International Education Week

Virginia Tech is celebrating International Education Week from Nov. 7-14. Explore more international-themed stories.

Norovbanzad Tsogt-Ochir was half a world away from Blacksburg when she found out she had been conditionally admitted to Virginia Tech’s master’s program in transportation infrastructure and systems engineering. She had exceeded almost all the rigorous admission requirements, but her English proficiency wasn’t quite strong enough for full admission.

That’s when the student from Erdenet, Mongolia, learned she had another option. She could sign up for the AdvantageVT-Master’s program and then, when her language skills improve enough, pursue her graduate studies full-time.

Developed and run by the Language and Culture Institute (LCI), AdvantageVT-Master’s is a foundational program for international students who want to earn master’s-level credits while improving their English and academic research skills. The program features three levels, based on students' English skills when they begin and how quickly they improve.

Tsogt-Ochir, who in 2021 was among the first students to enroll in Advantage VT-Master’s, spent two semesters working on her English. “I practiced pronunciation and grammar and writing, reading — all the different English skills,” she said. “Language is all about practicing.”

At the same time, she was able to take nine credit hours that count toward her major requirements.

“One of the real benefits of studying at the LCI, is that in addition to English, you are immersed into what it’s like to study at an American university,” Tsogt-Ochir said. “The teachers and staff help students meet their English goals, experience American culture, and prepare for university-level academic study.”

Among the elements that set the program apart are its University Success Seminars. Director Pamela Smart-Smith said the seminars explore American university culture in general and policies and resources at Virginia Tech in particular.

“We give students time to adjust to a new environment and a new educational system. We also help them learn about the opportunities and responsibilities regarding student life, effective study habits, research resources, and self-management,” Smart-Smith said.

Tsogt-Ochir said she particularly appreciated Smart-Smith’s personal approach. “She shared her own experiences about getting a Ph.D. at Virginia Tech, and she showed us all of the support that is available. She gave us a great foundation for how to succeed at Virginia Tech.”

For over 50 years, the Language and Culture Institute, part of Outreach and International Affairs, has helped international students learn English and become a part of the Virginia Tech community.

“Our international students bring the whole world to our university,” Director Don Back said. “They are a diverse set of learners who enrich our university culture and make Virginia Tech a truly global community.”

In addition to AdvantageVT-Master’s, the LCI also offers a similar program for undergraduates.

Tsogt-Ochir said that during the program’s graduation ceremony in May, she stood up to talk about her experiences. “What was really special that day, as I’m standing there sharing my story, trying to express myself, was that I realized I was surrounded by people willing to understand me.”

Now a full-time master’s student studying and getting involved in pavement safety properties research, Tsogt-Ochir works as a graduate research assistant for Gerardo Flintsch, director of the Center for Sustainable & Resilient Infrastructure and the Dan Pletta Professor in the College of Engineering.

"Dr. Flintsch welcomed me with a great opportunity to work toward my research interest at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. I am grateful to work with him, my colleagues, research scientists, and Dr. Edgar de Leon, who give me boundless advice," Tsogt-Ochir said.

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