Monday, December 16, 2013

A visit to the Castle of Portraits

Generations of remarkable Americans are kept in the company of their fellow citizens at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

 The following is a guest post by Hanaa Ashqar, a 550 student from Northern Virginia.

Since I arrived in the U.S. last year, museums have become my passion. I appreciate the generosity of the Smithsonian Institution to offer us, art lovers, this unique opportunity to enjoy our time and enthusiasm for art. It was not my first visit to the art wonder palace -- that is, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. I have visited the gallery many times, but this time differed in many ways. Previously, as Virginia Tech students, we had visited so many beautiful places in the nation’s capital in which we both expanded our knowledge and enjoyed ourselves.

As usual, the visit to the National Portrait Gallery was organized by Virginia Tech instructors who were kind enough to assist us in many educational field trips. When we first reached the huge white Greek Revival building, we were astonished by its wide porch and boardwalks. Inside the building, we were charmed by the enormous arched galleries and white marble corridors. After we were grouped in the grand sunshade courtyard café, we were escorted by three curators who explained the details of some of the portraits and paintings. The curators were knowledgeable enough to answer all of our questions and interests about certain artists and works.

During our tour of the museum, we tried to cover the most distinguishable galleries. First, we stopped at the Twentieth-Century American Art gallery which was on the third floor. In this gallery, we saw more than 50 portraits of the most acknowledged American figures of the 20th century in major fields such as politics, science and culture. Then, we descended to the second floor where the Struggle for Justice Gallery is located. This exhibition features several artworks including paintings, photographs, posters and sculptures of civil rights leaders.

In a separate hall, there was a recognizable exhibit named One Life, which is dedicated to the civil right leader Martin Luther King Jr. We were attracted by a particular portrait of the African-American leader as a cover page for the well-known Time magazine. The portrait displayed a painting of MLK as an important icon of the modern civil rights movement in America. Inspired by his movement, a shadow represents Rosa Parks, the trigger of the Montgomery bus boycott, shown in the back of the portrait. This particular portrait had a unique influence on me because it represents three most recognizable icons of the American culture.

Finally, we reached the heart of the museum where the America’s Presidents Portrait Gallery is located. This exhibit is the only complete collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House. Additionally, there are portraits of important people who contributed to the establishment of the country and influenced its history. The main portrait at the entrance of the hall is a painting of George Washington, also called the Father of the Nation.

The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., is an exceptional place where visitors can enhance their knowledge and spend remarkable moments within its valuable collections. At the end of our tour, we thanked the amazing curators who mentored us during this trip with a promise to revisit the gallery to explore its noteworthy possessions of individuals’ portraits who formed the American culture.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Read more about the LCI's new assistant director

Daniel Gerbatch has been named assistant director for admissions and recruitment at the Language and Culture Institute.

In the newly created position, Daniel will be responsible for administering and coordinating the conditional admission program for the institute. Through this program, students who otherwise meet Virginia Tech admission requirements but do not meet the minimum English language requirements and may not yet have taken the SAT are offered conditional admission status at the university pending their successful completion of English and test requirements.

Find out more about Daniel on the VT News site.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

LCI hosts director of the British Council in the U.S.

Paul Smith (center) talks with Virginia Tech graduate students Chris Price (left) and Sabith Khan (right).
Paul Smith, the director of the British Council in the United States, met with Virginia Tech students and faculty on Tuesday during a daylong tour of the campus. His visit was hosted by the Language and Culture Institute and the Institute for Policy and Governance.

Smith, who has served with the British Council since 1983, was director of the organization’s operations in Egypt from 2005 to 2010. From 2010 to 2012, he was director in Afghanistan and cultural counselor at the British Embassy in Kabul.

“Paul Smith has more than three decades’ experience with the British Council, with postings everywhere from Afghanistan and Egypt to India New Zealand,” said Don Back, director of the Language and Culture Institute. “I was honored to introduce him to some of our brilliant students and faculty at Virginia Tech and to give them the chance to meet and talk with someone of Paul’s stature.”

The British Council was founded in 1934 and incorporated by Royal Charter in 1940. It is the United Kingdom's international organization for educational opportunities and cultural relations. The organization works in more than 100 countries to promote the exchange of knowledge and ideas, and to strengthen links that result in mutual benefits between the United Kingdom and other countries. Its mission is to create opportunities to improve cultural relations between the people of Great Britain and other nations.

