Fireworks at the Bingo Table


ESL students celebrated the “Red, White and Blue” at Rice University, enjoying American staples like hot dogs, chili dogs, and veggie burgers. America’s biggest holiday, Independence Day, celebrates the day the American colonies declared themselves independent of the British Empire. Americans typically celebrate with picnics, concerts, games, and fireworks. Here in the Intensive English Program, we jammed along to American music and played a rousing game of Bingo – with two winners taking home some great Americana. What a fun way to kick off the new class session!

Author: Laura Lynch, Enrollment Coordinator


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Rice ESL Students Roam the Houston Zoo


Rice University intensive English students enjoyed a shady day at the Houston Zoo Tuesday, where they marveled at lions and elephants and beat the heat at the aquarium. Nestled in Hermann Park, just a short walk east of Rice University campus, the Houston Zoo is a great attraction to visit – and our students get to see it for free! Some loved the playful sea lions best, while others were drawn to the curious meerkats or lounging gorillas. We can’t wait to go back!

Author: Laura Lynch, Enrollment Coordinator

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Perfect Spring Weather for a Picnic on the Lawn

IMG_2390BYesterday our ESL students made the most of Houston’s beautiful springtime weather and had a picnic on the lawn! Lounging in the shade of Rice University’s trees, students spread out on blankets to enjoy the warm breeze, fresh sandwiches, cold drinks, and chat with their classmates and teachers. It wasn’t all sedentary though – there were rousing games of kickball and badminton to cheer on!

Author: Laura Lynch, Enrollment Coordinator


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ESL Students Get Their Boots on for the Rodeo!

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The sun was shining and the weather was perfect for learning to line dance Wednesday! Every year we take students to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to experience the largest rodeo in the world and something truly Houstonian. To get everyone in the spirit, we kick off the day with Texas chili, iced tea, and line dancing. Guests from the Houston Rodeo come to teach us how to move to the “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and kick it to the “Cupid Shuffle.”

Later than evening we loaded up on the bus to experience the rodeo and try out our new moves at the OneRepubic concert. Burritos, fried food, and cotton candy kept our students full while we watched incredible bull riding and barrel racing, followed by old crowd favorites that were new to many of our students – mutton bustin’ and the calf scramble. Everyone loved seeing the kids get right back up and wave at the cameras after falling off their animals! OneRepublic rocked a crowd of nearly 71,000 at NRG Stadium, and especially our students – everyone knew the words and sang along. Can’t wait to come back next year!

Author: Laura Lynch, Enrollment Coordinator

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ESL Students Watch the Houston Rockets Work Their “Magic” on Orlando


Our students watched history being made on Tuesday night as the Houston Rockets took on the Orlando Magic and Houston’s star player, James Harden, broke league records left and right! We enjoyed an incredible game, watching Harden score a record 60 points in 46 minutes and the first 60-point triple double in NBA history! But the game was not all we enjoyed: Clutch, our Houston Rockets mascot, put on a great acrobatics show with the Rockets Power Dancers and one of our awesome teachers taught us all how to “rock it” at halftime. Go Red Nation!

Author: Laura Lynch, Enrollment Coordinator


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Playful Costumes Set the Trend at Our Halloween Party

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On Tuesday, we had our traditional Halloween Costume Contest and Pizza Party. From the comical to the playful, the costumes we saw this year were more cute than scary. Just to give you an example, our contest winner this year was dressed as a hot dog. The general atmosphere was joyful and animated as students and teachers alike munched on pizza and lots of Halloween candy!

Happy Halloween from all of us at Rice University’s ESL Program!

Author: Milagros Lugo-Amador, Assistant Director



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ESL Students “Strike” Up New Friendships at Bowling Night!


With classes meeting four hours daily for seven week sessions, we often think we know our Intensive English students very well by the middle of the session…but sometimes they still surprise us! Last week, we discovered that a number of our students are EXCELLENT bowlers when we took them to Dave & Buster’s for a bowling night. Who knew we had such talent in our program?

We were also delighted to see that our students are truly committed to meeting each other and practicing their English outside the classroom – students intentionally mixed and matched themselves so that each team was made up of different nationalities, language families, beginner, and advanced students. Some of them loved showing off their bowling skills (or lack thereof), but all of us cheered loudly for students who bowled strikes and spares AND for students who spent the night rolling gutter balls.

