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ELI Student Handbook Archive

This handbook is full of a lot of good information. Some of it is out of date, but you can still learn a lot about the ELI and the different ways it can help you as a UH student.

Table of Contents

Aloha and welcome!
What is the ELI? What is its role at UHM? How can it help me?
Who are ELI students?
How does the university decide who should take ELI classes?
Your feelings — Why did I end up in the ELI?
The nature of English, World Englishes, and English users
Your teachers and administrators
What classes are offered in the ELI?
Some relevant ELI policies
How can I get the most out of the ELI?
Cross-cultural perspectives
About learning processes (and adjusting your learning processes in a new academic culture)
Feedback to your teacher and the ELI in general
Why are there so many observers and researchers?
The ELI is on your side
Campus Resources
Other resources for living in Hawai`i
Suggested reading

Aloha and welcome!

Welcome to the University of Hawai’i at Manoa (UHM), and congratulations on your admission to our university. We sincerely hope that your experience here is fulfilling, rewarding, and enjoyable.

Welcome also to the English Language Institute (ELI). The ELI is here to help you during your first couple of semesters, so that in the long run your academic English and understanding of this university’s procedures will help you to have a successful academic career. In fact, the University community makes ELI courses mandatory for you precisely because it wants you to do more than just survive through your first few semesters. We’re here to help you succeed.

What is the ELI? What is its role at UHM? How can it help me?

The ELI is an English teaching unit that assists UHM students (for whom English is a second language) in developing key areas of their ability to use English for academic purposes (EAP). Most U.S. universities have such EAP programs, and most “peer” universities of UH (the universities we compare ourselves with) have a program like our ELI. Also, almost all campuses of the UH system have their own similar programs, as well (although each campus tailors its EAP program to fit the needs of its student population, its departments, and the degrees it offers).

If UHM chose not to have an ELI, then the minimum TOEFL score allowable for admission to the university would be much higher. Right now, the minimum to get into UHM is a 173 on the computer-based TOEFL (which is equal to a 500 on the paper-based test). The university has chosen this minimum level because it believes that students with that level of academic English proficiency can handle a partial load of academic study, as long as they are getting some assistance. If we did not have our ELI, UHM would have to change its minimum TOEFL requirement, probably to somewhere between 220-250 on the computer-based TOEFL (560-600 on the paper-based test), and many students who currently are able to study here would have to wait until they were able to reach that much higher minimum TOEFL level.

In other words, because UHM has an ELI, many of you can attend university now, rather than having to wait until you got a higher TOEFL score. In addition, by being in ELI classes, you are able to get help to improve your ability to succeed in the classes you take here.

There are a number of ways the ELI can help you:

  • We offer classes to help you catch up a bit on your English, focusing on areas where you appear to need assistance.
  • We teach a variety of study strategies, which you can add to the strategies you already use.
  • We work with you to develop skills that will help you be a more autonomous (independent) learner.
  • We help you to get used to a new academic culture (especially for those of you who have arrived only recently from other countries).
  • Taking ELI classes allows you to take a lighter load of other academic courses, which can make it easier to get used to studying academic content via English. (While almost all of you are used to studying English as a subject, many of you may not have had any experience studying other subjects via English. Taking ELI courses can give you a “buffer zone” that allows you a gentle entry into study via English.)
  • Your time in the ELI is probably your last formal opportunity to get instruction and feedback on the way you use English for academic purposes.
  • Your ELI classes are probably the only place you’ll find at UHM where everyone is a second language learner, and many people come from backgrounds that involve similar perspectives and experiences, so it’s a great opportunity to make friends.
  • Of course, different students have different strengths and weaknesses, so not everyone needs all the different kinds of help the ELI provides, but we feel we have something to offer to everyone who has placed into the ELI.

Who are ELI students?

All students in the ELI are multilingual. However, for all ELI students, English is a second language, which means that, over the course of your lives, you’ve had less exposure to English than to your native language, and fewer chances to use it, particularly for academic purposes. To pursue a university degree in your second language is something truly amazing, and we admire and respect your ability and courage. So, congratulations! Many of you are academically gifted individuals, or have other gifts and talents in the creative arts, athletics, and so on, which is why you’ve been admitted (despite a few shortcomings in the area of academic English).

These days we distinguish somewhat between different groups of bilinguals, and it might be useful for you to know who these groups are. So very roughly, we could say that students in the ELI fall into one of three groups: (1) international students, (2) immigrant students, and (3) U.S. citizens who have English as a second language. International students usually fall into two categories: those who have just arrived from outside the U.S., and have come here for the purpose of studying at UHM, and those who have been here for a year or so and have studied in intensive English programs or transferred from other colleges or universities. Immigrant students include those who immigrated here while young, and attended some high school (and sometimes junior high school) here in the U.S. (often called the “1.5 generation”, or “generation 1.5”) and those who immigrated as adults, perhaps worked for a while, and now are pursuing university degrees. Students who are U.S. citizens include people who were born in the U.S., but lived much of their lives abroad, citizens of U.S. territories such as American Samoa, Guam, or Puerto Rico, and immigrants who later took the test to become naturalized citizens. About three-quarters of ELI students are international students, who have studied English for many years. The remainder hold immigrant U.S. visas or are U.S. citizens.