LCI Director Don Back (right) walks with Smith (center) and Scott Weimer, director of Virginia Tech Continuing and Professional Education. Photo by Chris Price.
Smith’s visit to Virginia Tech included a tour of the campus and Ware Lab, a radio interview for Community Voices, a graduate student forum at the Institute for Policy and Governance, lunch with University Honors faculty and students, and a visit to an undergraduate political science class taught by Charles Taylor during which Smith spoke on the current state of the U.K. parliament. He also met with Carol Mullen, director of the School of Education, professor Joan Hirt, and professor emeritus Josiah Tlou, representing the Center for Research and Development in International Education.

"This exemplary activist on the world stage is bringing illumination to international education and interdisciplinary work by pursuing new multidisciplinary initiatives that forge deeper relations between the USA and UK and with other countries," Mullen said. "One of his aspirations is to give the arts and humanities a platform for contributing to the real-world problems of the day and through the hard sciences. He is a very eloquent speaker whose breadth of knowledge and depth of experience is a marvel. We are interested in working with him on any initiatives for which Virginia Tech, known for its multidisciplinary integration of the arts and sciences, can be a keen player."

Sabith Khan, a graduate student in planning, governance and globalization, said he enjoyed learning from Smith's rich experiences.

“His experiences in the Arab world and South Asia spoke to me, as these regions are at the heart of much cultural relations taking place and my own research," Khan said. "He seems to be an astute observer of human nature and also a kind person and therefore had many interesting anecdotes to share. Overall, I came away with a much better understanding of the work that British Council does.”

“He had a wonderful visit,” Back said. “He was so impressed with all the students and faculty members he met – so much so that he invited a number of us to attend the British Council’s conference for leaders of international education next spring in Miami. We’ll definitely be keeping in touch.”

Monday, August 19, 2013

See photos from the summer graduation ceremony

Click below to see a slide show from the summer 2013 graduation ceremony, held Aug. 16.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Students take part in joint summit on alternative energy

Students in Professor Vanessa Ghaderi's Gateway class and Professor Ada Chrisman's 500 GLS class met recently for a joint summit on alternative energy.

Students watched two videos — one a debate on sustainable versus nuclear power, and one by David MacKay, who explores the mathematics that show worrying limitations on sustainable energy options and explains why we should pursue them anyway.

Students then worked in groups to decipher what they had learned and attempt to influence each other while forming their own opinions.

"I really enjoyed this kind of activity because it gave you an opportunity to share with other students that are not your daily classmates," says Chrisman's student Mariela Ochoa from Guatemala. 

"The topic is very interesting to me because I think the environment is a shared responsibility. ... I strongly support the idea that nuclear energy is not the solution, and we have to consider all the risk that this implies. Aside from this, it is important that we change our consumer energy patterns, because if we still consume energy in that way that we do now no energy source will be enough." 

Offering another side of the debate, Texas, a student from China, writes: "As the most important new energy, nuclear energy plays a crucial role. First, according to the nuclear fission theory, we just need a tiny amount of uranium, and we can get a large amount of energy to use. Second, compared with some sustainable energy, like wind power, nuclear energy is developed, which means that it can be used as common life, and it has a completed protection system. In conclusion, we need to insist on the development of nuclear energy, trying to find a better way to control its disadvantages." 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Don Back to participate in forum on internationalizing college campuses

Don Back
Don Back, the director of the Language and Culture Institute, has been invited to take part in a State Department-sponsored forum examining strategies for helping international students to study in the United States and U.S. students to study abroad.

“For more than 30 years, the Language and Culture Institute has contributed to Virginia Tech’s diversity and intellectual capacity by attracting the best and brightest international students,” said Back, who has led the institute since 2007. “By sharing the latest ideas, innovations, and trends in international education, this forum will help Virginia Tech continue to be a premier destination for students from around the world who want to study abroad.”

Click here to read more about next week's EnglishUSA Forum.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Blacksburg company helps international students find a home away from home

Mary Ann Weimer Poole
While earning her master’s degree in architecture from Virginia Tech, Mary Ann Weimer Poole studied ways to turn houses into homes. In a way, she’s still doing that, as owner of Blacksburg Homestay. Poole, this month's featured community partner on the Outreach and International Affairs website, finds local places where international students and visiting scholars can call home while studying at the Language and Culture Institute.

The idea for Blacksburg Homestay came to Poole in 2003 after she’d agreed to host a South Korean student who was a friend of a friend. She transformed the home office in her Blacksburg home into a bedroom, and soon Kangsub Ahn had a place to live.

“It was unusual at first to host a student, but I engaged and met his friends and invited more students informally into my home,” Poole says on her website. Within a year, she had six students living with her.