Author: Savannah Burch, Enrollment Coordinator




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Alumni Spotlight: Lucas Viana

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Ever since he started his undergraduate studies in Brazil, studying in the U.S.A. had been Lucas’s dream. He knew he needed to learn English, but studying the language in Brazil was not as effective as he wanted because he didn’t have the opportunity to practice outside of class. Enter Ciência Sem Fronteiras, a scholarship program sponsored by the Brazilian government to send students to the world’s best universities. He could choose the country where he wanted to study (he chose the U.S.A., of course), but they would choose a university for him. The program included six months of intensive English courses to get participants ready to start studies related to their field. That’s how he and seven other students from different areas of Brazil ended up at the Rice University Intensive English Program. In Lucas’s words, “We could not have been luckier.”

Lucas was the only student in the Ciência Sem Fronteiras group who was placed in level 3 of our six-level program. Everybody else started in levels 4 or 5. He worked so hard to excel in level 3, that his teachers recommended he be allowed to skip level 4. This is an exception very rarely made in our program, yet, Lucas was approved to move on to level 5. “I always remember this victory and take it as an example to myself whenever I think I am not capable of doing something.” According to Lucas, “Learning English was crucial to my academic and professional life and the best experience I have ever had in my life. Before starting at the Rice University Intensive English Program, I was not able to understand daily conversations, to speak, or write in English. After two months taking ESL classes, I noticed an unimaginable improvement of my skills. In the end, I became able to read texts thoroughly, to speak better, to write papers, and mainly to understand (which was the hardest part for me).”


Lucas (first from the left) with his classmates in a bowling social activity

The Intensive English Program also helped Lucas develop the skills he needed to succeed in the Rice University academic program. Since his undergraduate major, surveying and cartographic engineering, is very specific and not very common, “despite being very important and one of the most ancient areas of engineering”, it was not offered at Rice. He did take general engineering courses that complemented his curriculum well. He also took one advanced English course tailored to Brazilian students and one Spanish course. He was amazed at Rice University’s unique residential college system, where students are assigned a college where they live, dine and socialize for the duration of their studies. Speaking of socialization, while studying in Rice’s academic program, Lucas and one of his friends from the sponsored group founded the Brazilian Student Association (BRASA). The two founders went back to Brazil at the end of their year of academic studies, but BRASA is still very much alive and a very active group within Rice’s student organizations, with the purpose of spreading Brazilian culture to the university community.

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Lucas (first from the left) with the Ciência Sem Fronteiras group in front of Lovett Hall, Rice’s oldest building

Living in Houston certainly enhanced the whole experience for Lucas. He especially liked the fact that, because it is one of the most populated cities in the U.S. (4th largest), you can find anything here and there is so much to do, from outdoor fun to cultural activities, to sports events. Better yet, a lot of the events are free and open to the public. “You never get bored in a city like Houston!” Lucas found that Houstonians in general are kindhearted and humble. “Almost everyone I met was very kind and patient with non-native English speakers. They even encourage you by talking slowly and explaining anything you may not understand.” Lucas also enjoyed one of the things that certainly brings many people to Houston: its multiculturalism. Interacting with people from many different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs was one of the highlights of his experience here. “When you have contact with all this diversity, you become a better person for sure. Once you open your mind and learn about other cultures, you also learn how to be more tolerant.” Lucas would tell any student who is considering studying in the U.S. to do it if they have the opportunity. “You are going to learn much better and faster because you will need to use your skills all day, every day. Once you get there, take advantage of it. Make friends and hang out with them, practice as much as you can and do not be shy. I am sure you will improve your skills surprisingly quickly!”

Just last January, Lucas earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Surveying and Cartographic Engineering at the Federal University of Viçosa (UFV), in Brazil. He is now pursuing a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering, specializing in Spatial Information, also at UFV. At the same time, he’s taking courses and doing research in bathymetry and adjustment computations. In very simple terms, this means he is studying the topography of the floors of bodies of water, such as oceans, rivers or lakes. He would like to pursue a doctoral degree in Canada, where there are outstanding programs in his field of study. He eventually plans to become a professor in Brazil and sees himself learning a third language; more than likely, Spanish.

Author: Milagros Lugo-Amador, Assistant Director

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Alumni Spotlight: Firdevs Ilci

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Firdevs already spoke English before coming to the Rice University Intensive English Program. “Before I came to the U.S., my English was not so bad, but I was too shy to speak.” She was hired by Turkish Petroleum Corporation, Turkey’s national energy company. Before she started working there, she was sent to the U.S. so she could improve her English language skills and then complete a master’s degree. Turkish Petroleum sponsored her English studies in our program, and then her graduate studies at Pennsylvania State University. Today, Firdevs is working as an occupational safety engineer for the oil and gas company. In the not too distant future, Firdevs aims to become a senior engineer. She would also like to start doctoral studies, probably related to petroleum engineering.


