Capitol Collage 2

Collage pictures of field trip to US Capitol



Dawood Al Jahwari

By Dawood Al Jahwari with Interview by Shary Llanos

Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute organized a field trip to the Capitol in the last week of July. Many faculty members from the Institute joined the students on the field trip. As all of the students in the Institute are from other countries, it was a great experience for them. This taught them more about American history and the history of the Capitol building. In addition, this trip enabled the students to build conceptual understanding and bring joy to their learning.

The students gathered with the faculty at the LCI before taking the  metro to the Capitol.   We started by exploring the the exhibition hall which is just after the security check points. Many students started taking photos. Then, the students were instructed to queue in a line in front of the theater  to view a thirteen-minute orientation film. The orientation film, “Out of Many, One,” illustrates how the United States established a new form of government and highlighted the vital role that Congress plays in the daily lives of Americans. In addition, the film introduced us to the building that houses the U.S Congress.  After the film, a tour guide was assigned to take LCI students through the main areas of the Capitol.

Professor Rose who joined the students on the field trip thinks that these kinds of activities are important because they help the faulty members and the students to know more about each other. In addition, she thinks that the visit to the Capitol will help the students know the heart of American history and this will help them in their future university or college life. Professor Rose added that it was a great opportunity for her to see the Capitol for the first time and she was amazed by the Capitol Dome from inside. She thinks that the trip would  be much better if the students and the faculty members sat together after the trip for lunch.

Professor Abbas, who also joined the student, felt that she was visiting the Capitol for the first time even though, she  has been there before before. She thinks the trip has encouraged interaction between the faculty members and the students and it helps to humanize the relationships between them. Professor Abbas enjoyed watching the students take pictures.    “It was kind of fun”, she added. She also believe that these kinds of trips benefit the students. It helps them write better because they experienced and explored something.

“The field trip to the Capitol was enjoyable” said Salwa said who is a student from Saudi Arabia in level 550. She was astonished by the painting and the design of the Dome.  She also liked the film shown to the visitors. She said “The film gave me good information about American history and the Capitol history too.” In her opinion, the field trip is an excellent way to enhance the interactions between students. Salwa also thinks that field trip should not be only to the historical places but to some entertainment places sometimes.

“The institute through this trip gave me the opportunity to visit this famous historical building where most of the decisions concerning the United States and the world are taken,” commented Ibrahim, a Fulbright scholar taking pre-academic course at VTLCI. He told us that the paintings, the design, and the big halls are the most things that attracted him. He added “I gained cultural and historical information. I hope the Institute will continue to organize such field trips to some states other than Washington DC.”

Outing-based learning is an effective tool for developing many skills for the students. Some activities including the field trips enhance the student interaction with their colleagues and professors. Such interaction will have a positive impact on  student performance. The faculty members and the students seemed to have many suggestions f which should be taking in consideration when planning future activities.

English as “A Piece of Cake”

Posted: August 9, 2011 in Op-Ed

Simple Things to be Like an American

By Nouf Althubaiti

Did you ever ask for tomato soap instead of tomato soup? Did you ever almost die of embarrassment when you used the wrong English world? Do you want to learn English, meet new friend and have fun?

How can a foreign student improve his or her English skills? It is easy. Go to your local library. Foreign students can meet at their library for conversation classes with other students, supervised by volunteer teachers who help them with their mistakes. These conversations take place at different times, depending on the libraries.

The first step toward the goal of speaking like an American is to find the nearest public library and ask about their foreign language speaker program.  If the library has such a program, the second step is getting there and having fun.

One of the nearest libraries to the Northern Virginia center is Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library.  The Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library has an English Language Conversation Group that meets every Tuesday evening from 6:30 to 9:00. The group is supervised by two American English speakers who help and encourage their students to improve their English language. Anyone is welcome who would like to build up their speaking skills. There is a wide range of skills among the students some of whom are very new to this country and some who have been here for years, but they all get along and support each other in learning English.

Tysons Pimmet Public Library

Tysons Pimmet Public Library

Another program that anyone can find in the public library and that will help to improve English skills is a Volunteer Program.  There are a lot of volunteer programs that provide excellent opportunities to communicate with many of American speakers.  Volunteering is an excellent way to improve your language skills, get to know more about American life, and be of service to someone in need at the same time.

Also, foreign student can improve their reading skills in the library by attending a Book Club.The Book Club consists of a reading group that meet once a week to discuss and analyze the book they decide to read. This program will improve the reading, speaking and analytic skills.

