East meets West: C of I hosts English immersion program

Many College of Idaho students go home for the summer, but that doesn’t mean the Caldwell campus has been quiet. As part of a new English Immersion program, 14 students from Beijing No.35 High School spent three weeks at the C of I, getting a taste of life in the United States. 

The program is aimed at helping the students improve their TOEFL test scores (Test of English as a Foreign Language) in order to study at American colleges and universities after high school.

“We’re hoping that this will become an annual summer event,” said Dr. John Ottenhoff, C of I vice president of academic affairs and dean of faculty.

The students, who were eager to improve their English in order to study subjects such as physics and electrical engineering in the U.S., also looked forward to time outside the classroom.

“I was really excited, and I think they were too, that they got a taste of good old fashioned Americana,” said Paul Sebastian, C of I instructor of Spanish who helped with the immersion program.

The students participated in everything from an Idaho Shakespeare Festival play to rafting down the Snake River and visiting the Canyon County Fair.

“I haven’t done anything like this in my hometown of Beijing,” said Harry, one of the student attendees.

The students also visited Caldwell City Hall and spoke with Mayor Garret Nancolas, asking him about his role as a mayor, his hobbies, and learning about local government in Idaho. They even got the mayor to practice some Tai Chi on the lawn of city hall.

While most of the students had previously visited America before, a few were visiting for the first time, all were able to experience the U.S. outside of big metropolitan areas. Some of the differences they noticed were the less crowded streets, smaller buildings, fresh air and American food.

The students bought some American sweets at a grocery store—which they all said were “too sweet”—and they even had lasagna on their first night at C of I.

“No one had eaten lasagna before, but they seemed to enjoy it,” Sebastian said.

In addition to TOEFL prep, the students took science field trips to get water samples at the Boise River, and their instructors helped them craft résumés and personal statements for upcoming college applications.

“We’re helping them articulate their own personal stories in this foreign language, which can be difficult even in a native language,” Sebastian said.

The immersion program is just another step in internationalizing the C of I campus as part of a global economy and furthering the educational mission of helping young students achieve their goals—even if it requires a 5,780 mile pilgrimage.

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. The C of I has a legacy of academic excellence, a winning athletics tradition and a history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. For more information, visit