Not many people think it possible to get a crash course on American culture in just a month, but the American Language and Culture (ALC) summer program comes close.
Since 1977, ALC has offered international undergraduate and graduate students from Asian universities the opportunity to live the American college life by taking summer courses led by Stanford student coordinators.
“It’s one of the few opportunities in life where there are so many different cultures all at once, and to live together and learn together,” said Ivy Nguyen ’15, a student coordinator for ALC.
Two 70-student sessions were offered during the month of August, both of which were divided into seven groups of 10 students with one student coordinator, according to the program’s outline.
During their stay, the students live just like any Stanford student. They sleep in dorms, eat at Arrillaga, have access to the gym, can use the libraries or computer clusters and, as displayed on the program’s online calendar, also have very busy agendas.
English classes take up the students’ mornings, where they can build communication skills, and the rest of the time is spent on discussions and writing assignments geared toward exploring contemporary cultural themes in the United States, including diversity, race, gender, sexuality and religion.
Additionally, since the program aims to develop appreciation of the cultural backgrounds among all participants, small dorm events are also held.
For student coordinators like Vy Tran ’15, the experience of leading sessions and dorm activities replicated the dorm staff routine — combined with that of an instructor.
“It’s like being an RA and TA at the same time,” Tran said. “You’re the person they go to if they have any problems, and you create dorm spirit. But you also have office hours and go over homework with them.”
The 14 student coordinators, selected from a pool of applicants, were required to go through a week of training very similar to RA training, Tran said. Exercises included practicing scenarios, such as what to do if a participant strays from the group, and spending an entire day in San Francisco to get to know the ins and outs of the city for field trips.
According to Nguyen, working as a student coordinator also allowed for an introspective look at what American culture means.
“You don’t really think about [culture] and you take it for granted,” Nguyen said. “But when the students come and ask you, ‘Why do you people do this?’ and they treat it so foreign-ly, you think about why you do the things you do.”
The program isn’t all work, as participants get to partake in field trips across the San Francisco Bay Area: going to Silicon Valley to learn about startups, volunteering in local community centers and even riding roller-coasters in Great America.
Traditional Stanford pastimes are also explored, including fountain-hopping, ice cream socials and a cappella concerts.
While the program intends to offer a unique personal experience for its international participants, staffers reap rewards as well.
“I grew up in a neighborhood where there weren’t so many Asians around, so through this program I got to reconnect with the Asian culture, like part of my identity was discovered,” Tran said.
The participants, despite their diverse cultural backgrounds, bond closely in the mere month on the West Coast, and the student coordinators are in integral part of it all.
Additionally, since ALC is a program under the Volunteers in Asia exchange programs between Asia and the United States, there can be an “exchange” in the future where student staff are given $1,000 stipends to travel to Asia to reconnect with their newly made friends.
“The connections you make with each student create a network, and when they leave, they leave with a tight-knit group of international friends from all over the world,” Tran said.