“It was a riot,” she says. “I had makeshift stuff everywhere for these kids.”

Click here to read more about Blacksburg Homestay.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Student posters unwrap 'The Ultimate Gift'

Donita Moore's Reading and Writing 450 class wrapped up the last term by creating posters highlighting aspects of the novel "The Ultimate Gift." Made into a 2007 film, the book centers on one man's quest for purpose and meaning in an empty life.

Students highlighted certain aspects of the story and then shared their thoughts with visitors at a poster session on May 15. A number of visitors said the presentations made them want to read the book and see the movie.

Khaled Almenhali (left) and Zijia Liu talk about their Work poster.

Xiji Hong talks about the film version of "The Ultimate Gift."

Amjad Alharbi, Musaed Almajed and professor Jonathan Dworin peruse the posters.

Adelina Miranda talks about the "gift of family."

Abdullah Alghamdi's poster focused on the "gift of money."

Ali Alneyadi and Linda Sanford

Sijie Pu

4 Virginia Tech students receive LCI-sponsored scholarships

Four students have been selected to receive scholarships from the Virginia Tech chapter of Phi Beta Delta, which this spring inducted 18 new members.

Sponsored by the Language and Culture Institute, the scholarships help underwrite the costs of undergraduate and graduate students’ study in other countries. The scholarships are designed to encourage trips to nontraditional destinations for programs that include language and cultural engagement components.

Read more about the scholarship winners and the new Phi Beta Delta inductees.

Amer Fayad, president of the Gamma Omega chapter of Phi Beta Delta, and Ian Leuschner, the chapter coordinator, induct new member Elsie Paredes, associate director of the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Congratulations, future Virginia Tech students!

The following Language and Culture Institute students plan to matriculate at Virginia Tech this fall:
  1. Chen, Yanxi
  2. Feng, Zheng 
  3. Guo, Fan
  4. He, Ruolin
  5. Hou, Jue
  6. Jiang, Fengge
  7. Li, Zihao
  8. Lu, Shijun
  9. Wang, Haoyu
  10. Zhang, Xunan
  11. Zheng, Wanwei
  12. Zou, Qi
  13. Duan, Shaowei
  14. Han, Zhongting
  15. Lan, Yi
  16. Wu, Yutong
The following students have earned six credits at Virginia Tech (math and English) and will enroll in the Summer Academy as incoming freshmen:
  1. Huang, Shasha 
  2. Li, Boyang “The Elder”
  3. Li, Boyang “The Younger”
  4. Liu, Shuiqing “Leo”
  5. Liu, Xudong
  6. Wang, Dong
  7. Zhou, Meiyun

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Spring graduation photos

Student PowerPoint presentations earn honors

Students in Christina Massey's grammar class created PowerPoint presentations detailing some of the things they learned last term.

The presentations were evaluated by outside judges, and the top two earned extra credit and a spot on this blog.

"I have done some innovative (at least for me) activities this semester and really enjoyed them," one of the winners, Xiaodan "Sonia" Li, said in an email. "So please do not be afraid to try something new, and you will find you enjoy them!"

The other winner, Zhongting Han, said: "I really had much fun and learned a lot, such as listening, speaking, and social skills. The life in Blacksburg is not as boring as I thought before. I know there are lots of activities you can find in VT's calendar. Some of them you may be interested in!"

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

In the news: Language and Culture Institute welcomes international Humphrey Fellows

Guru Ghosh (right), Virginia Tech's vice president for outreach and international affairs, welcomes Humphrey Fellows Hamid Meziane (left) of Morocco and Boldkhuu Nanzad (center) of Mongolia before a university reception at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center.
Boldkhuu Nanzad came to Virginia Tech from Mongolia to “improve my knowledge and gain experiences” to develop new ideas of thinking and working.

Deputy director of fuel policy management at the Mongolian Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy, Nanzad is one of 12 midcareer professionals from around the world who are studying English at the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute as part of the prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program.

This is the sixth year the institute has hosted the program’s English training component. The Fellows are focusing not only on their English and academic skills, but also on learning about academic life in the United States, developing intercultural awareness and leadership skills, and adapting to American culture, says Susan Neu, who directs the program at Virginia Tech.

Read more at:
See more photos at:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

VT News spotlights 2 Phi Beta Delta scholarship winners

Two recent recipients of Phi Beta Delta scholarships have been profiled by Virginia Tech News for a series of stories about graduating students.

The Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute funds the scholarships for Phi Beta Delta undergraduate and graduate student members who will study abroad in credit-bearing programs with language and cultural engagement components.