Firdevs on her graduation day at Penn State

Even though she only studied in the Rice University Intensive English Program for two sessions, the experience made all the difference to Firdevs when she was in the process of applying to U.S. graduate programs, three years ago. Her teachers and friends encouraged her to speak, helping her build her self-confidence. She says this helped her communicate effectively with the admissions committees of the universities she applied to. She felt very much at ease when she was expressing her goals and interests to interviewers and professors. Within three months she was accepted into three American universities. She ended up choosing Penn State, an institution with a very high ranking among U.S. universities. After studying in our program, Firdevs went on to obtain a Master’s Degree in Energy and Mineral Engineering from Penn State. Incidentally, Firdevs found that her advisor there was a Houston native who had received his master’s degree at Rice.

As far as the program’s location, Firdevs loved to be in a big and international city, with so many options for things to do. One of her favorite places to visit was Galveston, a “small and cute” island just one hour away from Houston. She loved “the beach, restaurants and the atmosphere of the city”. She also enjoyed going to Hermann Park, an extensive public park that is within walking distance of Rice University. Like most of our students, she really enjoyed the opportunity to meet people from different nationalities. While she was studying in our program, she developed a close friendship with an Iranian classmate. “Turkey and Iran are next to each other geographically, so I was estimating we’d have some things in common; but I was not expecting (we would have so much)…I learned a lot about language, people and culture.”

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Firdevs with one of her teachers

She also fondly remembers how friendly the Houstonians were. “When I was walking on the street or waiting at the bus stop, they smiled at me or said ‘Hi!’. I was so happy to start my day on a positive note.” To this day, she still keeps in touch with some of her teachers and classmates, and some other friends she made in Houston. She even says some of her former teachers still help her when she is writing a paper and has a language-related question. Firdevs thinks that, for a student who is looking to study English in the U.S., it would be as important to choose the city they want to be in as it would be to choose the right program for them. As we say here in the U.S., “it’s all about location, location, location”.

Author: Milagros Lugo-Amador, Assistant Director

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Alumni Spotlight: Saka Yoshikawa

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If you ever find yourself reading about the genetic significance of the Ryukyu wild boar, it might be thanks to Saka Yoshikawa and a small group of his fellow researchers. Now in the last year of his studies to complete a master’s degree in agriculture, Saka’s research centers on the genetic analysis of this endangered boar subspecies that only inhabits the Ryukyu Archipelago in Japan. This dwarf boar has generated so much interest as a potential genetic resource, that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is attempting to encourage its conservation and promoting applied research on the subspecies. At this point, the available information on the Ryukyu wild boar is limited, and Saka would like to contribute to the creation of more data about the small mammal.

Two years ago, Meiji University, where Saka is a graduate student, sent him to the 95th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Mammalogists in Jacksonville, Florida, to present his research. He remembers that he could not communicate with others while he was at the conference. “In Japan we just learn grammar; we do not often use English in conversation. I was depressed because of my lack of English skills.” That’s when he decided he would come to the United States to improve his communication skills in English. He knew that, as a graduate student working on research, he needed to learn something beyond general conversation. He chose the Rice University Intensive English Program because he wanted to learn “professional English”. He learned about structure in writing and how to organize his sentences when constructing a paragraph. He also learned how to give oral presentations. Now, less than a year after completing the program, he has written several papers in English and has been able to present them in front of English-speaking audiences. One of his papers in English was even published in an international academic journal. Saka is looking forward to September, when he will be presenting his research at the 68th Annual Meeting of the European Federation of Animal Science (EAAP), in Tallinn, Estonia.

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Saka, third from the left, with classmates in the student lounge

Besides improving his English language proficiency, Saka enjoyed meeting people from diverse cultures and learning about many different customs from around the world. One thing that surprised him was how different cultures view time and punctuality. In Japan, people tend to be very punctual, while other cultures seem to be much more lax with time and schedules. He does keep in touch with several former classmates who became his friends. Last month, a classmate from Brazil was in Japan and they were able to meet. Next month, he plans to go to Taiwan to visit classmates from Taiwan and Korea. Being in a new country while he was studying in the Intensive English Program at Rice, Saka also decided to try something new: he went skydiving. He says it was very exciting and it should be experienced at least once. It must be said, though, that skydiving is not a mandatory social activity for our students! In the future, he would like to work in a foreign country where he can put his English skills to good use. He knows that, in order not to lose his English knowledge, he needs to practice the language. To others thinking about studying English in the U.S. he says, “It is very hard to make the decision to study abroad. However, I am convinced that you will definitely learn not only English skills but various decision-making skills too. Have the courage to take a step forward.”

Author: Milagros Lugo-Amador, Assistant Director

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