Diverse Voices: An Interview with ELP Students

By Sarah Bangley, Chatham Undergraduate Student, ELP Intern

ELP Students, Summer 2016

Every year, students from around the world come to study at Chatham through the English Language Program. I recently sat down with students from Vietnam, Mali, Saudi Arabia, and India to discuss their experiences at Chatham.

We began our discussion with some of the differences between Chatham and their home school. The buildings on Chatham’s campus were a particular focus of comparison. A student who wished to remain anonymous said, “In Vietnam, we have to study in a small school. We don’t even have a student lounge. There are not as many buildings as here.” Hassana, from Mali, added, “Here, it is more developed than my school— for example, the computer and projector. In my home, it is just starting to be developed.” Bholika shared a larger-scale comparison of school systems: “In India, we have four year undergraduate programs and two year Master’s programs. Admission is based on 12-standard score— if we have a good score, we can go to a good university. But here, you can go to any school you want.”

I asked each of them about the issues they faced when speaking English. They expressed their own personal difficulties. The student from Vietnam told me, “When I want to talk with someone, but I will think in Vietnamese first.” Hassana encountered a similar issue: “[English] is kind of like French, but not really. I still pronounce some words like French.” For Bholika, English slang proved to be a hurdle, especially when she couldn’t find the meaning through Google. Abdullah, from Saudi Arabia, mentioned a class he took to help with that issue: “I went to Point Park and took an idiom class, and actually it’s helpful when people speak, like “piece of cake.” I didn’t understand idioms before.”

On the topic of idioms, two students provided me with sayings from their home countries. In Vietnam, they say: “Mot hon da trung hai con nhan,” which is similar to the English idiom “hit two birds with one stone.” Bholika told me, “One of the best idioms about mom is: ‘Ma te ma bija badha vagda na va.’ It means something like without mom you cannot do anything. Mom is the best character in your life.”

Although ELP students came here to study, they also find time to have fun. We talked about their favorite activities both on and off campus. All of them happily mentioned the field trips they took to visit some of Pittsburgh’s landmarks. Bholika in particular enjoyed museums. She said, “I like to visit museums, because I really want to know about your culture, and from museums, I can know something about your culture.” She recently visited the Andy Warhol museum. The student from Vietnam said she liked to go to the cinema for fun. “I watch cartoon movies— especially cartoon movies, like Meet the Robinsons, Finding Nemo, and Finding Dory.”

But for all the work ELP students put in, they still feel disconnected from Chatham’s community. Some only had friends within the English Language Program; others had brief encounters with other Chatham students. Hassana mentioned, “I haven’t had any trouble with the students. They are all friendly. Because I am from Africa, they are interested in my customs.” But Abdullah told me, “The other students don’t talk with me. I guess they don’t want to lose their time.” Part of this disconnect stems from the amount of time the ELP students spend here— the student from Vietnam had only spent three or four months at Chatham.

So what can we do as fellow Chatham students to include these lively, diverse voices in our community? Start small: take time to say hello to international students! Attend events hosted by International Affairs. Even better, become a conversation partner through ELP! In the brief time I spent chatting with these students, I brushed the surface of a vast pool of fascinating experiences just waiting to be shared. I hope future ELP students will have a chance to share their perspectives with the greater Chatham community.

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