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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Alumni Spotlight: Guillermo Riera

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Guillermo3cropGuillermo Riera’s brother studied in our program in 2009. Seven years later, Guillermo decided to follow in his big brother’s footsteps and study English in the U.S. After looking thoroughly at the different ESL programs available in Houston, his father again chose the Rice University Intensive English Program for his son. When he came to us, Guillermo had just graduated from high school in Venezuela. He started in level 5 and, after completing the 6-level core program, went on to take Advanced Level courses on Reading and Writing for Academic Purposes and Business English. These were particularly appropriate for his future plans: He wants to obtain a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance and Economics from a renowned university in Texas. You see, despite his young age, Guillermo is very determined to reach his goals. He is currently pursuing an Associate of Arts in Business to complete core curriculum courses at Houston Community College and then transfer to a four-year university. At the same time, he is working on applications to Texas A&M University, the University of Texas at Austin, University of Houston and Rice University. He is planning on transferring to one of these in the fall of 2018.


Guillermo enjoying a study break with his classmates

After completing the program, Guillermo finally felt comfortable calling himself bilingual.  He now finds himself having more thoughts in English than in Spanish, which made him realize that he has mastered “what is probably the most important language in the world”. To others seeking to learn English, he recommends that they speak the language as frequently as they can, as if it were their first language, and also that they both accept and learn from their mistakes. He encourages anyone who is considering studying in the U.S. to follow their dreams, to not forget who they are and where they come from, and to learn from anyone they meet. “Coming with an open mind is crucial when trying to succeed in this country, as you are going to face many challenges when following your dreams, but it is always possible to make them come true with the desire to do so, and the right mindset.”

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Guillermo learning how to line dance before the visit to the rodeo

The thing about Houston and the program Guillermo enjoyed the most was definitely the diversity. Meeting people from numerous countries was a very interesting and eye-opening experience that has helped him easily relate with people from different backgrounds. Actually, he still keeps in touch which some of the friends he made in the program. Guillermo is still very good friends with a Brazilian former classmate and they recently met when this friend visited Houston. Due to the city’s diversity he doesn’t feel like a foreigner in the U.S. Something Guillermo thinks is really special about the program is the people who work here. “From the directors and office staff, to the teachers, to even the front desk hosts and the custodians”, everyone was always friendly and willing to help. “Even though this might not be a big deal for some people, it was for me, as I got that positive energy that everybody had and used it to motivate myself to be better.” He’s especially grateful to his teachers for everything that they taught him. He says the Intensive English Program at Rice feels like home to him.

After completing his bachelor’s, Guillermo would like to return to Rice University, this time to pursue an MBA. His ultimate goal is to become a successful trader or banker, just like his father.

Authors: Milagros Lugo-Amador, Assistant Director, and Savannah Burch, Enrollment Coordinator

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Magic and Popcorn at Intensive English Program Movie Night

On Wednesday our ESL students experienced what nerds across the world have known for years: Harry Potter brings people together. Just like magic! The newest installment of the Harry Potter movie franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, did just that. We held our annual Intensive English Program movie night this week, and students from all of the major language families represented in our program settled in with boxes of popcorn to watch the blockbuster. The movie drew the perfect balance of laughs and gasps from students and teachers alike, with larger-than-life special effects and the ridiculous capers of its magical creatures. By the time the credits rolled, we were all thoroughly enchanted.

Author: Savannah Burch, Enrollment Coordinator

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Alumni Spotlight: Vítor Andriotti

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Vitor2_cropAs a kid in Brazil, Vítor was always surrounded by American culture. Most of the movies, TV series, cartoons, comics and games he enjoyed were produced by English speaking countries. When he was 14, he became interested in software development and realized that most of the related terminology and coding were in English. Once he defined his career interests in computer engineering, he knew he had to be fluent in English. He felt that the only way to achieve fluency was by being exposed to an environment that required him to speak English.  That’s why he decided to study abroad and, in his second year of undergraduate studies, applied for a government scholarship program in his country, Ciência Sem Fronteiras (Science Without Borders). He had to choose the country where he wanted to study and three preferred universities within that country. The program offered a full scholarship to study the language of the country of choice for six months, and then spend one year as a visiting student at a university there. “I chose the U.S.A. because it is one of the most advanced countries in computer engineering. Since Rice University was ranked among the best universities in my area of study and it is a prestigious institution, I chose it as one of the three preferred schools. I was thrilled when I received my letter of acceptance!”

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Vítor (fifth from the left) with the Ciência Sem Fronteiras group in front of Rice’s iconic Lovett Hall

That’s how three years ago, Vítor started in level 5 of our 6-level Intensive English Program. The program helped him improve his writing and speaking skills, which have proven essential to his success as a software engineer and an entrepreneur. After completing our core program, he went on to take Advanced Level courses. The Oral Presentation class was particularly helpful for Vítor, since it required him to do more advanced and elaborate presentations every day, which elevated his language proficiency to a much higher level. It was at this point that he noticed he was thinking in English, as opposed to thinking in Portuguese and then translating before speaking. When he completed the Intensive English Program, Vítor was not automatically admitted into the Rice University Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. He had to take the TOEFL, a test of English proficiency, and he passed with flying colors. So he spent a year as an exchange student in that department, during which he took classes with renowned professors and had the opportunity to work collaboratively on various hands-on projects. At the end of his exchange program, he was encouraged to seek internship opportunities. During a career fair hosted by Rice University, he was invited for an interview with Alert Logic, a cloud security provider, for an internship as a software engineer.  After a few weeks of eager expectation, he was selected for the position. “I accomplished a goal that I wasn’t expecting to accomplish; I took my first steps towards my career path as an engineer.”

