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English immersion program draws Mexican students to ASU

Juan Manuel & Diana Elizalde
November 17, 2014

Nearly 700 college students from Mexico are visiting Arizona State University from November to January for an English language immersion program offered through ASU’s American English and Culture Program (AECP).

The goal is to significantly increase the number of Mexican students who are proficient in English so that they may participate in foreign-exchange learning opportunities, as part of a collaborative initiative between the United States and Mexico.

The first cohort of approximately 375 students is currently in residence at ASU’s West campus for an intensive four-week program involving English reading, writing, speaking and listening. Two additional groups, totaling approximately 300 students, will come to campus during December and January.

The students are fully participating in student life, including residing in one of the residence halls on the West campus, eating in Verde Dining Hall, using the library and fitness center, and participating in various campus and university wide co-curricular programs.

“We are very pleased to collaborate with Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Proyecta 100,000 Program," said Paola Garcia, director of Mexico and Latin America Initiatives in the Office of University Affairs. "This is a historic effort that the government of Mexico is making to support 7,500 students in improving their English proficiency and becoming familiar with the American culture.

“Proyecta 100,000 aims to increase student mobility between the U.S. and Mexico, and through this effort help to achieve the similar goals of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative, led by our presidents,” Garcia said. “We are enthusiastic to contribute to achieving this binational vision by welcoming several hundred Mexican students at ASU.”

The United States and Mexico established the Bilateral Forum on Higher Education Innovation and Research in 2013. The two governments identified limited English proficiency among Mexican students as a main barrier to increasing academic exchanges. As a response, the Mexican government adopted the Proyecta 100,000 program, which supports Mexican students going to the U.S. to learn English.

“We share a border and many common interests with Mexico,” said ASU President Michael Crow. “It’s natural that we seek stronger ties through education, research and innovation so we can help each other prepare for the challenges and the changing nature of the advanced workforce of the 21st century.”

Additional students from Mexico are completing English immersion programs at other U.S. universities as part of Proyecta 100,000, with ASU hosting by far the largest contingent.

“I think most people agree on a policy level that ties between the U.S. and Mexico can and should be stronger, but this program brings these lofty ideals to life,” said Linda Hill, program coordinator for AECP. “Something really beautiful happens when ordinary citizens of a different country, culture and language come together with a mindset simply to learn and grow from one another.

"I believe it’s often true that the real ‘political’ change people are hungry to see happen between the nations of our global community – deeper levels of appreciation, understanding and cooperation – are often realized one person at a time, one exchange at a time. This is the profound value and power of international student exchange.”

Juan Manuel and Diana Elizalde are two of the students who recently arrived in Phoenix. For both it is their first visit to the United States. Manuel is a petroleum engineering major at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (National Polytechnic Institute, IPN) in Mexico City, while Elizalde is studying mechatronics engineering at Instituto Tecnológico de Hermosillo (Institute of Technology in Hermosillo, ITH) in the state of Sonora.

“Improving my English skills will help me have a better career,” said Elizalde, 22. “My goal is to go back home at the end of this class able to speak English fluently.”

Elizalde lives with her family back home in Hermosillo, so living in the Las Casas residence hall on ASU’s West campus is a new experience for her. “I am enjoying dorm life and making many new friends,” she said.

Manuel aspires to go to graduate school in the United States after completing his bachelor’s degree at IPN. He is looking to improve his communication skills in English through the AECP experience.

“I have some knowledge of English, but I need to improve my speaking skills,” he said. “I don’t feel I know how to express myself and my feelings well, which can be frustrating when you are trying to have a conversation.”

Manuel has been impressed by the beauty of the West campus and how well-maintained the buildings and grounds are. “Everyone takes care of the buildings and respects property, which is great to see,” he said.

The students are becoming well-acquainted with the campus, as well as the surrounding community, through a series of events that are supplementing their studies.

“Hosting this large AECP cohort at West provides a wonderful opportunity for both the visiting students and for our campus,” said Marlene Tromp, vice provost at the West campus and dean of ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

“The students are getting a real taste of American culture with an ASU football game, Black Friday shopping, and camping and s’mores on the quad,” Tromp said. “Of course, they’ll get to connect with American students as well. We have arranged engagement, for example, between the AECP students and both our college peer mentors program and students from Barrett, the Honors College. The synergy that exists between AECP and our academic and social programs will create exciting opportunities for all the students and faculty, and ASU West is the perfect landscape for that rich and genuine interaction.”

AECP has been offering specially designed intensive English language instruction at ASU since 1974. The program served more than 2,200 students from 59 countries in the most recent academic year.

“I recently ate breakfast with some of the Proyecta participants, all of them young women and future engineers,” Hill said. “As I listened to them share their dreams, their hopes, their excitement to study at ASU, I felt truly proud to work for a university that embraces the vision and understands the value of the Proyecta 100,000 initiative.”