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Many are familiar with how much weight the Gaokao holds; for those who are not, Gaokao is a two day test in June that millions of Chinese students in mainland China prepare diligently to take- typically in their senior year of high school. Gaokao is China’s National College Entrance Examination and can “make or break” a student’s chance at getting into a Chinese university. The higher the score, the better the odds of getting into a university will be. There’s even a Chinese saying on the Gaokao that says “one point higher can beat a playground of students.” To avoid a gap year in the event of not receiving high enough scores, and acceptance into a Chinese school, students are now also easily applying to US universities that accept Gaokao scores.
Gaokao scores are a primary determiner for Chinese universities, however, the number of universities in the US that are exploring the option of “test-flexible policies” continues to increase, and institutions that are accepting Gaokao scores in place of ACT or SAT results are also on the rise. As of Summer 2019 more than 1,000 accredited colleges and universities support test-optional admissions according to Fairtest, The National Center for Fair and Open Testing. When it comes to Gaokao specifically, universities in the US that already accept the exam’s scores primarily consist of private schools. In June 2018 the University of New Hampshire became the first state university to accept Gaokao scores, and last month University of Oregon, University of Tulsa and Rochester Institute of Technology were the latest schools to announce their acceptance of Gaokao scores (in combination with an InitialView interview and writing sample) in their international student application process. Allowing Gaokao scores, and implementing flexible test policies in general means that students can bypass other standardized tests.
“Over the course of the last several admission cycles, many students outside of the US have met with challenges in accessing test sites,” Patricia Peek, dean of undergraduate admissions at Fordham University said in an article for The Pie News. “We, along with other institutions, want to promote access for these students by adopting test-flexible policies.”
Many universities in both Canada and Australia already accept Gaokao scores in their application process, and as more and more universities embrace the test-flexible policy, and Gaokao specifically, it raises the question on if this move will increase the number of international student applicants from China. Share your thoughts on if you think it will have an impact on the number of inbound students from China.
In 2018 the European Commission announced they were taking measures to increase security, including creating the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS). Although legislative proposals have been in place since 2016, this announcement has since raised questions on what will be required of non-EU citizens to Europe visiting less than 90 days, who currently do not require a visa. Although some rumors have circulated that ETIAS will mean having to obtain a visa, in actuality it will be a pre-travel screening.
A press release from the European Union last year stated that ETIAS “will ensure that we no longer have an information gap on visa-free travellers. Anyone who poses a migratory or security risk will be identified before they even travel to EU borders, while the travel of bona fide travellers will be facilitated.” Although ETIAS will mean an extra step for non-EU citizens and visa-free visitors, the EU is aiming to keep the process “affordable, simple and fast.” In fact, “Completing the online application should not take more than 10 minutes with automatic approval being given in over 95% of cases,” the European Commission stated. The cost to complete the application is a €7 fee for applicants between the ages of 18 and 70, and granted authorization will then be valid for three years.
Once the application is submitted it will go through automatic processing based upon the submitted details of identity, travel documents and answers to the background questions. Response is typically given within minutes unless there is a “hit” from the automatic process which would then require manual processing by ETIAS staff.
ETIAS is expected to be operational by 2021 which means citizens from 60 countries, including US travelers, to Europe will need to gain pre-travel screening.
This new regulation does spark questions on how it will impact students wanting to study abroad through short term programs. Currently, US citizens studying abroad in Europe for less than 90 days do not need authorization, however, after ETIAS goes into effect, that will change. If the ETIAS approval process is as simple and fast as anticipated, then it might mean short term study abroad programs will not be impacted apart from adding one more step to the process.
Share your thoughts with us- do you think ETIAS will be seamless or possibly impact the amount of students studying abroad?
While we here at International Student Insurance have been working on sexual assault prevention programs in the United States geared at international students, it is important to recognize that this is not just a US issue. In the time of the #MeToo movement, other countries who host international students are looking inwardly to evaluate their procedures on college campuses, and realizing they have a long way to go. International students in general are considered to be at a higher risk of sexual violence since they are more likely to be isolated, lacking a safety net, perhaps new at navigating the culture of dating, and may not feel comfortable in a new language, among many other reasons. As such, it is even more important that colleges and universities provide awareness and education to help international students know their rights and resources when it comes to sexual assault. Outside of the US, other top countries that receive international students such as Canada and Australia are revamping their support services and are creating programs to shed light on what has become a major issue for colleges and universities across the world.