Another way of looking at ELI students is to look at what it is they are studying here at UHM. Some of our students are graduate students, pursuing Master’s degrees, Doctor’s degrees, and advanced certificates in a wide variety of fields. Others are undergraduate students, some who are new freshmen in the university and don’t yet know what their majors will be, and others are transfer students who may already have decided their majors. Still others are exchange students, here for one semester or one year.

In other words, the ELI is full of diversity, and your fellow ELI students can be a great source of friendship and information about people and cultures throughout the world.

How does the university decide who should take ELI classes?

Not all students who have English as a second language are required to take ELI classes. The university has established a set of “ELI exemption criteria”, and any student who meets one or more of these criteria is exempted from the ELI without having to take the ELI Placement Test (ELIPT). These exemption criteria were developed from careful research by leading experts. Approximately 75-80% of all students who have English as a second language are automatically exempted based on meeting these criteria.

The other 20-25%, who do not meet any of the exemption criteria, are required to take the ELIPT. The ELIPT consists of five subtests: a writing test (for graduate students and exchange students; undergraduates take the Writing Placement Exam given by the Manoa Writing Program), two listening tests, and two reading tests. In a typical semester, around 20-30% of those who take the ELIPT are exempt in one or more areas (writing, listening/speaking, or reading), and a number of people get test scores that completely exempt them from the ELI.

Your placement into ELI classes is based on your scores on each ELI subtest and your scores on TOEFL subtests. However, we also take into consideration any additional evidence, such as transfer credits, years of schooling in English-speaking countries, and other information. When you check your ELIPT results, you find placements for each curriculum area, into intermediate level courses, into advanced level courses, or “exempt.” Placement into an intermediate-level course actually means placement into two courses: the intermediate-level course in the first semester, followed by the advanced-level course in the second semester. Since there are three different curriculum areas, a wide variety of total placements is possible. Every semester there are some people who are exempt in all three curriculum areas, and do not need any ELI courses at all. There are also some students who place into the intermediate level for all three curriculum areas (for a total of six ELI courses – the three intermediate courses in the first semester, followed by the three advanced courses in the second semester). Most people have placements somewhere in between. For example, an undergraduate student who placed into 70, 82, and 73 would have a total of five ELI courses, and would need to take 70, 82, and 73 in the first semester, followed by 80 and 100 in the second semester. A graduate student who placed into 70, Exempt, and 83 would have a total of three courses, and would take 70 and 83 in the first semester, followed by 80 in the second semester. A student who placed into Exempt, 82, and Exempt would have just one course, ELI 82, and would take it in the first semester.

You can see that you really are given many chances to be exempt from the ELI. Thus, if you have placed into ELI classes, there is a great deal of evidence that suggests that you do, indeed, need some help in the areas indicated, and no clear evidence that suggests you should be exempted in those areas.

Your feelings — Why did I end up in the ELI?

Despite the fact that all the evidence supports your placement, some of you may be disappointed to be in the ELI. No one likes to be told that they fall below some standards, and we would not be surprised if some of you felt that your placement in the ELI does not do justice to your abilities. However, your placement simply means that there are some specific areas of your English that need further development. It doesn’t mean that you are intellectually inadequate or culturally incompetent. Indeed, admission into UHM (and at the same time into the ELI) means that your all-round qualities as a student, and particularly your intellectual or creative abilities are so high that, even though there are some weak points to your English, the University very much wants you as a student. And we in the ELI very much want you to benefit as much as possible from your time at UHM. We believe that early assistance with academic English can make the difference between struggle for survival (or even failure) in the early classes and greater success with the early classes. And naturally, an early start to your successes at UH Manoa will have consequent benefits later.

The nature of English, World Englishes, and English users (and what that has to do with the ELI)

We’d like you to know that, along with most of the English-teaching profession, we view English as a world language. This means we believe that English is not the possession of any one country, nor do so-called “native speakers” have rights of control over it. Because English is a means for international communication and is used in many countries, we recognize, accept, and work with a wide variety of accents, as well as variation in vocabulary and even in grammar. Thus, it’s sometimes said that it’s not “World English” but World Englishes.

We accept and value your status as a bilingual (at a minimum, and some of you are trilingual, or more!), and we intend to support you in that status. This support includes:

  • helping you to improve your academic English
  • providing you with some concepts and tools to deal with those who do not share our beliefs about the international nature of English or accept your status as a competent user of English as an international language.

Your teachers and administrators

ELI teachers are experienced, dedicated, conscientious teachers who are also studying for a few years in the Department of Second Language Studies (DSLS), completing their PhDs and MA degrees. Your teachers, and the administrative staff of the ELI, come from many different countries. Most of them are, like you, bilingual, and because they have a command of more than one language, they are better able to understand the needs, strengths and weaknesses of bilingual students of English like yourselves. Additionally, ELI teachers have reached a high level of knowledge of English for academic purposes, and have demonstrated that they can use English with great success in their own studies.

