The graduate program(s) attracts a substantial number of foreign students. In addition to the usual problems of adjusting to the graduate program, foreign students may face special problems of adjusting to language and customs.
Most foreign students enter with TOEFL scores in the 600 range. Our experience is that these students' spoken and written English, speed of reading English, and ability to take lecture notes in English are often below the level that would permit them to compete on equal terms with students whose native language is English.
In such cases, it is the responsibility of foreign students to improve their English. The English Language Program (ELP) offers intensive English instruction. Some of the courses are available over the summer, and foreign students having difficulty with English are urged to participate in the English program during the summer preceding and possibly following their first year. It may be possible that tuition for these courses will be subsidized by the Department.
The Department expects that foreign students will improve their English to the point that they can serve as Department TAs during their second year in residence and can teach competently in University College (night school) by their third year in residence. Failure to develop proficiency in English sufficient to perform the duties of a TA will jeopardize continued financial support as well as progress toward completion of the degree.
Currently, all students whose native language is not English must take an exam in teaching competency. This exam usually takes place soon after the student arrives on campus, in the summer before the first year of classes. The exam is jointly administered by ELP and the Economics department. Recommendations from ELP, derived from the results of these exams, have to be followed. If the recommendation requires additional ELP courses, the Graduate School usually pays the tuition.
One reason foreign students often fail to improve is that they “stick together" and talk mainly to others in their native language. It is important that foreign students mingle with American students and speak mainly English outside of class. Our office assignments make this easy; they intentionally mix foreign and American students. Foreign students are encouraged to join in “study groups" with American students, to attend picnics and other departmental functions, and to generally “mix" with the other students.
The Teaching Center may also be able to provide advice to a TA who encounters problems with undergraduate students or the faculty she/he is assigned to.
Cultural Differences and Gifts
There are many customs here that differ from those to which some of our foreign students are accustomed. For example, some foreign students are used to giving gifts to faculty members. This is not customary here and even considered inappropriate. In some Asian countries, teachers and their assistants seem to receive more respect than is customary in the U.S. Students assigned to TA duties should be aware of this difference: an American undergraduate student usually does not show disrespect when he/she is not deferential to a TA. Please talk to us if there are problems for you.