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GradFest honors American Language Program graduates May 15


CSUEB’s American Language Program will host the fourth annual GradFest to honor former students expected to graduate in 2013.

  • April 2, 2013

Cal State East Bay’s American Language Program (ALP), which helps students from countries outside the United States improve their English and get ready to attend American college classes, will host its fourth annual GradFest from noon to 2 p.m. on May 15 at the University Theatre on the Hayward Hills Campus.

The event honoring former ALP students graduating from CSUEB in 2013 will include lunch, entertainment and speeches from university officials and graduating students. Confirmed speakers at the event are ALP Interim Director John Driscoll, CSUEB Provost James Houpis and Associate Vice President for the Division of Continuing and International Education Brian Cook. 

At least 150 former ALP students are expected to graduate in 2013 from Cal State East Bay with a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree. GradFest gives matriculated international students a chance to reunite with their former classmates and celebrate their successes. 

“It’s important to acknowledge how phenomenal it is that these graduates have achieved success at CSUEB, given all the challenges they have faced,” said Barbara Forsberg, ALP assistant director. “They have had to overcome language barriers, cultural differences and homesickness due to being very far from their homelands. This is in addition to all the typical challenges faced by young adults experiencing university life.”

ALP offers a range of programs for students from all over the world. Some students enroll in ALP for its specialized programs, such as the pre-MBA program which prepares international students for graduate business school, or to take advantage of diploma and certificate programs designed for international graduate students, such as a diploma in international business or certificate in paralegal studies. The Visiting Student Program, for example, attracts a high percentage of students from European countries, because it allows those who already meet English proficiency requirements experience studying at an American university.

However, the majority of students in ALP are like Chiaki Watanabe, a graphic design major from Japan, who enrolled in ALP for its Intensive English Program. The program, designed for pre-matriculated students, gives participants conditional admission to the university on the condition that they raise their English proficiency to meet program standards.

Watanabe arrived at CSUEB as a freshman, and after one quarter in ALP she was ready to integrate into regular university life. Based on a student’s level of English proficiency when they enter ALP, students typically spend one to three quarters in the program before moving on to regular university courses, Forsberg said. On the verge of graduation, Watanabe looks back on how much ALP contributed to her success as a student.

“I already knew a lot of English grammar, but the school system between America and Japan is really different and it’s important to know the difference,” said Watanabe, 22, who is planning to walk across the stage with her classmates at CSUEB’s commencement ceremony in June. “It’s really important here to be on time, attend class and participate, but Japanese people are usually really shy and don’t really participate. It’s good to learn how to participate, how to be on time, and how the American school system works.”

Even seemingly mundane academic tasks, like how to structure an essay, can differ between countries. ALP helps students transition from one style to another.

“American essay style and Japanese essay style is completely opposite,” explained Watanabe. “In America, you want to say your opinion first, and in Japan the opinion goes last. It’s totally opposite and we didn’t know about that.”

In preparing students for American university life, all classes in ALP are taught in English. The general curriculum consists of writing, listening and speaking, reading and vocabulary, academic preparation courses, history, U.S. culture and International English Language Testing System preparation classes.

“The speaking, listening and writing classes are so useful,” said former ALP student Yejing Zhang, 23, who traveled from China two years ago to pursue an American college experience. “For us, even though we learn English in our college or high school, we learn it just for our exam. But when we get here, we are learning (English) to survive here.”

Students also are required to take a Bay Area Experience course during their first quarter in ALP. The course helps students get familiar with working in groups and using university tools like Blackboard to post their assignments, which may include taking photos and writing about Bay Area places and landmarks. In the past, students have visited an area library, fire stations, shopping centers and taken public transportation to San Francisco.

“The (Bay Area Experience) class encourages you to go outside and know what’s going on in America, to learn about the culture,” said Zhang, who will graduate in summer with a bachelor’s degree in music.

Students also benefit from taking part in ALP’s support programs outside of the classroom through the Fun Trips and Speaking Partners programs. ALP’s Fun Trips Program contributes to students' acquisition of English skills through experiencing Bay Area entertainment and cultural attractions, with destinations such as San Francisco, Sonoma and Napa Valley, Major League Baseball games and amusement parks. The Speaking Partners Program, which matches an ALP student with a non-ALP CSUEB student, stimulates weekly conversation and friendship between students who may not have met without the program.

Since its inception in 1978, ALP has welcomed students from China, Saudi Arabia, Korea, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Vietnam, Thailand, Brazil, Italy, France, Germany and Sweden.

“In university life when (students) really have that direct access to people from various countries around the world, I think it is an excellent opportunity for whatever (their) future is going to be— business or education or anything,” said Forsberg. “There is just so much to learn from people of other countries.”  

For more information on CSUEB’s ALP, visit the program Web site.

Those interested in attending the 2013 ALP GradFest should contact the event coordinator, Yuri Nagasawa, at

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