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Vítor (third from the left) with two of his Brazilian classmates in Space Center Houston (NASA)

Before deciding to participate in the exchange program, Vítor wasn’t sure if the experience would be worth delaying his graduation one year and a half. “I didn’t know how much I would benefit from this experience at the time. If you have the same doubts I had, I would advise you to just go for it. Studying English at Rice isn’t just about learning English, which of course you will; it is an experience that changes you deeply. You will interact with people from all over the world with different backgrounds and views and engage in conversations about politics, religion and cultural differences. You are going to make lifelong friends from several countries and open a new range of opportunities for your career at the same time.”  Vítor was impressed by Houston’s size and diversity. He very much enjoyed the wealth of choices of restaurants, coffee shops, museums, theaters and various cultural activities that gave him a taste of the American and Texan cultures, but also allowed him to savor cultures from all over the world. The low student-teacher ratio allowed for a closer relationship with teachers, who didn’t skimp on tips for living in the U.S.

Today, Vítor is working as a remote contractor for Alert Logic, the very same company that offered him an internship a year ago, and finishing his computer engineering degree at the same time. Between work and study, he somehow found the time to launch a startup company! Before coming to the U.S. to study, he and his classmates had founded Redware, a provider of website hosting and email solutions. Once he was back in Brazil, the young founders changed the company’s mission to respond to their clients’ needs for an innovative way of measuring employee satisfaction. They are currently developing a software tool to help organizations monitor how their employees are feeling on a daily basis, which in turn impacts productivity. They officially opened their office last year. Eventually, Vítor would like to complete an MBA in Project Management. Besides his professional plans and aspirations, he would also like to learn other languages. He already started learning Japanese and would like to study French next.

Author: Milagros Lugo-Amador, Assistant Director

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Alumni Spotlight: Erhan and Reyhan Basaran

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Erhan, Reyhan and son_cropWhen they came to the Rice University Intensive English Program, Erhan and Reyhan were newly married. Besides getting used to their new life as a married couple, they were both trying to adjust to life in Houston and dealing with the stress of preparing to take the TOEFL and GRE exams. For both of them, the main reason behind attending our Intensive English Program was to eventually be accepted at Rice University for graduate studies. This was the right move, since it gave them the opportunity to make connections with the right people in Rice University’s Departments of Earth Science and Religion, respectively. The young couple wanted to pursue graduate degrees from Rice because it is one of the best ranked universities in the U.S. Erhan had a B.S. in Geophysical Engineering from Turkey and had received a full scholarship from the Turkish Petroleum Corporation to continue his education in the U.S. Reyhan came to Houston with a B.A. and an M.A. in Religion, both obtained in Turkey. Today, Erhan has an M.S. in Subsurface Geoscience from Rice University and is working as a processing geophysicist at Turkish Petroleum. Reyhan is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Religion Department at, you guessed it, Rice University. She is about to complete her doctoral dissertation. They are both very proud of their Rice education.

Joining the Intensive English Program at Rice gave them the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. The program also helped them “overcome the difficulties of cultural shock”. For instance, the differences in the attitudes regarding personal space were disconcerting at first. The new student orientation they took before starting their English classes really helped them understand the American culture. Their teachers encouraged them to participate and even joined them in countless cultural and recreational activities, both on- and off-campus. They were introduced to students and families from Houston who were native English speakers, to practice and sharpen their language skills. Regarding the city, Erhan says, “Houston is a multicultural and always dynamic city that is great for a student to live in. It is also a dream place for an earth scientist, being the energy capital of the world. As a geophysicist, I had the great chance to work with some of the major oil companies in the world. Being a Rice graduate, people from the energy industry always showed me respect.” Erhan did several internships with oil companies as well as with Rice’s Earth Science Department. He feels that the experience he gained from living, studying and working in Houston is something no amount of money could buy.

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Erhan (third from the left) and Reyhan (fourth) enjoying a meal with their classmates and teacher

Living in Houston has been an unforgettable experience for Reyhan. “Adjusting to a new country, language and culture was not as hard as I had thought it would be. However, building a social life was not an easy process. Houston’s multicultural quality conveniently enabled me to fit into this new environment.” What she loves most about Houston is the harmony of people with different ethnicities, languages and cultural backgrounds. She never felt like a foreigner here. On the contrary, she felt like a welcome part of Houston’s community. These days Reyhan lives in Turkey, where she is conducting field research, but the Ph.D. dissertation she is working on brings her to Houston often.

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Erhan and Reyhan visited the Grand Canyon, in Arizona, while they were studying in the program

Once they were well on their way to attaining their academic and professional goals, Erhan and Reyhan had a son, who is now almost two years old. Someday, Erhan would like to be part of a group that discovers a major oil or gas field in Turkey. Reyhan wants to become an associate  professor of religion at a prestigious university in Turkey. And speaking of future plans, the couple has some advice for students who plan to study in the U.S.: “Never ever hesitate to come to the U.S., especially Houston and Rice University. We are sure that you will find more than you expect. You will have friends from everywhere in the world. You will have the best education and experience and you will never regret it. We came to Houston as husband and wife, but then our family has become bigger with a son and a lot of good friends, both in Houston and all over the world.”

Author: Milagros Lugo-Amador, Assistant Director




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