Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

How an International Graduate Student Learned English in Boston

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Mon, Jul 09, 2012 @ 07:14 AM

international graduate student learn English BostonBeing a graduate student is tough. Being an international graduate student is even tougher.

Today we have the story of Rodrigo, an international law student from Bolivia.

Rodrigo struggled to adjust to life in the U.S. when he first arrived but after changing his strategy and mindset, he found a way to succeed at learning English in Boston and to navigate cultural differences.

How did he do it?

The positive changes started when he realized that the "textbook" English he learned in Bolivia was not enough to succeed in Boston. That was just the beginning.

The result?

Rodrigo now has real English language skills and cultural competence that he will use when he returns to Bolivia to work as a lawyer.

Today Rodrigo will tell you exactly what he did and how you can do it too! Read on to get Rodrigo's strategies and tactics for success in the United States.


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Moving abroad can be a scary decision

 arriving in Boston to learn EnglishMoving to a new country is a landmark decision for everybody.

Leaving your country and culture behind is something that shapes your personality in many ways.

It demands some sacrifices from you.

It pushes you to seek help when it is needed to make the process smoother.




I thought my English was good enough but....

 Boston study English grammar, book and glassesIn 2010, I made the decision to move to the U.S. temporarily to go to graduate school.

Even though it was not the first time that I was visiting the U.S., I could not avoid feeling excited, intimidated, and dubious about the challenge ahead.

I had studied English in high school, especially grammar and reading comprehension.

I thought that my level of English was advanced.




I soon found out that I only had "textbook" English


graduate student of English as a second language, Boston, boy with head downHowever, when I arrived in the U.S., I realized that my English was basic enough to ask for the bill in a restaurant or directions on the street, but it was not enough to hold a conversation about random topics, make a presentation, or write an academic paper.

Moreover, I was under pressure because the deadline for the application process for school was approaching and I needed to go through an interview in English as a requirement for admission.

It was time to act.

I had to come up with a way to improve my level of English. 



It was time to make some changes

 the best way to learn Enlish is to get immersed in the cultureSo, it was time to make some adjustments in my personality.

I had to be more open to sparking a conversation whenever I got the chance.

For instance, I started talking with my neighbors, striking up conversations with elderly people in parks and cafes who had time to spend some minutes talking.

I also volunteered in an environmental program as a way to contribute to the cause and make friends.

These were just some of the activities I did in order to improve my English.

Doing these activities for some months helped me to become more confident when it comes to speaking English and making some friends.





I had to get serious

 English writing class bostonLearning a new language when you are an adult is a work in progress that demands some work from you.

Talking in English whenever I got the chance helped me to improve my comprehension and speaking.

However, I knew that I needed a kind of formal method to improve my writing and pronunciation before going to school.

So, I enrolled in a college writing class in a local college for a semester. This definitely helped to polish my writing skills by writing several papers and getting feedback on them from my professor.



I set up a weekly language exchange

 english language exchange for conversation practiceAlso, I still meet regularly with a person for a language exchange which I find extremely helpful and funny.

Due to academic requirements, I spend most of my time reading books with technical jargon and attending lectures on academic topics, but I always try to find some time for improving my English through different activities at least once per week for a few hours.

Even though I feel that I have improved my English, I still have to build the sentence mentally before speaking. I still have some words that I mispronounce.

I still have some grammar errors that I make constantly. It is far from being a natural process.

I am convinced that there is so much work ahead. My ultimate goal is to become fluent in English some day.



I realized that my challenge was deeper than language

 culture balloons greenBesides grammar rules, vocabulary, pronunciation, and writing; there is an important thing that many times is the key for success in your new country.

That key is to understand the culture of your host country and be aware of the differences from your own culture.

Learning the new language and becoming fluent in the language is just the tip of the iceberg; without an adequate understanding of the culture, the picture is not complete.



I was shocked by one aspect of American culture


time and culture USA and Latin AmericaFor instance, I come from a culture where time is important, but people have a more relaxed concept of time management.

At the beginning, it was shocking to me to understand that American people tend to allocate a specific period of time to every task and many times being a multi – task person is appreciated.

This concept pushed me to become more productive and efficient in how I use my time.

As the time example described above, there are several cultural concepts that would be key for success in America. Looking for help through an adequate tutoring or cultural training will make the process smoother.



My advice for you

 have fun learning english quote from rodrigoLiving the language and culture is a beautiful journey.

At the beginning, everything will seem intimidating and puzzling, but with a firm conviction, a good attitude, and adequate help you will see that your goals are attainable.

Break the ice! Be bold!

And remember that this is an adventure where you have to play hard and have fun along the way.         


"To learn English you must break the ice and be bold"

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photo credits: zamboni.andrea,    Newfrontiers,   Robert S. Donovan jeremy.wilburn,   sj_sanders,   James Cridland,    sampsyo, inju

Topics: Advice for English Students, How to Learn English, United States Culture, Life in Boston

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