with them.

For the remainder of the second semester, I’ll be finishing my applied linguistics course and teaching English to UACh journalists. The first semester officially begins sometime at the end of March. During the first semester, I’ll be teaching a scientific writing class, English conversation classes to journalists and other interested faculty members, and most likely another course for the UACh English department. Hopefully, many other interesting projects and teaching opportunities will open up during the first semester. I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gifted Students from Saudi Arabia Study Science in Blacksburg

By Andrea Brunais

  Lois Ingles at the Language and Culture Institute lectures Saudi students
BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 7, 2012 – Virginia Tech welcomes many international students to its U.S. campuses. But something new happened for the 2011-12 school year. A first-of-its-kind contingent of 15 gifted students from Saudi Arabia winged their way from the desert kingdom to leafy Blacksburg for a year of science-oriented studies.

"It's been an adjustment for them being here," said Amanda Johnson, assistant director for special programs for the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute. "These 18-year-old students stepped off the plane and dove right into their program, not intimidated by the high expectations for their performance."

The students, sent by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, are here to spend the year preparing for the TOEFL English-language exam as well as the SAT, which like American students they must pass to enter U.S. universities. They’re also immersed in science and math courses. In fall 2012, the students will spread out throughout the U.S. to pursue their bachelor’s degrees at other institutions. Many of them are applying to Virginia Tech's engineering programs.

"They’re doing great so far," Johnson says. "I'm impressed with their inquisitive natures, how involved they are in their studies, and their drive to understand every aspect of what's going on. That’s the mark of a college student who's really taking a hand in their academic future."

Some of the students are worldly and well traveled, but most are experiencing their first time away from family. Saudi culture often requires that women and girls be accompanied when traveling. So some of the female students came with their mothers, fathers, brothers, or grandparents, who showed support for the young women’s aspirations by settling in Blacksburg for the school year.

The students are taking College of Science classes including physics, chemistry, calculus, and lab work to prepare them for the rigors of an undergraduate degree program. Fortunately, the students are already proficient in English, which speeded their adjustment to culture and daily life.

Mohammad Alwazrah, for one, felt at home from the beginning. "I live in a small town back in Saudi Arabia just like Blacksburg," he said. Abdulrahman Linjawi experienced more culture shock. "I'm from an urban area so the rural setting is different. I'm loving the atmosphere here – it's quiet and peaceful. Everyone here is really nice."

Tashkandi and Linjawi receiving donations
During fall semester, the students had an opportunity to be a part of the community beyond academia. They competed in an effort to help fight hunger and volunteered for an organization to collect food donations for people in the New River Valley. The contest included a sculpture. "We created a traditional Saudi castle that converted into a Hokie football field. We got third place," Reem Alattas said. "It was great to be able to go out into the community and take part in this."

The daughter of a physicist and an aviation engineer, Alattas is planning to major in cognitive science or neuroscience. She added, "I want to learn a lot from this experience. I can only imagine how much more I’ll learn in the months to come."

Hear more from Alattas and Islam in this YouTube video.

Another partner in the project, the Institute of International Education, is helping the students with the sometimes complex process of completing college applications and making sure the students furnish needed documentation. After the students earn their four-year degrees, they are expected to enroll in graduate programs back home at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

Virginia Tech’s Outreach and International Affairs supports the university’s engagement mission by creating community partnerships and economic development projects, offering professional development programs and technical assistance, and building collaborations to enrich discovery and learning – all with the overarching goal of improving the quality of life for people within the commonwealth and throughout the world. Outreach and International Affairs leads Virginia Tech’s presence on five continents; its regional research and development centers across the commonwealth focus on graduate education and professional development. Blacksburg-based centers are dedicated to student engagement, language, policy, and governance.