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ESL Partnerships Internationalize UK's Campus

by Sarah Geegan

Mansoor Sultan is a UK student from Iraq, pursuing a master's degree in electrical engineering. Like many of the other 1,788 international students at UK from more than 117 countries, a daunting challenge for Sultan when he arrived in Lexington was his English proficiency — a challenge which the Center for English as a Second Language (CESL) strives to help students overcome.

Lina Crocker, faculty member in the CESL, contends that face-to-face interaction with American students is one of the best tools for both English-speaking practice and orientation into American culture. She facilitates partnerships with various departments across campus, which give international students like Sultan the opportunity to meet American students.

"Our students are so excited to get to practice their English with American students," Crocker said. "It's very important for them to get that opportunity, but it is also very important for the American students to be exposed to people and perspectives from different countries. It's wonderful to watch the students interact. Some of them who are often very shy really open up and practice their English when they are speaking with students that are their own age, and many times real friendships develop from these events."

On Tuesday, Oct. 11, a group of ESL students met with a class within the College of Education, led by Jeanette Groth who works in the College of Education office for International Engagement. A casual setting, the students formed small groups consisting of ESL students and American students, and discussed various topics, ranging from sports to food.

Mansoor Sultan attended this event.

"These events will help to improve my speaking and listening with American students," Sultan said. "They correct my vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation, and I learn from them better than from movies or books. Books are very formal and academic. They don't teach you anything about manners or other important parts of culture for conversations."

Groth said that such events are also extremely beneficial to her education students. "The fastest growing population in schools is "English-language-learners or ELL students," Groth said. "Our students, through events like this, get the experience of what it is like to have ELL students in the classroom, and how to address their needs because their needs are very different."

Elementary education senior Shelby Coons said she appreciated the opportunity. "It was a great chance to speak with students from across the world, and to eliminate stereotypes and find similarities between our cultures," Coons said. "This experience will be very helpful when I have my own classroom."

Crocker also arranges similar partnerships with UK 101 classes. These events afford the same benefits to her international students and allow freshman UK students to form friendships within the international community at the beginning of their college career. 

Marie Louise Ndusa, an ESL student from the Congo, said she was very pleased to attend the UK 101 session.

"I'm very happy to talk about the differences in customs, culture and government," Ndusa said. "Right now we are talking a lot about voting. I find it strange that some American students don't want to vote, and we talk about that. It is interesting to hear why students choose different majors and why they came to UK also."

Gonzalo Jaimes Borrero from Colombia said he enjoyed teaching the American students about his culture as much as he enjoyed orienting himself to American culture. "I come from Colombia, and my country is known for coffee, but I don't like coffee," Jaimes Borrero said. "I like to talk about the music from Colombia and to share my culture with American students."

Jaimes Borrero attended his first UK 101 class in October, and plans to attend more.

"One of my favorite activities is our participation in UK 101 classes," Crocker said. "In the beginning, I promoted this partnership to give our students speaking practice with American students, but I have come to see how invaluable it is for American students to become comfortable with diversity."

Crocker, having worked with the CESL for more than 30 years, has established partnerships with several very different departments and programs across campus, ranging from sociology, business, anthropology and engineering classes. She has also set up events with groups of American students preparing to student-teach abroad and K-12 classes.

"Lina's partnerships are so mutually beneficial for both groups of students," Laurie Nesbitt, a faculty member within CESL said. "We’ve recently organized, in conjunction with Zach Edens from the Gatton College of Business and Economics, an opportunity for business students to interview our students for one of their projects that has a global focus. The project involves doing research to open an American chain restaurant in another country, and they are using the input from the ESL students to make modifications to their business plans to make them more successful."

Nesbitt said that her ESL students were thrilled to have the interaction with the business students.

"I've worked at several universities, and I have never seen such a successful partnership program as the one we have at UK," Nesbitt said.

As UK's internationalization efforts advance and as courses increasingly include global aspects in the curriculum, Crocker will continue to stress the importance of bringing international students and American students together.

"These partnerships have multiplied and have become a full-time job for me, one to which I gladly give my all,"  Crocker said.

To view a photo album from the College of Eduation partnership event and the UK 101 partnership event, click here.