In Australia, advocacy groups and journalists found that their system was far from perfect. Reports of sexual assault took too long to investigate, they did not have good communication procedures in place, and some universities would even place the responsibility with the victim, advising the survivor to change their class schedule or avoid interacting with the perpetrator.
In 2017, 31,000 students across the nation were surveyed to investigate the prevalence and nature of sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian universities. The report conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) found that there was a high rate of sexual violence on college campuses, that there was widespread under-reporting, and that there was an overall lack of university policies and procedures aimed at addressing the problem. The study found that 1 in 15 university students were sexually assaulted in 2015-2016 and 1 in 2 students reported having been sexually harassed in 2016.
While we don’t yet know the impact this awareness has generated, we do know that Australian universities are reviewing their policies and procedures, and that funding has been secured to administer the study every three years to provide insight into how things are changing on college campuses.
Australia is not alone. Canada is also realizing that they need more resources to effectively educate and respond to the number of sexual assault allegations. For example, a report cited that the University of British Columbia (UBC) had ‘countless unresolved issues’ when it comes to reports of sexual assaults on campus. In response, the school is now hiring more staff, implementing more training and programming, and creating new spaces on campus to deal with sexual violence. They are working on launching a new investigation office along with support services for survivors. Many of these services have been launched in the last two years, and they are still working on streamlining services, as well as figuring out their communication plan – but all with the aim of creating a safe and supportive campus for students.
With other Canadian schools in the same shoes as UBC, a Vancouver immigrant services organization named MOSAIC is working to help school staff reach international students more specifically, since they are at a higher risk than domestic students. MOSAIC is putting together a series of workshops for staff at schools to help them develop ways to better assist students who report being assaulted. Their overall goal is to let international students who have been assaulted know that they do not have to be afraid to reach out for help.
If your school is looking for a training on Sexual Assault Awareness designed to reach international students, we recommend this training module that was compiled in partnership with RAINN. With a PowerPoint presentation, activities, videos, pamphlets, and a proctor guide that will guide the presenter through the entire training, international students will explore the concepts of consent, bystander intervention, students’ rights, reporting, and more. In addition, ISI has created a student info page for students to engage with the information and material right online, and schools are welcome to both link and share this with their international students.
This blog was written by Greg Heindel, one of the 2019 EIC School the World team members.
You can learn a lot about a person when you travel. You can learn even more about yourself, or an entire culture if you are willing to commit yourself.
Today most of the 2019 School the World volunteer team is around 30,000 ft above sea-level cramped in flying sardine cans pointed towards different parts of the world after departing from Guatemala and successfully completing the construction of three new classrooms and two playgrounds for Caserio Chuchun, a community of Sacapulas. We all have a feeling of accomplishment, but the sense of fulfillment comes from far more than the concrete development we assisted with.
After spending a week with the community members of Sacapulas including visiting the citizens in their homes, speaking with the municipality, and working side by side with the community, it is quite clear that they already have the drive and desire to reach their educational goals. The collaboration between the School the World team and their community is what gave them the foundation and facilities to move forward and we were sent off with a ceremony that showed their absolute appreciation for everyone involved.
The mayor and his municipal staff were present and gave heartfelt speeches to thank our team, the parents, and the community for all of their hard work. The beautifully decorated ceremony included live local musicians, gift exchanges, home cooked meals, dancing, and lots of playing on the new playgrounds as they saw us off on our journey back home. Our goodbyes were long and it was sad but we left smiling from ear to ear as we piled back into the buses bound for Antigua.
By this point the EIC School the World team was used to the bumpy roads down the mountainside under skies lacking any clouds or even a jet streak. We were weaving in and out of traffic, as aggressively as it was natural for commuters in Guatemala, perusing alongside the active volcanoes with only a few words of congratulations and pleasantries exchanged as we soaked in all that was accomplished as a group and as individuals.
It was well worth the peace within the silence because we knew that we still had one last night together to share our personal stories and feelings about our experiences before departing to our home countries. Needless to say, we will all bring something new back with us and will return the favor when we return next year to assist in constructing another elementary school in Guatemala.