Every semester, approximately half of the ELI’s teachers are native speakers of English, and the other half are non-native speakers. Some students ask why we have non-native speakers of English on our faculty. The reason is quite simple: teachers who are non-native speakers of English have strengths that native speakers do not have (for example, they know what it’s like to learn English as a second language, and how to succeed as an ESL student in an American university), and similarly, teachers who are native speakers of English have strengths that non-native teachers do not have (native intuitions about English, a native dialect, and often more familiarity with the cultures of America and American universities). When we hire teachers, we focus on choosing those people we feel would make the best teachers, and have the most to offer our students. By hiring a balance of native-speaking and non-native-speaking teachers, we are able to capitalize on both kinds of strengths, and thus, offer our students more. So, occasionally you may find that one of your teachers comes from the same country you are from; we hope you will see this as potentially useful to you and take advantage of the expertise and knowledge they can offer.

What classes are offered in the ELI?

The ELI offers two levels of EAP courses (intermediate and advanced) in each of three curriculum areas:

  • Listening & Speaking ELI 70, followed by ELI 80
  • Reading ELI 72, followed by ELI 82
  • Writing ELI 73, followed by either ELI 100 (for undergraduate students) or ELI 83 (for graduate students)

Listening and Speaking. ELI 70 focuses on improving listening and speaking skills, both general and academic. Special attention is given to comprehension of academic lectures, basics of giving effective presentations on general topics, and participation in teacher-directed discussions. Depending on the teacher and the specific needs of the class, students may also be introduced to aspects of pronunciation, vocabulary development, interview skills, and familiarization with the Wong Audio-Visual Center in Sinclair Library. ELI 70 is designed for students who have less listening/speaking experience and limited familiarity with academic English and/or limited proficiency, and thus serves as a bridge to ELI 80. ELI 80 focuses on further developing academic listening and speaking skills. The course requires (and teaches) students to give different types of academic presentations, to give focused feedback on others’ presentations, and to participate actively in student-directed academic discussions. Depending on the teacher and the specific needs of the class, students may also work on aspects of pronunciation, vocabulary development, interview skills, and familiarization with relevant university resources. This course is designed for students who have considerable listening/speaking experience and fairly advanced proficiency in English, but have only moderate familiarity with academic English and limited experience with academic listening and speaking tasks that are common in university classes.

Reading. ELI 72 focuses on increasing reading fluency, which is considered crucial for helping students cope with difficulties they often encounter in academic reading. This goal is achieved through activities that focus on increasing reading rate, developing reading comprehension skills, in-depth coverage of academic paragraph patterns, and building general and academic vocabulary. Additionally, depending on the teacher and the specific needs of the class, ELI 72 may include an introduction to different types of academic sources, opportunities to read and discuss a variety of texts, development of general academic vocabulary, and orientation to UHM’s libraries. ELI 72 is designed for students with less reading experience, limited familiarity with academic English, and/or limited proficiency, and thus serves as a bridge to ELI 82. ELI 82 focuses on helping students deal with the high demands of academic reading by focusing on becoming efficient and autonomous readers. These goals are achieved through activities that focus on: development of a full and efficient repertoire of reading strategies and connecting strategy use to text type and purpose for reading; building academic vocabulary for students’ specific fields; and development of critical reading strategies. Additionally, depending on the teacher and the specific needs of the class, ELI 82 may include review work on improving reading rate, introduction to reading and note-taking strategies, evaluating a variety of sources, effective use of dictionaries, and a review orientation to UHM’s libraries. This course is designed for students with considerable reading experience and fairly advanced proficiency in English, but with moderate familiarity with academic English and limited experience with common academic reading tasks.

Writing. ELI 73 focuses on helping undergraduate and graduate students develop general and academic writing abilities in English. Students explore differences between personal and academic writing, develop written fluency, and improve command over rhetorical, discursive, and textual conventions common in academic writing. Students also learn about the different tasks that are associated with the writing process and apply them to various writing situations. Opportunities for developing grammatical accuracy and vocabulary may arise from the context of students’ own writing. ELI 83 focuses on preparing graduate students for independent academic writing at the graduate level. Students conduct primary research on standards and conventions of writing for their specific fields of study, explore different genres of writing common to their fields, and refine their writing skills (developing clarity of written expression and improving command over rhetorical, discursive, and textual conventions). Opportunities for developing grammatical accuracy and vocabulary may arise from the context of students’ own writing. ELI 100 is the second-language equivalent of English 100, and focuses on helping undergraduate students learn how to compose several common academic forms of writing, develop clarity of written expression, and improve command over rhetorical, discursive, and textual conventions common in academic writing. Students also learn about the different tasks that are associated with the writing process and apply them to various writing situations. Opportunities for developing grammatical accuracy and vocabulary may arise from the context of students’ own writing.

Haven’t I done this before? Although the intermediate and advanced courses are designed differently, there is still some overlap of activity types across the levels. However, this does not mean that you’re “doing exactly the same thing all over again.” For one thing, “knowledge of” something is different from “ability to do” something, and the focus of ELI classes is on developing your ability to do things academically. Remember that this kind of development takes time, and involves repeated practice, not just one-time exposure. Additionally, while sometimes the activities are similar, the complexity of topics involved, or the level of difficulty of the tasks you are being asked to do, will be at a higher level in the advanced classes than in the intermediate classes.