These are some programs that any student can find in the public library and will help to improve his/her English.  You will also have fun. If you aren’t having fun learning English, you are not studying the right way! You can be a serious student who has fun at the same time.

Education for all Children!

Posted: August 9, 2011 in Op-Ed

Imene Dahlouk

By Imene Dahlouk

Today, there are too many children at risk around the world living an extremely poor life they did not choose for themselves.  For example, in 2009 nearly 9 million children younger than 5  died needlessly, more than half from hunger-related causes.  Unfortunately, they were never given a chance to live their dreams to go to school where they can learn how to read and write.

Globally more than 80 million children are deprived of the right to an education and 60% of these children are girls.  These kids would wash cars, sell newspapers or shine shoes in exchange for very small change.  Even worse, they might be at the risk of being affected by HIV/AIDS and other diseases in addition to living in rural poverty.

Everyone agrees that education is very important but how valuable is education actually?  Firstly, education is vital for climbing out of poverty that affects a billion people around the world.  It also helps promote peace by bringing communities together and giving the hope to the voiceless.  More importantly, education is the key to defense against diseases.  It helps to develop general knowledge about health care, hygiene, the importance of prenatal care and immunizations; therefore, mothers raise healthier families and are more likely to be able to protect themselves and their children from HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

Our children are the world’s most valuable asset for the future.  Providing the right education to children must be the world’s priority.  We need to broaden access to schools and provide higher quality education for children around the world.  It’s a positive investment that will bring its fruit in the future.  But if we claim that the world’s future is on the hands of our children, why are we so careless about putting every child in the world behind a desk?

Fulbright Scholarship

Posted: August 9, 2011 in News

For Diversity and Mutual Understanding

Ibrahim

By Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim

We often hear about Fulbright scholarships or we meet many Fulbright grantees; we might even be Fulbrighters ourselves but have we ever asked what a Fulbright scholarship is? What is its history? Who is responsible for providing its funding and for what purpose?

According to the US Department of State, the Fulbright scholarship is an international educational exchange program aiming to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries.

The program began in September 1945 when Senator J. William Fulbright from Arkansas introduced a bill in the U.S. Congress that called for the use of proceeds from the sales of surplus war property to fund the “promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science.” After one year, President Truman signed the Fulbright Act into Law.

The Fulbright program is the largest and the most prestigious scholarship program in the world. The program awards nearly 8,000 grants annually to students from 155 different countries including 1,600 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 U.S. scholars, and 900 visiting scholars, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals. Since it started, approximately, 310,000 Fulbrighters, 116,900 from the United States and 192,800 from other countries, have participated in this program.

The Fulbright scholarship is granted to students or scholars with particular characteristics such as a strong academic background or achievement, leadership potential, a passion for increasing mutual understanding among nations and cultures, and the adaptability and flexibility to pursue their proposed Fulbright project successfully.

A Fulbrighter does not have a single profile. That’s why the program is open to everybody who meets the basic conditions of the program. Candidates are invited to enter the long and highly competitive process that ends in the merit-based selection of exceptional students and scholars that meet the the program’s strict requirements. The selected US citizens could go abroad to study and the non-US citizens could come to study in the American Universities.

Students apply for the Fulbright scholarship not only for the grant, but also for the “perfect monitoring of the entire process” as Daoud, a Fulbrighter from Oman, said. Indeed, from the selection up to the end of the grant, the program provides the basic requirements for the grantee to succeed in his study. These requirements include an award that covers the tuition, stipend, insurance, books, computer and a pre-academic program that consists of preparing the students linguistically and culturally for study in graduate school. In addition, the program provides advisers for the guidance of the grantees and organizes annual conferences for them to meet and share experiences.

Fulbright Scholars

VTLCI Fulbright Scholars 2011 From left to right: Amira, Calister, Ibrahim, Shary, Mohamed, Dawood and Imene

According to the majority of grantees, the advantages of the Fulbright scholarship are so enormous that they completely override the disadvantages. Among others advantages, grantees cite the opportunity that the program gives them to “fulfill their dreams of studying in the prestigious universities of the United States” (Shary from Colombia), “interact with people from different countries and different cultures” (Imene from Algeria) or “join the reputable Almuni association that gathered all the current and former grantees” (Daoud from Oman).

Nevertheless, some few grantees raise concerns about the Fulbright immigration policy that obliges the grantees to return to their home country and stay for at least two years before applying for a new US visa. Some critics  also address the program’s unwillingness to provide for the transport and insurance bills for the grantees’ families as well as the insufficiency of the stipend to cover the grantees expenses.

