CultureWorks front-office staff share some observations when engaging ESL school students in the ‘White House’

From left to right: Janet, Camella, and Tammy
From left to right: Janet, Camella, and Tammy

Today, we are going to have discussions with several CultureWorks staff members in London, Ontario, who, on most occasions, are the first to meet new international students from China, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Jordan, Turkey, Iran, Democratic Republic of the Congo, etc.

What we hope you will discover is a genuine caring for the students. And a real challenge in learning how to speak foreign languages. Both are understandable.

So let’s see what Liz, Camella, Janet and Tammy have to say after a total of 24 years of opening the door of our ESL school to many, many international students.

And to be fair, we canvassed some current students for their thoughts. All happen to be from China.

LIZ MACEDO

Student Services Coordinator

Joined CultureWorks in 2008

“Oh jeez, when I first started, it was very difficult. I was not used to the accents. I couldn’t understand anything they were saying, so it was a lot of hand signals, trying to figure things out. Now, I totally know what they are saying. That was hard.

“At first, it was tough getting to know them. They were young. I was used to young people, but not international students. So I didn’t really know what kind of obstacles they were facing before they arrived. But now I know and understand them a lot better.

“The whole culture shock thing (was difficult) — the single child households, as opposed to our Saudi students with multiple siblings. Real huge differences. And just knowing how to react differently with those different groups.

“For the most part, they are all really great kids. You always get that one or two. They are great kids. The thing that I notice is that young people are the same no matter what part of the world they come from. I think I can relate to that because I have kids — or I had kids at that time at that same age.”

CAMELLA MACKINNON

Finance and Administration Associate

Joined CultureWorks in 2010

“Sometimes, (the students) don’t understand what an invoice is or tuition or a bill. It can be a little bit funny getting them to understand what I am asking them for. Usually, they do come around and we figure it out.

“There are always some excuses, you know. It’s not the typical ‘my grandmother passed away.’ But there are also funny things that they come up with, but generally on the whole the London students are very responsible.

“It was really quite different coming from a corporate background to dealing with students, but it’s been interesting and it’s been fun. Most of the students are a lot of fun and it’s really nice getting to know students from different cultures.

“My pronunciation is much better now than when I started. I know that ‘X’ means ‘shu’. So I have grown into that part. But yes, it’s a little better than when I started. I always ask them ‘did I pronounce your name correctly’ and ‘how do you say it,’ so it makes them kind of laugh at me the way I pronounce words. But yes we have a pretty good rapport.”

Students at our ESL school share their experiences at the CultureWorks Head Office, also sometimes called the “White House”

JANET BURTON

Registrar

Joined CultureWorks in 2014

“We have had some pretty interesting discussions going back and forth, especially for students applying on their own. Obviously, this is their second language and so interpretation of what I have asked for. But in the end, we seem to manage to get through it after multiple emails and the best thing is to get that final confirmation that they understand everybody has arrived safely. So that is always the best.

“A lot of times I will just bring out a copy from a different student to give them an example. It’s kind of funny when you are only trying to show them what a sealed stamped envelope looks like, but trying to translate that sometimes does not come through. So just showing them what it looks like works probably a 100-per-cent better.

“In most cases, it is to insure that they understand that they are required to complete certain steps by a certain time, especially for their (university) offers to stay valid with our partners. So trying to assist them to receive the documents from their home countries in the formats that the universities require can sometimes be a little tricky in translating.

“I am excited when they have applied to a program and received an offer. They are so excited to feel that they can move forward with their plans to do their post-graduate studies. Any way that I can assist them in reaching that dream or goal is amazing.”

TAMMY CHAPMAN

Administration Assistant.

Joined CultureWorks in 2017.

“I didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to adjust to understanding them and finding ways to work about that barrier of me not being able to understand. So I have learned to ask a lot of people for emails. If you could email me your question, I can understand and I can respond. I have found that is the best way.

“I have learned a little bit about the enunciation and how different it is. Different letters. Even their test is spelled H U I K A O, I would never have known it is pronounced HEEKOW. So things like that in learning different letters and how they sound. So I am learning a little bit.

“You know what my favourite thing is now? I have been here for almost two years. It is that they know my name now. I see them out on campus when I am out walking and they say ‘Hi Tammy.’ I love it.

I love that they know me. I love going on class trips with them and getting to know them more than one on one, not just administration stuff.

“I love them. I think they are great. I often say, too, I think I have a lot of respect for them. They have come to a completely different country, different culture, different language at age of 17, or 18. I could never have done that. It’s taken a lot of guts, so I really admire them. I respect them a lot.”

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