Maggie Appel-Schumacher of Mackenbach, Germany, is a graduating senior with majors in German and international studies. She received a scholarship for summer 2012 for an internship with the German National  Association for Student Affairs in Munster, Germany. Click here to read more about her.

Victoria Heath of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, is a graduating senior majoring in history and political science. She received a scholarship for summer 2012 for work with Lutheran World Federation on Refugee Issues in Kakuma, Kenya. Click here to read more about her.

More information on the Phi Beta Delta scholarships is available on the organization's website,

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

LCI helps train South Korean engineers

Ten engineers from South Korea participating in a six-month civil engineering program at the Virginia Tech Research Center – Arlington began their studies with six weeks of intensive English training at the Language and Culture Institute in the National Capital Region.

For six weeks, the engineers learned strategies for producing intelligible speech, developed classroom presentations, participated in group work, practiced academic writing in the field (journals and citations), and explored Virginia Tech's extensive online resources through their research.

The skills acquired at the LCI provided the engineers with a strong foundation for the seminars, research, and writing they will perform during their training in procurement and projects.

Read more about the engineers and the VT-KPEA Global Engineering Program here.

Friday, April 26, 2013

More photos from Washington

Washington, D.C., cherry blossoms
AlJowhara took this photo of the Washington Monument during a boat trip to get a different perspective of the cherry trees.
After the LCI National Capital Region field trip to Washington, D.C., student AlJowhara created a photo essay showing off  the city's famous cherry trees and some of the capital's many monuments.

Click here to see more of AlJowhara's photos from Washington.

The 555-foot-tall Washington Monument, the most prominent structure in the city, is closed for repairs due to an earthquake in 2011.
I picked this shot for Martin Luther King after the park ranger explained it to us, AlJowhara says. His statue is the leap of hope from the two mountains. His status is incomplete because there are still some works to done for the civil rights. 
I doubt that the grass is doing any kind of camouflage, AlJowhara says of the Korean War Veterans Memorial. I can clearly see the soldiers and so can the plane above.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Students take in beauty, history in Washington, D.C.

The LCI group stops for a photo in front of the statue at the Lincoln Memorial.
On April 10, LCI students and their professors in the National Capital Region made an unforgettable trip to the National Cherry Blossom festival in Washington, D.C.
Talking with the ranger at the Korean
War Memorial

After leaving the Metro, we walked around the west side of the Tidal Basin, where everybody took astonishing photos with the cherry blossom trees in full bloom and the Jefferson Memorial in the background.

 Our first stop was the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, where one of the park rangers gave us an informative speech explaining the symbolism of the memorial.

The next stop was the Korean War Veterans Memorial, where we had the honor of listening to a park ranger who was a Korean War veteran; he was also present at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and listened to King's "I Have a Dream" speech in person. Not only did he share much valuable historic information about the Korean War that most of us were not familiar with, but he also told us about how he had been affected by segregation and King's work.
At the Martin Luther King Jr.

The last, and equally impressive, stop was the Lincoln Memorial. We took some time to explore the memorial and learn about the symbolism of it as well as the contributions of the man honored -- President Abraham Lincoln, who is regarded as one of America’s greatest statesmen.

The trip was a great success, both entertaining and educational. To make the trip as informative as possible, the LCI professors created a scavenger hunt to accompany the field trip. Students were split into a few groups at the beginning of the trip and were given lists of questions they were able to answer only if they had carefully listened to the park rangers' speeches and observed the memorials. Students were presented with their prizes last week.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

LCI hosts conference for ESL teachers

Linda Sanford greets conference participants at the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute in Blacksburg, Va.

Ada Chrisman chats with colleagues during the lunch break.
Judy Radford, ESOL coordinator for the Virginia Department of Education,
presents on the WIDA ELD standards.
On April 13, the Language and Culture Institute hosted the first Southwest Virginia conference of the Virginia Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (VATESOL).

About 100 people attended the conference in Blacksburg.

Participants had their choice of 13 sessions, many of which focused on teaching strategies. For lunch, participants ate in different rooms throughout the LCI and mingled with people from other institutions.

“We had a good mix of attendees from elementary, secondary, and tertiary institutions from all over Virginia,” said Melissa Tan, a member of the LCI’s Professional Development Committee.

The attendees also included two teachers from the University of Science Malaysia and a number of former LCI instructors.

Kay Gude, who traveled from Williamsburg, said she enjoyed her day at the conference, which she said was “well organized and attended with a nice variety of people and sessions.”