There are right now seven Fulbright grantees who are pursuing a pre-academic English program for six weeks at Virginia Tech as prelude to their masters program in their respective universities. They all come from such different countries as Niger, Oman, Algeria, Tunisia, Tanzania, Colombia and Egypt. As well, their academic interests span various fields of study including Political Science, Hospitality Management, Public health, Business Administration, Computer Science and Civil Engineering. The reasons that motivate the choice of these fields are mostly related to the undergraduate backgrounds and professional experiences of the students.

These Fulbrighters are all enthusiastic so far, about their study at Virginia Tech. Mohamed from Egypt said, “The pre-academic program is very important. It represents a transitional period between our former academic system and the American one in which we enroll. It involves acquiring a good understanding of the Language, the Culture as well as familiarizing us with the use of electronic devices in classes. In all these ways, I think Virginia Tech is doing great job”. Calister from Tanzania appreciates very much the Language program of Virginia Tech but think that the Cultural aspect needs to be improved.  All the Fulbrighters are unanimously impressed by the diversity that characterizes the school as almost all the continents (Africa, North America, South America, Asia, and Europe) are represented in this small society of Virginia Tech.

Retrospectively, diversity is one of the aspects that Fulbrighters offer Virginia Tech. Professor Clark said “We always look forward to our annual Fulbright students. Because they represent many different countries, they bring cultural richness and diversity to our language school.  They are always a welcome addition in our classrooms because they challenge everyone to speak English. Conversation classes are lively and animated with a wide range of opinions and perspectives.”

Regarding to the Fulbrighters’s learning capacity and behavior in class, Professor Clark recognizes that they are “among an elite group of international students who have distinguished themselves by their academic records and their leadership potential. They have strong work ethics and well-developed study skills and do very well in the LCI classes”.  Professor Sereda adds, “Fulbrighters are really fully bright. They raise significantly the bar of learning and understanding the class programs not to mention their big contribution in the diversity of the school”.

Finally, even though the Fulbright scholarship is not a perfect program, its contribution to improving the mutual understanding between people from different nations and different cultures is no longer subject of doubt. At Virginia Tech LCI, Fulbrighters are impressed by the diversity of the school; diversity to which they significantly contribute. Isn’t it just wonderful that everybody brings a little bit of his differences to shape the common features of this lively and dynamic society of Virginia Tech?

Our Planet Softly Melting

Posted: August 9, 2011 in Op-Ed
Amira Kefi

By Amira Kefi

We are all concerned about global warming but we are doing very little to prevent it. People don’t need to blindly donate money to some associations or give passive support to a vague idea. According to former Vice President and global warming activist Al Gore, “If you agree with the factual analysis but you don’t feel the sense of urgency then the problem will persist.” Instead, we need to examine our own personal use of energy and apply pressure on the government to keep their promises about energy control.

People don’t really care about the environment as much as they say they do; the proof is, they do very little about it. They only care about their hectic life. Maybe they don’t need to worry since they have AC at home, in cars, at work, and as long as their cars are working and their conditioners are working, they think everything is ok. But what about the risks to the outdoors, including the trees, animals, and soil?  When it was announced that a long lasting heat wave was entering the mid-Atlantic region with the potential for record breaking temperatures, several newspapers published many security procedures and tips to survive that heat wave. And when the fire men came to fix the transformers that blew up because of the heat, I was thinking, “This is not the first time that this happening?  What if the next time the fire engines blow up because of heat, what will happen then?”

Recently the UN announcement about the growing number of regions in Somalia suffering from famine coincided with the worst drought the country has suffered in 60 years. Luckily, the same famine problem was not reported in Texas but the consequences of a drought are already there. In fact, “The drought turned Texas and part of the plains into a parched moonscape of cracked earth prolonging the misery of farmers” (Express, august 5, 2011). According to the US climate prediction, this drought is expected to be the state’s worst since the 195Global_Warming0 and would almost certainly extend into 2012. The consequences of this extreme heat were dramatic, reservoirs evaporated, crops withered and animals and fishes are dying off by thousands. Climatologists declare this is the most severe one year drought on record in Texas. The Express newspaper of July 26, 2011 shows picture of a dry 5,440 acres lake covered with dead fish in San Angelo, Texas. This lake used to serve as a secondary drinking water source; the fact that it is now dry creates an extended drought in the region. I called my sister in Texas to make sure they were all right.  She didn’t seem aware that there was a larger problem. The Washington Examiner of August 1, 2011 claims that Texas oysters are suffering amidst the drought and a fifth generation fisherman said he has never seen conditions this bad. This year the drought has made the water in Texas so salty that predators and disease are thriving.

