Esl Conversation GroupI'm a Master's of Education student, working on a degree in Literacy and Second Language Studies. Specifically, I'm studying Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to Adults. So once a week I volunteer at a local community college to run (with a colleague) a Conversation Group where the ESL students can come to practice their English. We have students from various levels of language proficiency and from all over the world. I absolutely love working with these people and I especially love the setting. Unlike a class, the informal nature of the conversation group gives the students more time to tell their stories and talk about the things that interest them and I am always fascinated by their stories, their insights and their perspectives. We also try to help them negotiate the ins-and-outs of American culture and bureaucracies, such as registering for classes, dealing with parking tickets and insurance companies, or just answering questions about why certain things are the way they are. I also try to make it a comfortable no-risk atmosphere where they can feel comfortable practicing their English and asking questions about life in America without worrying about teachers and tests and assessments.
Honestly though, the best part of my week is getting to talk to these individuals and hear about their experiences and I am constantly humbled by their perseverance and optimism in the face of all kinds of challenges. I've had the pleasure to work with students from countries from Russia, Ghana, Eritrea, Jordan, Ukraine, Cote d'Ivoire, Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Morocco, Senegal, Nepal and India (and I'm sure I'm forgetting a few). Their pasts are as varied as their places of origin, from teachers and physicians to a man who spent years in a refugee camp, fleeing from war. The best part is seeing so many different people from all over the world, from different religions and backgrounds, sitting around and discussing things openly. Very few subjects are considered taboo but (so far) no one has gotten offended and everyone has been extremely open-minded towards everyone else's opinions. Seeing all these people come together and discuss their lives, the similarities and differences, so peacefully and happily gives me flicker of hope that maybe humanity is not doomed after all. I only hope that I can teach them a fraction of what they teach me.