By ALLY FRIEDMAN
Last Thursday, a group of St. Lawrence first years met with adults from Iran, Nigeria, South Korea, and Mexico who are all learning English as a second language. The event was organized by Robin Crowell, a professor who teaches the First Year Seminar “Critical Issues in Teaching English in Foreign Countries” as well as English as a second language in Potsdam.
Crowell planned the event so that her students could connect with people of other cultures and gain exposure to different levels and accents of ESL learners.“When you meet someone from another culture, it personalizes that country,” said Crowell, who believes it is important for students to have firsthand cultural awareness.
The class session began with introductions and games, and then students were split into groups with a combination of SLU and ESL students. All students were then instructed to ask questions of each other. Many asked about the challenges of learning English, and how they ended up in the United States or at St. Lawrence.
“When they started, all the SLU students were on one side of the room and the ESL students were on the other, but at the end of class they were all mixed up, talking and laughing,” Crowell said.
Lauren Williams ’15, who is enrolled in the FYS this semester said “It was really neat hearing [the ESL students] talk and answering the questions they had for us. Some of them even gave out their numbers and asked for us to call so we could get lunch together, or go to the gym, or just practice their English on the phone.”
Both groups of students benefited from getting to know one another. One of the ESL students, Seonah, said, “the [St. Lawrence] students were wonderful. They were all good listeners and very open-minded.”
Although the ESL students from Potsdam are primarily intermediate and advanced English speakers, the FYS will be interacting with many different levels of English learners throughout the semester. Beginning in March, students will teach English to young adults in Northern Rwanda over Skype. Later this spring, the SLU students will be preparing lessons and activities for elementary age children in Xiaolin, Taiwan, which they will also teach through Skype.
The FYS was designed and taugt originally for the first time last spring by Education professor Wannie Wang, who is off-campus this semester. Some students who took the class last year also had the opportunity to travel to Taiwan in the summer and teach their students in person.
Kelly Brennan ’13, was among those selected to go to Taiwan, where she and three other SLU students spent a week teaching an English summer camp. “The class and project were worthwhile and it was amazing to see the students improve each day. After we left we knew that we had made a difference,” Brennan said.
A core aspect of the FYS curriculum is learning not only about the levels of English competency, but also about the range of cultural norms students are likely to encounter when they teach in foreign countries. First and foremost, Crowell emphasizes the importance of being aware of American culture and stereotypes. She hopes that as her students travel, they will be conscientious of the many cultural discrepancies, from eye contact to eating that exist outside the classroom.
“The ‘Teach Abroad’ phenomenon is becoming more popular with many college graduates and other adults in job transition,” Cromwell said. It would certainly seem that this FYS will help students become more globally minded citizens as they head into such periods of transition after their time at St. Lawrence.