Given the list of challenges facing the President and Congress, global warming is not a current government priority, according to Al Gore. Several years ago the US Government promised to be fossil fuel independent, and the alternative is solar renewable energy plants. In fact, Gore goes on to explain that gasoline waste is the primary cause of increasing the atmosphere CO2 concentration and the American gasoline consumption per day is huge compared to the other countries.  Since then, however, solar energy technologies have barely advanced and their integration has not been to the degree it should be. For example they encouraged solar energy cars. So, where are they?  Some other questions are still to be answered to get these issues resolved sooner: why are the solar devices still expensive? And why are the solar energy industries shrinking?

People should act actively and push the government to include solar energy in their future priorities. People should vote in favor of solar energy. Again according to Gore, most Americans believe that human activity is responsible for global warming. The heat is rapidly increasing compared to the solar energy advances and uses. We have witnessed that the latest heat in Virginia made a lot of electricity transformers blew up. The number of failures of these electronic devices is increasing every year.

global_warming_by_teabing

Our Planet Softly Melting

We have a planetary emergency. Addressing this challenge needs to become our mission.  Everyone could be an effective member of this mission and contribute in many ways especially by conserving energy not only during the heat periods but also all the time and make it become a daily habit. Actually, starting with Virginia Tech, every student could shut off unused lights and computers or stick to the recycling rules like avoid putting bottles in the paper bins and vice versa. Another way of improving our awareness and responsibility towards our planet is to advise our friends when we notice their bad behavior towards our nature. In this way we can move to the next level and shift from an individual awareness to a collective awareness.

Why Do Muslims Fast During Ramadan?

Posted: August 8, 2011 in News
Mohamed Nafadi

By Mohamed Khaled Mohamed Nafadi

Maybe the best reaction most non-Muslims feel toward fasting during Ramdan is wonderment and in some instances, confusion. Many may ask: why do Muslims practice this tiring activity? What compels them to spend 16 hours without even a small drink in this heat? And finally, what will they gain from such an act?

Let’s talk first about what Ramadan is. The Fast of Ramadan is the third of five pillars which form the basis of Islam. The word, Ramadan, is derived originally from the Arabic word “Al-Ramadi” which means intense heat and thirst, and it refers to the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. As opposed to other holidays, when people often indulge, Ramadan is by nature a time of sacrifice; however, it is considered the most blessed and spiritually beneficial month for which more than 1 billion Muslims all over the world wait each year. Furthermore, it has a very significant place in their lives as it is the month when Quran was revealed to Prophet Mohamed to provide guidance and teachings for the Muslims.

The crescent moon

The crescent moon is seen near mosques in old Cairo on the fifth day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on August 15, 2010. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)

But why do Muslims fast during Ramadan? Along with the fact that fasting during Ramadan is a basic pillar of Islam, there are still many reasons why God Almighty has made fasting mandatory once every year for a whole month. Sacrificing of essential matters for every human, like eating or drinking, helps us to realize how poor people survive without meals for hours. Ramadan also allows us to examine our abilities to face difficult times, and is also an opportunity to practice self-control and to cleanse the body and mind. As a result, Muslims consider Ramadan as a gift from God during which they develop spiritually and gain strength and control over their egos. In addition, and by observing fasting in Ramadan, a Muslim has a unique opportunity to become more peaceful, present and spiritual – the main goal of Islam.

In fact, the rewards for fasting in Ramadan are countless and its full benefits are known only to God.  One of the primary benefits of fasting in Ramadan is spiritual purification. Although we tend to think of the mind, body and spirit as separate components, in reality they are all connected and the improvement in any one naturally affects improvement in the others as well. Fasting in Ramadan purifies the mind, body and spirit, leading to greater clarity and sensitivity. Through fasting, a Muslim experiences hunger and thirst, and sympathizes with those in the world who have little to eat every day. Through increased devotion, Muslims feel closer to their Creator, and recognize that everything in this life is a blessing from Him. Through increased charity, Muslims develop feelings of generosity and good-will toward others.

