International precollege students thrive in UW-Madison’s American Culture and English Program

International students smile together and put up a W using their hands

Teenagers told stories, posed for photos, and took turns at a piano while their adult mentors looked on fondly. The luncheon event at the University of Wisconsin-Madison felt like a family gathering, even though the participants weren’t related.

The July 29 ceremony in the Carson Gulley Center marked the conclusion of the three-week American Culture and English Program. Nineteen precollege students from China, Taiwan, and Singapore came to UW-Madison to improve their English, learn about the United States, and have fun in a welcoming Midwestern setting.

The students do an experiment at the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery.
An experiment at the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery. (All photos by Sharon Vanorny)

To judge by the laughter and hugs at lunch, there was no shortage of fun.

“I wanted a unique experience this summer,” said Chin I Shih (Jenny) , an 18-year-old from Taiwan. “Madison is a beautiful city with an amazing culture, and I enjoyed making friends from around the world.”

‘I have more confidence than I did before’

In its inaugural year, the American Culture and English Program offered a packed schedule of English classes, campus tours, local activities, and daytrips. Students aged 14-to-18 enjoyed seeing the sights in Chicago, visiting a theme park in the Wisconsin Dells, and climbing the picturesque hills at Devil’s Lake State Park. In Madison, they played Frisbee, strolled around the Farmers’ Market, toured the state Capitol, shopped at the mall, relaxed on the lakes, and sampled the university’s legendary ice cream.

The students tease one of their counselors (center) at the closing reception.
Teasing a counselor (center) at the closing reception.

“I will take home great memories of this program,” said Tzu-Hsien Chuang (Shawn), a 15-year-old from Taiwan. “I’ll never forget the people, the funny moments, and the wonderful times.”

The students also met with campus representatives who taught them how to apply to an American university, as well as how to succeed at one. Jia He Shang (Frank), a 17-year-old from China, appreciated the opportunity to learn more about UW-Madison.

“I was curious about the university and glad to meet counselors and teachers here,” he said. “I dream of applying to an American school, and now I have more confidence than I did before.”

‘You’re a member of our family’

At the June 29 luncheon, students had a chance to meet UW-Madison Prof. Jonathan Patz, a lead author for the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They also received certificates and bid farewell to their university instructors and counselors.

The students receive a certificate and parting gift.
Receiving a certificate and parting gift

“Once you’ve been here, you’re a member of our family,” said Jeffrey S. Russell, dean of Continuing Studies. “You’ll always be welcome at UW-Madison, whatever you end up doing, and our staff would like to help you continue to be successful.”

The event ended with a slide show that retraced the students’ American adventure: campfires, picnics, volleyball games, roller coaster rides, swimming, magnificent sunsets, and more. On the soundtrack, Green Day sang “I hope you had the time of your life.”

For three weeks in Madison, these 19 international students surely did.

For more information about the American Culture and English Program, contact Christine Inthachith, christine.inthachith@wisc.edu, 608-265-5720. For more photos, see the gallery below.