This blog was written by Greg Heindel, one of the 2019 EIC School the World team members.
We woke to the sound of roosters crowing just slightly later than our usual dawn patrol – today we are in for a treat. While we waited for the night crew’s mud to cure, the team loaded up in their buses and headed off down the winding road to the market of Caserio Chuchun.
Guatemala is known for its brilliantly colored textiles, woven into scarves, satchels, clothing and other beautifully hand-crafted items. Among other products were fresh tamales, traditional wood Aztec masks, and novelty souvenirs galore. There is something to know about shopping in the market of Caserio Chuchun – they have a bartering system and if you’re not aware you will pay the price in Quetzal (approx. 8Q to 1USD). The rule of thumb is if you are speaking English then your quoted price will be at three times the actual market value and the vendors love to drive a hard bargain! But, after a few practice runs and with a little help from the veterans, we made it out with shirts on our backs, some change in our pockets, and loads of lovely gifts and souvenirs.
The change of pace ended after only an hour and we headed back to Quiche to finish what we started the prior evening – pouring the floors of the remaining two classrooms. With our deadline closing in on us during our last full day on-site, we began to hand mix the first of two of our largest batch of (approximately 6 tons) concrete mix right on the ground. The team has grown very familiar with the recipe:
Elapsed time: 45 minutes Ingredients:
15 Wheelbarrow loads of sediment/dirt
12 Wheelbarrow loads of gravel
12 80lb bags of concrete
Mix sediment and concrete thoroughly. Knead your new mixture into a large circle like a hand-tossed pizza. Add rocks evenly across your mix. Next, saturate your fresh concrete mix thoroughly with water and let sit for five to ten minutes. Stir well and serve.
With plenty of extra hard-working hands on deck the concrete was mixed and poured into the remaining two classroom throughout the day. Meanwhile, other members of the team alternated between spreading gravel around the large playground, planting flowers
With the sun setting, we cleaned the rubbage from the work area while the local senoritas swept the front play area in preparation for the closing ceremony the next day. Even though the team still has a small amount of work to finish, we all left feeling incredibly fulfilled and headed off to have our last supper together in Quiche.
The alarm clocks started going off at 5am. The EIC team got ready and had their coffee (this time Ana got sugar for us! One of the many things we take for granted). We packed our lunch sandwiches and headed out.
After the one and half hour drive to the community’s school, we were greeted by the kids. Their enthusiasm never fails to put a smile on our faces. Today, while half of us worked on the new playground for the school, the other half was divided into teams and went to visit the home of one of the members of the community. Sutherland, Bryanna, and Emil got to go first while Greg and I began mixing the cement and hauling gravel along with our other teammates left from IMG, Ivywise, and Flywire.
The home visits were an incredible experience on their own. Sutherland learned how the locals make their candy and got to make her own candy on the shape of a snake. Emil and Bryanna learned about the process of grinning corn to feed the family’s chickens and to make the dough for the tortillas. Corn is a very crucial part of Guatemalans diets as it’s used for the tortillas served with every meal in Guatemala.
After 11am, Greg and I got put into our respective groups and walked over to the family we were visiting. Norma welcomed my group to her home and she walked us from the school to her family’s house. She lives about 10 minutes from the school and in the same land, she shares her home with her parents’ and one of her brother’s. We had the pleasure of meeting her mother as well, whom mostly speaks the native language and just a bit of Spanish. Norma has 3 kids and you could see how as the generations get younger, they are starting to lose a lot of the native’s culture starting with the language. However, Norma is adamant about teaching her children the customs of the people of Quiche, even if they don’t learn the language.
During the home visit, she taught us how she sows the beautiful hair pieces that the women often wear in their head for special occasions. That’s how she makes her money. She also showed us how to make tortillas and had me try to make some! (Thankfully I’ve had some practice beforehand!). At the end, we presented her with a few gifts that we brought for her and her family as a thank you for inviting us into her home. Normal and her children were very thankful for every single gift; once again reminding me how important it is to these communities the work that School The World and our teams do and how thankful they are for all of it.
