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Kuniko Sakai: Stuck at Home During the Pandemic, But Sharpening English Language Skills One Virtual ALP Class at a Time

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in New York in Spring 2020, “all the activities I was doing outside stopped,” said American Language Program (ALP) student Kuniko Sakai. After staying home for a while, Sakai started to “reflect on myself and figure out what I really wanted to do.” For Sakai, whose native language is Japanese, that meant signing up to sharpen her English skills once more through ALP in hopes of gaining more opportunities at work.

“I was exploring the activities offered virtually in New York and found out that ALP offers a summer course fully online,” Sakai said. “I thought: ‘That’s for me!’ Because I actually took the 2019 ALP summer course in person and I knew how great it was.”

We caught up with Sakai to learn about her experience in the program in its recently-launched online format:

What has your experience been like in the program?

The ALP Summer Intensive course focused on a topic and learning about it from various perspectives to deepen our understanding of it. It was inspiring that students from different backgrounds came up with a variety of ideas. I wouldn't have come up with some of those ideas on my own. 

I enjoyed collaborating with the students at the Final Project Fair, where we presented on topics we had been studying in our summer course. We shared a sense of relief and accomplishment when the project was completed. Most importantly, I realized that this program was designed to develop our logical and critical thinking skills at the same time that we’re developing our English language skills!

What has the transition to online learning been like? 

I was impressed that the teachers had created such a high-quality online class in such a short period of time. The class plans, materials and assignments are all on Canvas, so I had much more clarity on what to do. It was a big change from when I had to carry around a heavy binder full of class materials when I attended in-person in 2019.  

What I appreciated most was the weekly one-on-one conferences with each teacher that were newly added this summer. They enabled more in-depth guidance based on my personal needs.”

What I appreciated most was the weekly one-on-one conferences with each teacher that were newly added this summer. They enabled more in-depth guidance based on my personal needs.

The highlight of the summer course is always the Final Fair, where we make a group presentation in front of students from other classes. Although I knew how it was conducted last summer, I had no idea how it would work online. The breakout room feature in Zoom was very effectively utilized. As a result, it was as big a success as the in-person one the previous year.

What are you up to now? What are your dreams for the future?

I am attending ALP Fall on the recommendation of a classmate who took the ALP intensive course in the last Fall and Spring. Mastery of English is my lifelong goal and I want to continue to study it. My aim for the near future is to be involved in international events such as the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Do you have any advice for future students who might attend ALP?

ALP offers many events and activities to make you feel like part of the Columbia community. I encourage you to participate in them as much as you can, so you will not feel like you are alone.

I am grateful for the excellent teachers who have made my experience at ALP most enriching. They always led me to deeper insights and made the class discussions more meaningful. With the teachers' help, there was a sense of unity in the class, even online. All of these brought my learning to the next level!

Learn more about the American Language Program at Columbia University, one of the oldest and most respected English language programs in the U.S. Programs are offered both full-time and part-time to accommodate all kinds of students.