American Language & Culture Program FAQ

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General Questions

Traveling and studying in the US

ALC Application Process

Participating in ALC


General Questions

What makes the VIA experience unique?

VIA has over 50 years of experience connecting people between Asia and the US, and over 35 years of experience running programs bringing Asian students to Stanford and San Francisco. Our participants are able to stay connected to a group of like-minded individuals throughout their careers. Having an alumni network allows past and present participants to strengthen their personal and professional development. VIA also provides opportunities to contribute to meaningful impact in local organizations in areas that most other exchange organizations do not have access to.

What is a typical program like?

Each morning you will attend English classes to increase your communication ability and develop and refine your writing and researching skills in the English language. In the afternoons and evenings there are a variety of activities to choose from including: company visits, volunteer opportunities, sports games, and of course spending time completing your homework. Weekends you will have chances to go to baseball games, a musical, take a trip to an amusement park on the beach and many other exciting American culture activities. The program is very fast-paced and intensive.  Please come rested and full of energy!

Why study American Language and Culture at Stanford University and in Silicon Valley?

Stanford University is the number one university in the USA and during the program you will live on the Stanford campus and with Stanford student coordinators. This will provide you with the opportunity to not only improve your English skills, but also deepen your understanding of American culture by exchange ideas with critical thinkers. Silicon Valley and San Francisco rank among the world’s strongest leaders in innovation and are home to technology giants like Google, Apple, Facebook as well as numerous startup companies. You will have the chance to visit a cutting-edge company and learn about their company culture and how they remain innovative. Furthermore, you will get to travel to San Francisco and experience the rich cultural diversity. From the companies, to the students, to the activities, this program provides all you need to enrich your English language abilities and enhance your knowledge of American culture, all in a beautiful setting.

Is English required? How good should my English be?

Yes, all our programs are conducted in English. You should have intermediate English listening, speaking, and writing skills. However, there is no TOEFL score requirement. Through this immersive experience and the rigorous English classes you will improve your English skills and return home feeling more confident when interacting in English.

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Traveling and studying in the US

What do I need to bring with me?

We recommend you pack one suitcase and one small bag only. You should be able to carry your own luggage around one city block and up or down stairs. Stanford University is often warm and sunny during the day (15°- 30° C in the summer). However, early mornings and late evenings can be chilly. San Francisco is usually cool, often cloudy and windy – even in summertime. It is important to bring cold-weather clothing, like sweatshirts, jackets, and umbrellas. You will also be walking around a lot, so comfortable shoes are important, too.

Other important things to bring are: a camera, laptop, prescription medication, copies of your travel and health insurance documents, adapters to charge your electronic devices, and a set of formal clothes. Once you are accepted you will receive a detailed packing list to aid you as you prepare for your travels.

Should I be worried about safety in California?

Safety is a top priority for VIA. All participants are required to have health insurance, which can provide coverage for medical and other emergencies. Program staff make participants’ safety and wellbeing their highest priority at all times. They will arrange or plan transportation routes and accompany participants to all organization visits.

Violent crime is not common or prevalent at Stanford or in San Francisco. However, as is true for most major cities, one should take a common-sense approach to safety precautions as one would anywhere else. On the Stanford campus, there are emergency telephones visible from any location (marked by a blue light). We will provide you with a campus map and a card with phone numbers you can call if you are in an emergency. Carry a cell phone when you go out, so that you can call us if you get lost or need help.  Do not carry large amounts of cash or display expensive jewelry.

We will go over safety tips when you get to Stanford, to make sure you know what to do in case of an emergency.

What kind of visa will I need? Does VIA issue visa invitation letters?

Because the ALC program is only 4 weeks, you do not need an I-20, and you do not need to apply for a student visa.

The United States has an agreement with 38 countries and regions (including Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore) called the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Any person with a passport from VWP countries or regions does not need to apply for a visa if they plan to stay in the US less than 90 days. If you have a Japanese, Taiwanese, or Korean passport, you do not need a visa to join the program. However, you will need to complete an application with the US Customs and Border Protection’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to receive travel authorization. The application costs $14 USD.

If your passport is from a non-VWP region (e.g., China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, and Myanmar), you must apply for a B1/B2 visitor visa. VIA will issue an official letter of invitation after you are accepted to the program. You can use this letter to support your visa application.

Do I need health insurance?