During the afternoon, everyone worked extremely hard. We were tasked with finishing the floor on one of the three classrooms we are building. There was a lot of mixing and shoveling cement from one place to the other but we were able to finish most of it. As simple as this task may sound, mixing cement by hand is an incredibly arduous job. Needless to say, everyone was exhausted at the end of the day. Tomorrow, we will need to finish the rest of the floors for the other two classrooms so for tonight, we will all get plenty of rest!
Today began before sunrise as sandwiches were packed and bowls of cereal quickly consumed alongside steaming mugs of coffee. The hour-something trek to the community seemed longer today, but the journey was quickly forgotten once we arrived at our destination.
Young, now familiar faces greeted us at the school gates with open arms. Shouts of “hola” and friendly embraces have quickly become our morning ritual and one the team won’t soon forget – it seems like each day the warm hugs of the students have become tighter and longer than the day before. Some students have even begun to memorize our names and seek us out individually among the throngs of bodies on the basketball court in front of the school before classes begin.
After our initial greetings the team was shuffled in to a small but vibrant classroom full of smiling children. Unique to this years trip, we were given the opportunity to teach a third grade class, and the curriculum was ours to decide. Choosing what we thought to be appropriate, Yessica explained to the class in Spanish that we’d be trying our hand at teaching the students several things in our language – among them, the alphabet and parts of the human body.
The students were surprisingly quick to pick up the alphabet and after a few short minutes were singing right along with the EIC team. Once they had a decent grasp on their ABC’s and the familiar tune playing in the back of their heads we played a few rounds of hangman, allowing each student their turn to come up to the board to choose and pronounce a letter of the English alphabet. Nearly every student skipped or ran to the board, and we all ended the class winners (despite the fact that our hangman had eyes, fingers, shoes, and even a bow in her hair).
After a quick lunch and a game of hide and seek with the sunshine, the team grabbed some paintbrushes and helped create a hopscotch court on the concrete directly in front of the school. Armed with paints of varying colors, crafted a jet for all of the schools students to enjoy tomorrow.
Tomorrow we’ll be visiting the home of a local student and can’t wait to share more of our adventure with you!
Antigua’s streets woke us up bright and early today. The day started with breakfast and slowly everyone gathered in the main hall to head out to Santa Cruz de Quiche. As the sun inches upward through the mountains, we packed our bags in the vans and the excitement to meet the Chunchun community increased by the minute.
The way to Santa Cruz consists of winding roads in between the breathtaking mountainous terrain of Guatemala. Our Envisage International team was full of renewed energy after yesterday’s travel day. Emil and Greg chatted away about the people of Guatemala. They were amazed at how whole families can ride together in motorcycles through these roads to get to their day-to-day activities. Meanwhile, Bryanna sat in the back of the van staring at the Volcan del Fuego, concerned that we should have a volcano escape plan. The Volcan del Fuego or Fire Volcano is one of Guatemala’s active volcanoes and last erupted in October of 2018. Ever since, it spits out ash clouds every few hours a day but the Guatemalan government is well prepared in case another eruption occurs. Elmer, our driver for today, explained to us that there are about 34 volcanoes in Guatemala and about 3 of them are currently active.
In the meantime, Sutherland listened to my conversations in Spanish with Elmer and Chiara (from School The World) and tried to understand what we are talking about. Sutherland studied Spanish in preparation for this trip and she was able to understand about every three or four words. The Guatemalan gorgeous mountains reminded me of Colombia, my home country. The towns are built in similar ways where the Catholic Cathedral is the center of the town and there is a main square where vendors gathered to try and sell their products. One thing very unique to Guatemala were the traditional yet very colorful outfits of the locals. Pinks, blues, reds, and purples prevailed in their beautifully handmade clothes, specially the women’s and children’s. The colors can be seen in their colorful public transportation too; the buses look almost festive.
When we arrived to the Chunchun community, we were greeted by whistles, cheers, applause, even fireworks! The mayor of the community gave us a warm welcome and played both the Guatemalan and the US National Anthem. The community also prepared dances and songs that they presented to us, of course in their typical attire. As the welcome ceremony progressed, the children’s curiosity got the best of them and they started asking us questions, asking us to take pictures with them and their families, and inquiring how we got all the way to their community. One of the parents told me that most of the children of this community only know Spanish, but the adults still retained much of their culture and language, K’iche’.