Some relevant ELI policies

Grades in ELI classes. Except for ELI 100, which is graded on an A-F scale, all ELI classes are graded as “credit” or “no credit” (CR/NC). Each teacher decides exactly how they will grade their students, but all courses will be consistent in terms of what students are expected to do. For all ELI courses (except ELI 100), the minimum for passing is 80% attendance and 80% performance on activities and projects.

Attendance. The development of language ability involves consistent practice, working with others, and attention to what is happening in the classroom, so regular attendance is essential for success.

Be very careful about your attendance. There is a temptation to plan out how many classes you can skip and still be able to pass, but this can be dangerous – some students have skipped one class a week, thinking they would be OK, and then, near the end of the semester, the stress involved with final papers and exams caused them to be absent from ELI classes, and these extra absences put them over the limit and caused them to fail their ELI courses. Don’t let this happen to you!

Additionally, if you have a serious sickness or health problem, be sure to get a doctor’s letter (on the doctor’s official letterhead), and make sure that the doctor writes all the days that you were unable to attend school because of sickness. Similarly, if you have a personal emergency, be sure to tell your teacher about it at the earliest possible time.

You also need to come to class on time. ELI classes have a limited amount of time to work with you on aspects of your academic English, and if you are late, it slows down the whole class. Different teachers will have different “penalties” for late arrival. Some teachers say that two times late is equal to one time absent; other teachers may have a policy of counting the number of minutes late and applying that to absences.

Make sure you understand each teacher’s policies, as written on the syllabus.

Plagiarism. The ELI recognizes that rules regarding academic honesty and intellectual property are different in different cultures. While we certainly respect each culture’s way of doing things, we also recognize that, here at UH-Manoa, academic honesty is expected of all students, and acts of academic dishonesty, such as cheating or plagiarism, are not tolerated. Common punishments for plagiarism, throughout UH-Manoa, include failing the assignment, failing the course, or even being suspended or expelled from the university.

The following definition of plagiarism comes from the UH-Manoa Student Conduct Code:

Plagiarism includes but is not limited to submitting, in fulfillment of an academic requirement, any work that has been copied in whole or in part from another individual’s work without attributing that borrowed portion to the individual; neglecting to identify as a quotation another’s idea and particular phrasing that was not assimilated into the student’s language and style or paraphrasing a passage so that the reader is misled as to the source; submitting the same written or oral or artistic material in more than one course without obtaining authorization from the instructors involved; or “drylabbing,” which includes obtaining and using experimental data and laboratory write-ups from other sections of a course or from previous terms.

University of Hawai`i at Manoa Student Conduct Code (1992), p. 6

The pressures of university study can make it very tempting, at times, to try downloading a paper from the internet, using someone else’s ideas without referencing that person, or turning in a paper you’ve already written or are writing for another course. All of these things are forms of plagiarism! If you find yourself considering something like this, please don’t do it, in any class you take at UHM – instructors and program administrators have become very good at finding plagiarized work, so the chances are extremely high that you will be caught.

Although there are a few students who intentionally plagiarize, we believe there are many cases of plagiarism that are more “accidental” – that is, a plagiarized paper often shows us that the student does not really know how to incorporate and reference sources in writing. If you are unsure about whether you are using your sources correctly or not, see your instructor (either during their office hours or in a private appointment), and explain to them that you need help learning how to reference and cite your sources. Most instructors are willing to spend time helping students learn more about writing requirements in their field. (If you are worried about the inconvenience you may be causing your instructor, compare that to the feelings of anger or even betrayal that many instructors feel if they find a student has plagiarized, whether intentionally or not).

All ELI writing courses include activities to help with understanding plagiarism and learning how to use sources in your writing. However, not all ELI students place into ELI writing courses, so it is ultimately your responsibility to be aware of the rules regarding plagiarism, and to learn how to avoid it.

For more information on plagiarism, and ways to avoid it, check out the page on the ELI website.

How can I get the most out of the ELI?

You now find yourself in an amazing position: you’re a student in a university where everything is done in your second language. This is a challenge that few people have the ability and courage to tackle. When in a culture that is new and unknown (or somewhat new and unknown), the people who succeed most tend to be those who develop strategies for learning from the language and the people around them, as well as strategies for coping with the extra demands they face. They also work hard to continue developing their understanding and command of the dominant language of the society they are now in, particularly aspects of the language that relate to the specific purposes in which they’ll be actively involved. Additionally, they actively seek to become familiar with their new surroundings and the resources provided there, so that they can be more independent and confident in their ability to know and use all the resources that are available. And finally, they pay attention to their own needs and purposes, and seek connections between these and the resources available.

Much of the ELI’s curriculum aims to help you in these areas. We introduce a number of strategies in our classes, and encourage students to share strategies that they find useful, as well. We try to show how different strategies apply to different academic purposes, and often have assignments that ask you to look at your homework and assignments in other classes to see what kinds of strategies might be most effective. We provide information to enhance your awareness and understanding of a variety of types of academic discourse, both oral and written. We encourage our teachers to provide you with opportunities to ask about situations or assignments that come up in other UHM classes, in order to gain insight about the culture of university life here. We also pay attention to typical academic assignments and their purposes, and provide practice and instruction related to these tasks. For example, upper level undergraduate courses and most graduate courses involve reading a variety of materials and listening to lectures, for a purposes such as discussing issues in the field, giving presentations, writing papers, or doing research, all of which are covered in ELI classes.

