Part 1: ISI and Hello America!

Posted: 15-09-2014 | Wara Uwarsi

Some people say that home is where the heart is. It is not just about the sense of belonging to a place or a person, but also following our bliss, doing what we like. Sometimes, “walking home” involves moving to another country, adopting a new culture, and speaking a foreign language. This process would be easier if we had a guide and a friend to accompany us in this journey.

Perhaps this is the primary role of the International Summer Institute (ISI); not only to ease the transition of international students to life in the United States, but also to help them feel that they belong in their new home.


It was a pleasure for me to get the opportunity to join the ISI as part of EDGS Arryman Fellowship Program, together with 45 other students from 14 countries. The program provided intensive English lessons, introduction to American culture, advice for settling into the US, and events for socializing with other ISI students. To me, there are three elements that define the ISI: instruction + social events + integration.


In his speech at the ISI Banquet at the end of our program, one of our friends, Walther Rodriguez, reminded us about the power of language. In his words, “language is a door.” This door can take us to another world, to really see each other, to communicate, and to perceive others with empathy. 

Language is the essence of the ISI. And during this program, I had the opportunity to attend English classes such as Conversation and Presentation, Test Preparation, and Pronunciation. We then divided into groups, and I was taught by David Potter and Mike Frazier, graduate students in the Department of Linguistics. I appreciate that the instructors were able to deliver such academic topics in a relaxed setting. For example, in Conversation, we discussed a lot of subjects ranging from greetings to dating, from small talk to academic presentation, as well as the do’s and don’ts in American culture. In addition, I received one-on-one tutoring from Dr. Kenneth Konopka. This experience was indeed a privilege because it is a rare opportunity for students like us to work privately with a professor from the Department of Linguistics.



The integration aspect of the ISI program encompassed Practica, Integration Issues Conference, and Learn by Doing Workshops. The Practica sessions led by Lisa Del Torto helped us to find our physical homes. She guided us in apartment hunting and interacting with landlords and roommates. She also gave us information on transportation, health and counseling, shopping, and travelling in the US.

The Integration Issues Conference was the highlight of the ISI program. We attended discussion forums about academic culture such as the way to work with advisors and faculty, teaching assistance, and academic integrity. We also had a chance to present our research in front of other ISI students and staff members, and we received feedback from them.

From the various options for the Learn by Doing Workshops, I chose Improv Class, even when I was definitely sure that I don’t have the comedy skills. At first, I thought I had made a mistake! It took a lot of courage to give a spontaneous performance in front of many people. But thanks to our Improv instructor, Mike Frazier, I really appreciate the lesson I got from this workshop. Through a lot of games and activities, such as warm-ups, character building, and scene performance, I learned that the key point of Improv is not trying hard to be funny. Instead, it is understanding the other players, accepting their ideas, and working together to create a scene or performance. Basically, as Improv players, we have to let go our selfishness, trust our “partner in crime,” and just have fun!


(Continue to Part 2: Play Hard! ISI Social Events)