ESL Book event: SPSCC Students from around the world share their stories

There were only a handful of empty seats last Thursday, when South Puget Sound Community College teachers, students, and other community members gathered to hear ESL students share personal stories from their anthology, “ESL Students Bring You the World.”

The title offered a very accurate insight into the contents of the book. Students in SPSCC’s ESL program come from over 31 different countries, and each of these countries is represented in the anthology.

This particular event is in its eleventh installment, and started years ago as a class project, said Julie Williamson. It quickly became a campus wide event, and a popular one at that, judging from the high level of attendance last Thursday.

“I love the different cultures. I didn’t know they had such a big ESL program [at SPSCC]. I’ve been meeting lots of different people,” said Khurshida Begum, who came to take in the presentations.

Begum said she’s been trying to convince her sister to go back to school to learn to read and write in English, and planned to tell her sister about this event in an attempt to encourage her to check out SPSCC’s ESL program.

Carlos Bobadilla, another attendee and an ESL student, shared the subject of his story, which he said he was too shy to read in front of the crowd. Bobadilla is from Colombia, and wrote about Vallenato, a kind of folk music popular there.

“We have special music, for people from farming communities,” he said.

Bobadilla has this music on his iPOD and on CD, so he is able to listen to it often.

Bobadilla was very happy with SPSCC’s ESL program. He said that the teachers and his fellow classmates were all very friendly.

“The teachers are really nice—on snow days, they call and tell us not to come to
class,” he said.

Bobadilla is also happy about how much ESL classes have improved his job prospects since he started taking them three years ago.

“My English is a lot better than before. It was hard at interviews—now when I go to interviews it’s easy for me, I can answer more questions than before.”

Linda Haglund, one of the ESL teachers, said students work very hard over winter quarter to produce stories for “ESL Students Bring You the World.” This project is important, she said, because it gives students an opportunity to “write with a purpose,” and to begin learning to work with technology, since some of the presentations at the event were videos created by students.

“The one really important thing about this is it gives them [ESL students] a better connection to the college and the community as a whole. Quite often they feel isolated because of their language. They feel like ‘nobody knows me, what I’ve accomplished, what I hope to do—this is an opportunity to tell about me.’”

SPSCC student Batu Dashnyam appreciates the opportunity to learn more about these students and hear their stories.

“I tutored for an ESL class at Hawks Prairie,” Dashnyam said. “I’m here to root for my students. These people are amazing—I mean, I’d probably never get a chance to meet someone from Cameroon otherwise.”

Students began the event by teaching the audience words from their native language. Bako Danpullo was the first presenter, and he opened by saying, “I want to teach you my language.”

He taught the audience to say “good morning” in the Hausa language, smiling as the many voices in the audience repeated the words after him.

Jie Li, another presenter and SPSCC student, shared her story, about moving her family to the US from China. “Many students in the world look forward to famous American universities,” she began, explaining that her son’s dream was to go to such a university. To help him realize this dream, Li and her husband moved him over here, so that he could attend an American high school in preparation for attending an American university.

“My husband and I gave up our stable jobs and comfortable life in Beijing,” Li read. “It’s difficult for us to face a different language and culture. Our life will start from zero. But we hope that our son’s dream can come true.”

Heather Williams, another ESL instructor, said one of the purposes of this event was to give ESL students a chance to share their experiences with moving to the US, as well as parts of their own culture, with the college community.

ESL daytime classes run for ten hours every week, said Williams, which means that students are very close.

Williams also shared some of the strategies involved in teaching students a completely new language.

“We use a lot of body language,” she said, adding that ESL teachers often use a method called “total physical response,” a technique in which the instructor acts out the word or phrase and says it at the same time, encouraging students to mimic the action.