Over the years, we’ve noticed that some students tend to get more out of their ELI classes than others, so we’d like to pass on a few hints that come from our observations of successful students.

  • Think of yourself as becoming a more autonomous second language learner (that is, someone who can make full use of the resources of the University and the local community). Some of the coursework in ELI classes focuses on helping you gain more autonomy in your learning, and better familiarity with the resources UHM offers. In addition, you can try to find out more from a variety of sources (other students, librarians, secretaries, and others who know what’s where and how to get things done).
  • Look for connections between what is covered in ELI classes and your academic needs for other classes. We can’t make these connections for you. Naturally, we would prefer to tailor each ELI class to specific students with exactly the same needs, but this is actually impossible to do, because our courses include students from a wide variety of majors and fields (and often a mix of undergraduate and graduate students). That means you have to make an effort to find your own connections between the activities done in ELI classes and your specific situation and needs. And don’t hesitate to raise questions in your ELI classes about experiences you are having in other (non-ELI) classes. These questions may help not just you, but also your classmates, to better understand the culture of UHM, and to make connections between what they know, what they are learning in the ELI, and what they need to do in those other classes.
  • You all are already highly successful second language learners compared with most of the people in more monolingual countries like the U.S., and as such, you probably already have a number of strategies you use for learning English and for studying via English. But perhaps there are some strategies you haven’t thought of, or would like to explore. Many such strategies and techniques, and the attitudes and self-concepts that go along with them, have been studied. Besides the various resources you will find in your classes on this point, we also recommend the easy-to-read book called How to be a more successful language learner, by J. Rubin and I. Thompson.
  • Think about the purpose for the assignments you have, and try to choose strategies that would be most effective for those purposes.
  • Think about your “anxieties” about studying at UHM. Once you know what you’re anxious about, you can think about the strategies you already use to ‘combat’ these concerns, and then pay attention to the things taught in the ELI, so you can add to your repertoire of strategies and study skills.
  • Besides what your ELI teachers or textbooks, recommend, actively try to find out what strategies and study skills your classmates use.
  • Remember that different students have their own learning styles, and that what works well for one person might not work for you. At the same time, be open-minded about examining strategies – don’t discount them without giving them a try.
  • Part of any university experience is social, and when you are busy with studying in a new academic culture, it is sometimes easy to ignore the social side of life. Remember that your ELI classes are probably the only place you’ll find at UHM where everyone is a second language learner, and many come from backgrounds that involve similar perspectives and experiences. So do try to make friends here.
  • Try to interact, and perhaps make friends, with people from different backgrounds, not only with people who come from the same country and speak the same native language as you. (However, at the same time, it can help you to keep balance if you occasionally get together with people who speak your native language and share the same cultural background.)
  • Additionally, many of the people in your classes can help you with various aspects of life at UHM, particularly in the first weeks or the first semester (and perhaps those of you who have been here for a semester or more can offer to help those who have newly arrived).
  • At the same time, remember that your friends and classmates may not always have the most accurate information about university policies and procedures. If you have questions about official UHM things, ask the administrators and secretaries of the relevant programs or departments. (There have, in the past, been a few cases where students have believed rumors about university policies, instead of checking with the people who really know the correct answers, and later those students had fairly serious problems.)
  • Different ELI teachers have different strengths. No matter who your ELI teachers are, focus on their strengths and how you can gain the most benefit from their help.
  • Take advantage on your ELI teachers’ availability during their office hours. ELI teachers set up one office hour a week for each class they teach (and in fact, most instructors at UHM have similar office hours). During these office hours, your teachers are available to you as resources and as aids. Some teachers organize their office hours with appointment blocks (for example, six 10-minute appointment periods in one hour), but other teachers are comfortable with walk-in visits. If you are not free during your teacher’s scheduled office hours, but still want the teacher’s advice or help, contact them to set up an appointment. (Note that the ELI administrators have never heard an ELI teacher complain about being too busy during office hours, but we’ve often heard them say that they’re sorry that too few students ever use that time to come and ask questions or get help.)
  • Try to learn relevant academic vocabulary. There are lists of academic words that are common to any field. For example, Coxhead’s Academic Word List. Review these lists to see which words you already know, and then try to learn as many of the unknown words as you can.
  • Additionally, each field of study has its own technical vocabulary. You’ll need to begin learning these words for your field, as well.

Cross-cultural perspectives

Hawai’i is a group of islands in the central Pacific, thousands of miles from the mainland USA, let alone Europe; around 10% of its inhabitants are indigenous Pacific islanders and the majority of its inhabitants are originally from Asia or the Pacific region. Accordingly, one might (naively) expect the University of Hawai’i to manifest non-western values. Nevertheless, as a result of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the State of Hawai’i in 1896 and subsequent historical events most of the University of Hawai’i operates on so-called “western” values: values that are those of the dominant cultural or economic groups in the USA, with some concessions made to “local” values. This could pose some problems for students whose values and expectations are not those of “the west” or “the mainstream.”