I was humbled by the kindness and warmth of the people of Chunchun. Ana, one of the representatives from School The World, told the mayor today was my birthday and they all surprised me by singing “Happy Birthday” as a community. Of course, no welcome ceremony is complete until the piñatas are emptied of their candy and everyone has had a chance to dance the typical songs from this region of Guatemala.
After the festive welcome ceremony, the EIC team along with the other groups got to work! For the next two hours, we were tasked with digging up 16-inches-deep holes where the new swings and slides will be placed. We braved the blazing sun; while two of us used a pickaxe to chip at the dirt, the other two shoveled it into wheel barrels for the men to take it away. After two hours of this, we finally accomplished our goal and walked away with only a few blisters. A small price to pay when we reflected on how hard the men of the community work to help build this school and playground.
The day ended with dinner and birthday cake as a group. The School The World team surprised me with a birthday cake. Special thanks to them for their kind gesture.
Tomorrow the real work begins! Bryanna, Sutherland, Greg, Emil, and I are prepared to work hard and give it our all.
With the undeniable success of Envisage Internationals inaugural partnership with nonprofit, School the World, in 2018 EIC has sent a second group of employees to Guatemala. This year’s team of five – all based in the Neptune Beach office – have been tasked with helping to build a primary school and accompanying playground in a poverty-stricken Guatemalan community.
The team of volunteers landed early Sunday morning at the Guatemala City airport where they met fellow volunteers from International Medical Group (IMG) prior to boarding buses for the beautiful city of Antigua. One peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an hour later the team checked into a local hotel
and had the opportunity to experience the magic that it the city of Antigua.
The cobblestone streets made of varying size of worn stone offer only a small glimpse of the city’s charm. After a short walk, the team found themselves in the town center – a busy plaza met on two corners with a large yellow church. Tables sat on the edge of each sidewalk of the main square, full with still-sizzling street food, tourists, locals and vendors selling handmade jewelry and baroque tapestries of all shapes and sizes.
As the EIC team ventured deeper into the city they were met with local adults and children alike selling various items in the busy streets, from battery operated balloons to slices of fruit and local nuts. Choosing to walk on the safer side, the team took refuge from the heat in a local coffee shop and enjoyed a warm tortilla soup, or “sopa” as the locals would say.
The night came to a close as the team shared a meal with volunteers from School the World, Flywire, IMG and Ivywise at a local restaurant. While the meals themselves were delicious (a choice of chicken, vegetarian dish, or steak), the universal favorite was the accompanying beverage, a freshly made and chilled limonada complete with lime slices.
Tomorrow the team will travel to the community and begin physically building the school. The team will share more updates and photos soon!
The way we communicate with our computers has drastically changed over the past decade. For the average person, the most common way to communicate with a computer is via their keyboards, but computers have greatly diversified. They are now coming in many different shapes and sizes. With the introduction of the first handheld cellular phone in 1973, we saw the keyboard shrink to fit on a mobile device. Again in 2007, we saw the introduction of the iPhone, giving users a touch interface.
Fast forward to 2019, computers, home speaks, automobiles, and mobile phones offer Voice-user Interface, or VUI for short. VUI uses speech recognition software to enable users to interact with technology using just their voice. Speech is the most common and fundamental means of human communication, and being able to communicate with our devices in this way has increased the accessibility of electronic devices.
According to Adobe’s latest State of Voice Assistants report, 32 percent of consumers now own a smart speaker, up from 14 percent in January 2018. In the ever-evolving digital world where speed, efficiency, and convenience are constantly being optimized, VUI devices will continue to grow as more and more sectors of the economy are finding uses for speech recognition technology.
Device security is another major topic that is brought up in the list of concerns. The majority of VUI gadgets are connected to the internet, making it a potential target to hackers. While all major VUI device makers such as Google and Amazon are working towards making their devices as secure as possible, it is always a good idea to check for any possible security flaws on all your VUI devices.
Voice-user Interface technology is growing rapidly. People around the world are finding new ways to improve their lives using VUI devices. While these devices bring many positives to our lives, it is important to do the research and know about possible drawbacks to this new technology. As the old saying goes, “Better safe than sorry.”