Evening Dinner

At Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Furthermore, there are a lot of social benefits to get during fasting Ramadan as it gives us a chance to correct our life styles and be in practical approach. At Iftar dinner, all members of the family gather at the table to break the fast together. This might not be the regular custom in many families but only Ramadan creates this strange and beautiful bond that gathers the family members at one table again. No fights or arguments happen and everybody likes to offer each other the items present to eat. People become kind and helpful in Ramadan. They like to care more about each other and avoid any issues or fiery talks in offices or at any place of work and even at homes. Hence an overall feeling of brotherhood can be experienced in the month of Ramadan.

It may be surprising but Ramadan has many medical benefits as well! Fasting in general has been used in medicine for medical reasons including weight management, to provide a rest of the digestive tract and for lowering lipids. The only difference between Ramadan and total fasting is the timing of the food; during Ramadan, we basically miss lunch and take an early breakfast and do not eat until dusk. Abstinence from water during this period is not bad at all and in fact, it causes concentration of all fluids within the body, producing slight dehydration. The physiological effect of fasting includes lower of blood sugar, lowering of cholesterol and lowering of the systolic blood pressure. In fact, Ramadan fasting would be an ideal recommendation for treatment of mild to moderate, stable, non-insulin diabetes, obesity and essential hypertension. There are psychological effects of fasting as well. There is a peace and tranquility for those who fast during the month of Ramadan. Personal hostility is at a minimum, and the crime rate decreases. This psychological improvement could be related to better stabilization of blood glucose during fasting as hypoglycemia after eating, aggravates behavior changes.

While it may be difficult, indeed, for the one to spend Ramadan outside of his home country and away from his family and his friends, spending Ramadan in the United States is a distinctive experience. The major point which makes Ramadan unique in the United States is the diversity of the Muslim-American community. It is great to learn about and partake in the various traditions and customs of my Muslim friends during Ramadan. Like Muslims in other countries, the mosques offer various services during Ramadan such as the nightly Taraweeh prayers, and Iftar dinner. In addition, it is common for Muslims families to host Iftar dinners for family and friends throughout Ramadan. American-Muslim organizations are also doing their part in having Americans recognize the importance of Ramadan in Islam besides hosting inter-faith Iftar dinners to which local non-Muslims are invited.

Finally, I want to state that the more we talk about Ramadan, the more we learn how beneficial it is for us. May God accept our fasting, forgive our sins, guide us all to the Straight Path, bless us all during Ramadan, and throughout the year, with His forgiveness, mercy, and peace, and bring all human beings closer to Him and to each other.

Calister

By Calister Imeda

The Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute (VTLCI) has been in existence for more than 30 years.  It started on the main campus in Blacksburg. In 2009, another center opened its doors in Falls Church. The Institute currently has 9 teachers; all of them are highly qualified and possess at least a Master’s degree.  Approximately 80 students are currently enrolled in the Center’s intensive language program, and the Institute has a capacity of about 110-120 students at any one time. Institute students come mainly from the Middle East and China. This summer, the Institute is also host to Fulbright scholars who come from different parts of the world. All students are intending to attend undergraduate or graduate programs after they complete their English language studies.

VTLCI offers intensive English language programs at different levels. It introduces students to American academic culture, which might be different from their home countries. Courses such as American Media and American Culture also expose students to different aspects of American life. Students are additionally given opportunities to visit the Capitol and learn more about US history and government. Currently the institute is offering only English classes but can offer other language programs by special contract with groups which are interested.

Some level 550 students were interviewed on their feelings about the summer program at VTLCI and here is what one of them said “ I have improved my grammar, reading and writing skills but time is very short, if I was given more time I would have learned a lot more.” Another student said; “The program is helpful but time is very short I am not sure if this will help me to pass my TOEFL exam, I think I will have to work hard myself. “   Housing problems and transport were also mentioned as factors contributing to pressure during the first week.

Dr Todd

Dr. Andrea Todd

Challenges are not to be ignored;  Dr. Todd the Associate Director,  revealed that the Institute is facing a potential lack of office and classroom space due to the institute’s rapid growth. She also added that the Institute looks forward to increasing the diversity of the student population. She explained that if students come from different parts of the world with different first languages, they would be able to speak English while they are in the program instead of speaking their own first languages because English would be the only common language. When many students come from the same country they tend to speak their first language instead of English.

According to Dr. Todd, VTLCI anticipates expanding into more classrooms to be able to hold more students. It is expected that in the near future the Institute will be able to enroll up to 300 students at a time. The Institute is also planning to have more cultural activities so as to give students opportunities for more exposure to American culture.