The ELI believes that all faculty at UHM should make some effort to ensure that the culture of their classroom accommodates students from internationally non-dominant cultures. However, no matter how well-intentioned many faculty and staff may be, there will always be times when misunderstandings or clashes of culture (including expectations about academic culture) leave you feeling confused or frustrated. When there are apparent cases of misunderstanding or mismatch, try to understand what’s happening (consult literature that discusses the differences in university instruction across cultures , or talk with administrators or staff in relevant departments or programs), and if need be, find an advocate (consult with experts in the Student Services Center, as well as within informal networks).

In western academic culture, much emphasis is placed on critical thinking. “Critical thinking” means looking at information from a variety of perspectives, being aware of the perspectives and agendas of the authors of texts you read, and synthesizing the information in ways that make the sense to you.

Additionally, western universities place a lot of emphasis on students’ learning how to explore others’ ideas, analyze and synthesize information, then develop and express your own ideas, rather than memorizing and repeating the ideas of others. Some of your assignments will focus on your ability to display that you understood what you read, but many of your assignments will be designed for you to learn how to access information, how to analyze information, and how to create (often in collaboration with others) new information and ideas.

Similarly, many students find that papers are written differently in the U.S. than in their home academic culture. Additionally, within UHM, there are different genres, requirements, and expectations for writing in different fields of study. Ask you advisor if the department has samples of theses, dissertations, research papers, and other scholarly work that meets or exceeds the expectations of the field. This can help you understand what kinds of assignments to expect and what writing styles are commonly followed, and can give you insights about how to conduct research in your field.

About learning processes (and adjusting your learning processes in a new academic culture)

Are you a talker, or a listener? When do you talk, and when do you listen? Do you interrupt? If so, who, and when? Do you like to learn through talking, or do you prefer other ways of learning? Do you like learning from your peers?

The classroom participation and oral interactional styles among students varies greatly. Many mainstream North Americans — particularly males, and particularly those from the dominant ethnicity (“white”) — are comfortable speaking up swiftly without bidding for the floor (to say the least), and many whose first language is not English, or possibly women, have a hard time getting a word in edgeways as a result. Keep in mind that, while many native speakers of English are sensitive about how they use English with non-native speakers of the language, there are a few who will use their “nativeness” as an opportunity for advantage, rather than as a tool for sharing ideas. (Perhaps these native speakers would benefit from taking a course on using English for intercultural communication!)

Sensitivity to aspects of oral interaction is an essential tool for all students, whether they are native speakers of the language of instruction or not. Be aware of your own participation patterns, and if you are not allowing others who may be slower or more hesitant to take the floor, slow down and give them a chance. You (and other students) also have the option of calling upon each other. It is not just the instructor’s responsibility to nominate speakers.

At the same time, if you are one of the more hesitant speakers in class discussions, it may help to learn some useful phrases for politely interrupting. At the same time, work on your ability to jump into the conversation. (Of course, you can ask your ELI teachers for help with this.)

Collaboration isn’t cheating (usually). We urge you to consult with your peers and with students who are more advanced in your field or major. This includes asking their opinions and assistance on your work, if you wish (in fact, we think it’s essential for non-native speakers to develop a network of peers who would be willing to help proofread papers or give you feedback on your presentations; perhaps you could offer a language exchange if they are studying your native language, or you could review their work and comment about the parts you feel competent to critique, or you could offer to buy them coffee or lunch as a way of thanking them for their help), This kind of collaboration is not usually considered “cheating.” Rather, collaboration is typical of professional work in academia.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is the student’s responsibility to engage with assigned material before class, but you’re not responsible for understanding everything in it. Sometimes your teachers will begin class simply by asking for questions: contrary to expectations in some non-western academic cultures, it is desirable for the student to ask questions. There is an old saying that goes like this:

Ask a question and feel like a fool for five minutes
Don’t ask and remain a fool forever

Feedback to your teacher and the ELI in general

Mid-term evaluations. ELI teachers are not required to have mid-semester evaluations of their courses, but many of them choose to do so (and all ELI teachers pay attention to how their classes are going, and how the students seem to be improving). When teachers do have mid-term evaluations, some use the visiting evaluators from the Center for Teaching Excellence, and others use their own evaluation forms. If your teacher has a mid-term evaluation, please be very honest about the things you like and find useful about the course, as well as the things you find less useful, and feel free to make suggestions about other aspects of EAP that you would like your teacher to address in class.

End-of-semester course evaluations. The ELI requires an end-of-semester evaluation for each ELI course, and we use specific evaluation forms. These forms ask you not to give your name, so you should feel perfectly comfortable about giving your honest feedback. Additionally, no one reviews these evaluations until after the teachers have submitted their grades for the semester, so there is no possibility of your evaluation ever affecting your grade in the course. After the semester has ended, a copy of the evaluation is given to the teacher, and another copy is kept on file. The ELI’s administrators review the evaluations for each course, and gather data about students’ impressions about certain courses and teachers. This information is extremely useful – it helps us to steer future curriculum development, tells us where to advise teachers about their strengths and areas to continue to grow, and gives us your perspectives about policies in the ELI. We take these evaluations very seriously, and we truly appreciate all constructive feedback. Comments about specific activity types, textbooks, and aspects of your instructor’s teaching that were done particularly well (or, for that matter, particularly poorly) are very helpful for us to ensure that the ELI’s curriculum and instruction evolves along with the student population and academic demands.