The association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting professional development, strengthening instruction, and supporting research opportunities at all levels for teachers and administrators of ESL/EFL/ESOL.

Photos by Linda Jilk. Reporting by Kama Weatherholt.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Former Humphrey Fellow returns to Blacksburg

Salem bin Talib (left), a 2010 Humphrey Fellow, poses for a photo with this year's cohort of Fellows and LCI staff and teachers. Salem talked with the Fellows about what to expect during their Fellowship year.
A former member of Yemen's Parliament, Salem is now the chief of staff for the Yemeni prime minister. He assists the prime minister and prepares all the decrees for the high-level positions in the country.
Salem catches up with his former teacher Pinar Gurdal.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

2012 Humphrey Fellow to speak about disabilities and the WHO

Magteld Smith
Magteld Smith, a 2012 Humphrey Fellow from South Africa who studied at the LCI and the University of Minnesota, will return to Blacksburg this month to give a talk about hearing impairment and the international classification of disability.

Her presentation, "Hearing Impairments and the International Classification of Disability, Health, and Functioning of the World Health Organization," will be at 3 p.m. Friday, April 12 at 130 Jackson: A Venue for Blacksburg at 130 Jackson St. downtown.

The talk, sponsored by Virginia Tech's Office for Diversity and Inclusion, is free and open to the public. Coffee and refreshments will be provided.

R.S.V.P. to

Smith is a medical-social researcher in the otorhinolaryngology department at South Africa's University of the Free State. She is an advocate for efforts to improve the conditions of people with disabilities, particularly those with disabling hearing impairment. 

Her research compares the cost effectiveness of rehabilitation programs for persons with disabling hearing impairment, including multiple disabilities associated with hearing impairment, making it possible for more people to have access to a wider array of rehabilitation options.

During her fellowship year in Minnesota, Smith, the founder of Voices of Change: Transformation for People with Disabilities Project, focused on public health policy management.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Students see how county government functions

On Tuesday, the Turkish students in the American Government elective went on a field trip to observe a meeting of the Prince William County Board of County Supervisors. All students attended.

We arrived a half-hour before the meeting began and were treated to a presentation on the structure and functioning of the board by Tracy Gordon, assistant to the county executive and legislative liaison. 

The board’s meeting focused on budget issues. As legislative liaison, Gordon gave a presentation to the board on state tax actions and proposals that bear a direct affect on Prince William County. 

The board had an engaging discussion of taxing within the county vis-à-vis state funding and public transportation in the Northern Virginia region, and allowed students to see the intersections and interactions of state and local governments. 

We observed the meeting for two hours, after which Gordon gave us a tour of the county government facility where all the county’s departments are headquartered.

Students asked extraordinarily insightful questions before, during, and after the board meeting. They gave a clear demonstration of the importance and value of special-purpose coursework for language learning.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

LCI students witness democracy in action at U.S. Capitol

A docent talks with LCI students in the Rotunda at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

On Wednesday, Feb. 6, the Language and Culture Institute in Falls Church took its 100 students on a field trip to the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. Botanic Garden.

After getting off the Metro, our first stop was the Botanic Garden, the oldest continually operating botanic garden in the country. It is home to almost 10,000 living specimens, some of which are more than 165 years old. From roses to orchids, the rain forest to the rare and endangered plants, we found a world of plants and environments in their diversity of form, color, and fragrance that reminded us that plants make our lives possible and enjoyable.

After an hour touring this magnificent place and taking thousands of pictures, we headed toward the Capitol Building.

The Capitol, one of the most architecturally impressive and symbolically important buildings in the world, stands as a monument not only to its builders but also to the American people and their government. After going through the screening process, we went down to Emancipation Hall (PDF), where we got our passes.

The statues and busts in the Rotunda are primarily of presidents.
 The introductory film, "Out of Many, One," was an inspiring kickoff to the tour. It gave us a historical overview of the Capitol and a history of the Congress.

Next, we were split into groups, given headsets, and taken to various areas inside the Capitol by the docents. Of all the areas, the students thought the Rotunda, with its giant paintings and statues of some of the most important characters in U.S. history, was the most impressive.

The final exciting moment was when we got the passes to see the House of Representatives in session. As we watched Republican U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert deliver a speech, we felt like we were witnessing history in the making.

Instructors pose with their passes to see the U.S. House of Representatives chamber.

On this day, we indeed did something extraordinary. We got a glimpse inside the building that symbolizes the greatest representative democracy in the world. We were all very pleased to have this unique and exciting opportunity.