Gotcha! Fulbright Student Reflects on Learning American English

While studying at Al Azhar University in Egypt, I was offered a job to assist in teaching commercial law in English. Clearly, mastering the English language was a requirement if I wanted to become a professor in this field. I also knew there was no better way to master English than studying and receiving a degree at an American university, so I was determined to improve my English skills enough to apply for the Fulbright Foreign Student Program. I studied all year and prepared for the TOEFL and IELTS exams. After submitting my application, I was thrilled and honored to receive a Fulbright award.

Since my English was not as good as I needed it to be to start coursework at an American university right away, I was enrolled in the Intensive English Institute, a Long-Term English (LTE) program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This program lasted for two semesters prior to the start of my LLM program at the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University.

In the spring, I studied listening, speaking, reading, and writing as well as advanced pronunciation, while the summer classes focused on advanced grammar, culture, and community. I gained a lot from these classes and have noticed my general English proficiency increase, especially my pronunciation. My favorite word in English is “GOTCHA.” I’ve become obsessed with this word since I used to hear it a lot but never knew the meaning. I didn’t know how it was written so I couldn’t look it up in the dictionary. Before my LTE program I assumed it was written as “catch you” to mean “I understand,” so it was quite a surprise to learn its actual spelling and to know that it has multiple meanings, either “I get it, “ or “I’ve caught you,” as an expression of doing something bad/ wrong.

The most important thing I learned is how to give a presentation on a specific topic. During my two semesters at the Intensive English Institute, I gave at least six individual presentations that lasted five to fifteen minutes with PowerPoint slides. This helped me overcome feeling nervous about presenting in English, which will be beneficial if I’m ever to become a professor who teaches in English.

The reading and writing classes focused mostly on academic skills. For example, I was taught the “TBSIR” strategy when writing a paragraph and how each paragraph consists of “Topic, Bridge, Support, Interpretation, and Return.” I know this will be helpful and useful when I begin my classes in the fall. Besides learning how to use this strategy in my writing, it has benefitted me when I read as well. Whenever I am reading, I can now identify how the paragraph is structured and notice all the components.

I’m so glad I had the chance to participate in the Long-Term English program as a Fulbright Foreign Student. My advice to future Fulbrighters would be to prepare yourself for the most challenging and pleasurable experience of your life. Improve your English as much as you can by reading history and other books. I know the English language skills I learned here will directly impact my career once I return home.

Elsayed is working towards a LLM degree at the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University. He is from Egypt.

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