How to approach your teacher with questions or comments. There are a number of times when you might need to discuss something with your ELI teacher (or, for that matter, with any UHM instructor). For example, you may have questions about something the teacher said or want to clarify what you are supposed to do for homework. Or you may want to meet the teacher to get help with one of your assignments. There are really two ways of doing this: requesting an appointment with the teacher, or asking to talk with the teacher immediately.
You can request an appointment either through email or in person (for example, after class). Both you and your teacher are busy people, so you’ll need to find a mutually convenient time to meet. When you make your request, it helps if you already know your schedule – then the teachers can tell you which of your days and times they are also available, and you can quickly set up your appointment time.

When asking to speak immediately with a teacher, it’s helpful to be polite and respectful of the teacher’s time. We recommend that you begin by asking, “Do you have time to meet with me now, or would it be better if I made an appointment?” Often, the teacher will say that they are able to meet with you right away; if not, usually they will apologize for having something else scheduled and will try to set up an appointment.

On rare occasions, you may have some kind of problem in the class, or another somewhat uncomfortable topic to discuss with the teacher. A good way to begin this kind of conversation might be to say, “Something has happened in our class that is bothering me, and I wanted to talk with you about it,” or “Something has happened in our class, and my classmates have asked me to represent them to you.”

Finally, there are very rare occasions when something happens in the class, but it is difficult for you to talk about it with the teacher. In those cases, you may want to set up an appointment with the Director or Coordinator of the ELI.

Why are there so many observers and researchers?

The ELI is part of the Department of Second Language Studies (DSLS), which is part of the College of Languages, Linguistics, and Literatures. Because the University of Hawai`i at Manoa is a Carnegie-I Research University, the top category of universities in the U.S., conducting research is its primary function. DSLS has a strong international reputation for the research it does into all aspects of second languages. So because of this, there are often many small research studies or projects going on in the ELI. Some are intended to contribute to our continuing efforts to improve ELI instruction, and others are part of the broader research agenda of DSLS.

Occasionally, an entire class is involved in a research study, but most often, researchers ask for volunteers from among ELI students. Remember that you do not have to volunteer unless you want to, and once you’ve said yes, you can always change your mind later if you become too busy or if you find that you do not want to be a part of the study.

By the end of the semester, you may feel that you’ve been asked too often to volunteer as a research participant. We fully understand how that feels, but please remember that you have chosen to study in a research university, so being exposed to research is part of your life as a student here.

Additionally, in almost all ELI classes there will be (as there are in most schools) occasional visitors and observers, who are usually there to either learn about the ELI or monitor our curriculum and the delivery of classroom instruction. For instance, every semester, ELI administrators observe ELI classes, primarily to keep up to date with our student population and how our classes appear to be working with our current students. ELI teachers also observe each other, to learn from each other’s strengths in order to enhance their own instruction. Also, because our program has an international reputation, we also have frequent visitors from other states or countries who would like to see how ELI courses are taught. We realize that, to a certain extent, having observers sometimes feels disruptive, but please keep in mind that this, too, is part of the life of a student in a research university.

The ELI is on your side

If you have not studied at a U.S. university before, you may find a number of things are different, or difficult to understand. And, as with all cultures, many of the customs, practices, and rules are not explicitly stated or clearly explained. Even though it tries to, UHM as a whole does not always fully understand the needs, concerns, or problems faced by international and immigrant students (and this probably is true of all universities).

Besides assisting with the development of your academic English, the ELI also can be helpful for some students as a way of easing into the culture of UHM. We are willing to meet with you to discuss confusing or frustrating aspects of the culture of UHM, and we will try to explain things in a way that may make more sense.

Additionally, we are also willing to “go to bat” for you when a policy or a problem arises, or when you have concerns or needs that the university is not addressing (particularly things that are common to many students); indeed, it’s in our mission statement that we should be an “advocate” for second-language students at UHM. Similarly, we will tell you if your problem or concern is one that cannot be resolved (because sometimes the cause of the problem is something that is out of the control of UHM, which makes it impossible to change things).

So if you are having problems with some part of the UH “system” that you think are related to your status or the way you use English, tell your ELI teacher or the ELI administration, and we will work on your behalf.

Campus Resources

Here are a number of on-campus programs that many ELI students have found helpful:

Admissions & Records. Undergraduate Admissions & Records handles information for prospective students, admission of new students, and keeps records about existing students and alumni of UHM. This is where you go when you have questions about transfer credits, registration, tuition, transcripts, diplomas, etc.

Office: Queen Lili`uokalani Center for Student Services (QLCSS), Room 001
Phone: 956- 8975

Campus Security. Campus Security’s job is to help provide and maintain safety for everyone on the UHM campus. There are a number of emergency call boxes on campus, which you can use if you feel threatened, or would like an escort from one location on campus to another. Although UHM is quite safe, for the most part, we encourage students (particularly women) to be careful, and to use Campus Security’s services, especially at night.

