By Zhitao Kou

Four years ago, when I first came to UCSB as an international student, I had no idea what to expect for my four years here. Like most foreigners who came to this country, I had limited writing and speaking skills. Learning English in a Chinese environment is not enough. I was still not sure if I was ready for anything.

But UC Santa Barbara was ready.  

Starting on Day 1, we were told that all students should attend a special training designed for international students only, which included one “CALI training” hosted by Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS), and several Linguistics classes taught by English for Multilingual Students department (EMS). These offices are key to the smooth transition of 3,000 international students currently on campus.

 The International Students and Scholars (OISS) office at the Student Resource Building.

The International Students and Scholars (OISS) office at the Student Resource Building.

These early sessions thoroughly exceeded my expectations. CALI training gave all students a quick intro to all of UCSB’s  programs, gathering together students of the same majors as well as providing insights about various programs to undecided students. We met, chatted, and built a whole international family together. We even had an outdoor BBQ event along the Goleta Beach park to feel the beauty of our campus. It was a wonderful time, and all the nervousness among the foreign students seemed to vanish after that.

Even more appealing were the several Linguistic classes from the EMS department, under the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts, which aimed to improve the English abilities of international students.

At first glance, these classes may seem boring to students of our age. All four of them required us to attend every lecture and participate. Each of us needed to write and present on current affairs such as the presidential election, American social classes, American ethnicities and so on. Compared to other freshman courses, these classes are quite challenging.

 I wrote as many essays and revisions in my Linguistics classes as the rest of my four years combined.

I wrote as many essays and revisions in my Linguistics classes as the rest of my four years combined.

It was only after my first year that I realized the benefits I got from these small EMS Linguistics classes. Now, I am majoring in  Economics, which is one of the most popular majors at the  school, and I miss so much about these early language classes. Then, I could sit down with instructors one-on-one, talking about all the possibilities within my topics, what I thought about American culture, as well as the difficulties I was experiencing in college.

In a department like Economics, where the majority of classes are filled with more than 100 students, I would always see a huge waiting line for professor’s office hour. There is a very limited window for anyone trying to have an effective talk with their professors. More importantly, international students like myself often feel scared to talk to professors when our English is not fluent. Without the preparation from EMS classes, I would have had no idea on how to talk with professors, and wasted my chance in the office hour.

 Campbell hall at UCSB: A popular Econ class can hold as many as 860 students.

Campbell hall at UCSB: A popular Econ class can hold as many as 860 students.

It is possible that I may never have made it to graduating, without the prior practice from friendly Linguistics instructors.

I have to thank UCSB and the English for Multilingual Students office for its role in helping me through to a final graduation. There would be no success without the help from them, and I am sure thousands of other international students feel the same way.

Zhitao Kou is a fourth-year international student from China studying Economics at UC Santa Barbara.