Yes. Stanford requires you to have health insurance that meets its rigid guidelines. We work closely with an excellent health insurance provider that complies with Stanford’s requirements. We will provide you the details so you can make the purchase, once you are accepted. Some schools will have an alternate insurance provider you can use. Again, we will let you know which one to purchase once you are invited to join the program.

What will happen if there is a problem or emergency during the program?

For minor emergencies (small injuries, illnesses, etc.), program staff will take care of the participants’ immediate needs and accompany them to the Stanford hospital, if a hospital visit is necessary. For major emergencies (serious injury, illness, or accidents) VIA staff will ensure you receive the care you need, and notify your family and/or home university.

For problems with alcohol/drug use, illegal activity, or breaking program policies, VIA staff will discuss the incident with the participant(s). Depending on the severity, the participant(s) will receive a warning or, if it is a very serious problem, VIA staff will notify the participant’s home university, and potentially send him/her home early.

What about free time? Will there be opportunities to explore on my own during the program?

You are required to attend daily English classes as well as weekly lectures. There will be a variety of activities to choose from in the afternoons, evenings and weekends. It is up to you to decide what will make your experience the best it can be, while still making sure to complete your academic assignments. There are some mandatory evening meetings, but the majority of evenings and weekends are for you to either join group activities or explore the San Francisco Bay area with your friends.

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ALC Application Process

Who can participate in ALC?

University students from East Asia, who are interested in developing their English language skills, learning about American culture and enjoying a cross-cultural experience. International students currently studying in the US who want to improve their English skills over the summer and learn about American culture in Silicon Valley are also welcome to apply.

How long will it take to complete my application?

It depends. The personal information section should only take 3-5 minutes to fill out (in English). The second part of the application asks you to write several short paragraphs (in English) about yourself, your motivations, and which American culture aspect you would like to study in more depth. The short answer section should be no more than 250 words each and it will help us get to know you better and your reasons for applying. Depending on your English ability and writing level it may take 1 – 2 hours. If you can’t finish your application all at once, you can save it and complete it at a later time.

What information will I need to complete my application?

For the first step, you will need to provide personal information (name, nationality, university, major, year in school) and contact information.

For the second step, you will be asked to provide information about yourself, why you are interested in joining the program and what specific topic you would like to studying during your stay in the USA.

Finally, you will be asked to tell us when you are available to be interviewed by a VIA staff member (interviews usually take 10-20 minutes). Some universities arrange the interview time for their students. Other applicants can reserve an interview time at the end of the application.

How should I prepare for the interview?

Review the answers to your essay questions and be prepared to speak about them in more depth. Make sure to check your Skype or phone connection to ensure it is working. Of course, we realize there are technical difficulties sometimes, so we will work with you to make sure these are resolved. Finally, do not worry about making mistakes in English. The important thing is to convey your message. We will be assessing your English level to make sure this program is right for you at this time in your academic studies. Remember, you are applying to improve your English, so we don’t expect you to be fluent.

When will I know if I’m accepted?

We will send out acceptance letters after all applicants have been interviewed about two weeks after the application deadline. Some universities will inform the students of their acceptance. VIA will inform other applicants directly.

What happens after I’m accepted?

You will receive information about the next steps – how to apply for a visa or register with ESTA, how to get health insurance, how to arrange flights, etc. You will also be invited to join an online group with other participants, so that you can start to get to know each other better. In addition, you will receive some materials to help you prepare for the program.

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Participating in ALC

What does the program fee cover?

The program fee covers dormitory housing, transportation to and from the airport, a trip to San Francisco, one to two company visits, a volunteer visit, all meals on campus and the final dinner, 24/7 on-site support from VIA staff, tuition for English classes with Stanford (3 credits), and a variety of American culture activities, including a dance.

It does not cover: flights to and from the U.S., health insurance, personal/free time activities (baseball games, musical, beach trip, etc.), emergency expenses, or personal purchases (souvenirs, etc.)

Where will I stay during the program?

Participants will stay in a Stanford dormitory. We will do our best to pair you with a participant from another region to enrich your cross-cultural experience. Stanford students and the directors, who will act as your hosts and coordinate activities, will also live with you in the dormitory to provide support and assistance during your stay.

Who teaches the English classes?

Experienced English Language teachers will teach both Effective   Communication and Topic Development, the two classes you will take while at Stanford. Many of the teachers have been teaching for the ALC program for years and bring their passion and experience in education to the classroom, to ensure you improve your English language skills.

Who leads the program activities?

VIA staff, including the director, assistant director, and Stanford coordinators will plan, coordinate and lead you through a variety of activities.