By Kaylee Rios
For students looking to polish their English skills, Brookhaven has a program called International Conversational Program. ICP serves as a gateway for English for Speakers of Other Languages students who are looking to interact with native English speakers outside of the classroom.
Brookhaven College is filled with students of many cultures. But even with so much diversity spread throughout campus, some students are reluctant to reach out to those outside their comfort zone. For international students, this can be difficult when learning English, as it is sometimes easier to spend time with other students from the same country or those who speak the same language.
The program also offers ESOL students a new perspective on American customs. Pamela Jensen, the program coordinator, said the program is intended to help ESOL students adapt to the new culture they are encountering. She said most students would not speak to students outside of their language and culture if it was not required for credit.
“This forces them to get out and meet other people and speak English, and it is supposed to provide a safe environment outside of class where they are not going to be embarrassed by making mistakes,” Jensen said.
Most ESOL students agree. ESOL student Mahoutin Dossou said the program helped her. “You have to talk. You have to speak,” Dossou said. “You don’t have to be shy.” ESOL student Khoi Trinh said his English has improved from talking to others in the group. “My favorite part was meeting new people and building a relationship,” Trinh said.
ESOL students are not the only ones that feel good about the program. Brookhaven student Karen Miranda volunteered last year and said the program was fun because she got to interact with and help new people. “If you like to be around other people, then you should do it,” Miranda said. She said helping ESOL students is rewarding and worth the time commitment.
ESOL students and volunteers are encouraged to participate in activities to strengthen the students’ language skills. Whether students meet on the fourth floor of the library to talk or off campus to eat at a restaurant and practice ordering from a menu, the interaction helps tremendously. Little by little, the ESOL students begin to feel confident in their English language skills because instead of being graded for wrong answers, they are given constructive criticism.
Sometimes, the number of ESOL students outweighs the number of volunteers. This causes a problem because volunteers are occasionally stuck with a large group of students. With volunteers having only an hour to practice with the ESOL students, conversation can be limited.
What encourages some of the students to continue volunteering is the ability to earn extra credit. What starts off as an extra credit assignment or a grade can unexpectedly turn into a new group of friends.
“At the beginning, I was freaking out,” Miranda said. “Toward the end, we talked so much, we actually got sad that [the program] came to an end. But I have them on Facebook to keep in touch.” To get involved or attend an orientation on the program, readers can contact Jensen between 9 and 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday in Room S124. An application is required, along with a background check.