Office: 1980 East-West Road
Phone: Non emergencies = 956-8211
Emergencies = 956-6911
Or just pick up a call box phone to be immediately connected

Graduate Division. Graduate Division handles information for prospective students, admission of new students, and keeps records about existing students and alumni of UHM. This is where you go when you have questions about graduate status, teaching or research assistanceship policies, and other issues related to being a graduate student at UHM.

Office: Spalding 360
Phone: 956- 7541

International Student Services (ISS). ISS is available to help international students (primarily those with F1 or J1 visas) with a variety of aspects of life at UHM. In addition to officially monitoring all international students’ visa status, they also provide a number of helpful services, and occasional events for international students.

Office: QLCSS, Room 206
Phone: 956-8613

The Learning Assistance Center. The Learning Assistance Center has workshops on topics such as time management, listening/note taking, effective reading, how to prepare for exams, and how to write a research paper. They also conduct diagnostic analyses of learning styles, offer tutoring in specific curriculum areas, and can help with preparation for tests like the GMAT, GRE, LSAT, and MCAT.

Office: QLCSS, Room 306
Phone: 956-6114

The Writing Workshop. The Writing Workshop is part of the English Department, and is staffed by students from both the English Department and the Department of Second Language Studies. The workshop provides one-on-one help with writing, and is free for UHM students, faculty, or staff. You can sign up for one 30-minute session per week.

Office: Kuykendall 415
Phone: 956-7619

Other ESL programs on campus

University of Hawai`i English Language Program (HELP). HELP is a program for full-time students who have not been admitted to a college or university. HELP runs on a 10-week term basis, and most students take a full courseload in English (approximately 20 hours). The program has a somewhat academic orientation, though unlike the ELI, is not exclusively academic in tone. If you have friends or relatives who want to improve their English to get into university, you might recommend HELP.

Office: Makai Campus Portables, Room 13-1
Phone: 956-6636

New Intensive Courses in English (NICE). NICE is similar to HELP but with a much greater emphasis on conversational English. “NICE at Night” offers evening courses which address specific aspects of spoken English that might also be of interest to ELI students, such as pronunciation.

Office: Krauss Hall, Room 004
Phone: 956-7753

More Student Services:

Dean of Students (QLCSS 409, 956-3290)

Gender Equity Counselor (QLCSS 210, 956-9112)

University Health Service (University Health Services Manoa Building, Room 100, 956-8965)

Student Housing/Off Campus Housing (Johnson Hall A Basement, 956 –8177)

Other resources for living in Hawai`i (“All work and no play . . .”)

Naturally (for most of you, anyway), the main reason for being here is to learn and get a degree. Nevertheless, you’re here in one of the most famous vacation spots in the world, with a climate that makes fun a year-round possibility, so we hope you will try to enjoy life in Hawai`i when you get a chance. With this in mind, here are some helpful resources:

The Bus. One of the easiest, and cheapest ways to get around the island is the bus system run by the City and Country of Honolulu, which is called simply, The Bus. You can get monthly bus passes at the Campus Center, and can find out about which busses take you where you want to go by calling The Bus or checking their website.

Phone: 848-5555

Newspapers. There are two major daily newspapers on Oahu, Honolulu Advertiser and The Honolulu Star-Bulletin. In addition, there is a weekly newspaper with a more alternative perspective called Honolulu Weekly. All three newspapers have a wealth of information about restaurants and other places to eat, movies, concerts, and other events.

  • Honolulu Advertiser
  • The Honolulu Star-Bulletin
  • Honolulu Weekly
  • Waikiki booklets. Whenever you’re in Waikiki, you’ll find several small stands that hold booklets, such as This Week or Oahu Gold. These booklets include information on restaurants, shows, and other events in Waikiki, and also have a number of discount coupons for restaurants, sightseeing trips, etc.

Other students. One of the best sources of information is right here on campus: your friends and classmates. Students who have been here a year will know a lot of the cheapest places to get great food, things to do, surf spots, and all kinds of other information that you can’t easily find anywhere else. Be sure to ask around in your classes!

Suggested reading about U.S. universities, potential differences in academic culture, and strategies:

  • Barner, James. 1995. Conquering grad school: what you need to know. Plainfield, IL: Wishbone Pub. LB2371.4 .B37 1995
  • Cortazzi, M., & Jin, L. 1997. Communication for learning across cultures. In D. McNamara & R. Harris (eds.), Overseas students in higher education (pp. 76-90). London: Routledge.
  • Forest, James J.F. (ed.) 1998. University teaching: international perspectives. London: Garland Pub.,
  • Goodman, N. R. 1994. Intercultural education at the university level: teacher-student interaction. In R. W. Brislin & T. Yoshida (eds.), Improving intercultural interactions (pp. 129-147). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Marshall, Lorraine, & Frances Rowland. 1999. A guide to learning independently (3rd edition. Longman Pub Group. ISBN: 0582811708
  • Pareker, W. M., Archer, J., & Scott, J. 1992. Multicultural relations on campus. Muncie, IN: Accelerated Devt.
  • Rubin, J. & Thompson, I. (1994). How to be a more successful language learner. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.
  • Yap, A. F. C. 1996. The official international student’s manual. Lake Arrowhead, CA: Arrowhead Pub.