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Achieving their goals

ESL program helps students and families grow in unexpected ways

Student Life

By Elizabeth Furey

Memorial’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program recently opened up its classes to spouses of students and it’s already having a big impact on its participants.

From left are Claudia and Javier Diaz, students in the IEP and IBP programs.
Photo: submitted

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing the ESL program to lose four summer programs, the team decided to turn the challenges into positive outcomes by offering the open spots to the spouses of international students.

“We are so pleased with the interest and engagement we’ve received,” said Dr. Sonja Knutson, interim director of the ESL program and director of the Internationalization Office.

“Supporting Memorial’s international families is important work, improving the retention of these families both to the university and the province.”

Gained much more

Javier Diaz, a student in the Intensive Bridge Program (IBP) during the fall 2019 semester, is one of those students.

He and his wife, Claudia, came to St. John’s from Argentina last August in order for Javier to fulfill his dream of attending Memorial University and study in the Faculty of Science.

“I also learned strategies about how to build strong relationships with classmates from different cultures and academic staff.” — Javier Diaz

Before he could begin his program however, he was required to complete the program’s English admission entry requirement. While his main goal for completing the IBP was to be admitted to the program, he says he gained much more than he initially intended.

“I improved not only the reading, writing and listening skills demanded by teachers and faculties with different expectations,” said Mr. Diaz. “I also learned strategies about how to build strong relationships with classmates from different cultures and academic staff.”

Labour market requirements

Those skills were ones that Javier’s wife, Claudia, would gain, too.

Claudia Diaz participating in her IEP virtual classes.
Photo: submitted

When she arrived in Canada last year, Ms. Diaz knew she needed to improve her English fluency in order to enter the local labour market.

When the ESL program opened up its classes to spouses of students, and having heard such positive feedback from her husband about the program and the instructors, Ms. Diaz was eager to participate, as well.

She recently began the Intensive English Program (IEP) and is taking virtual classes in Level 4 of the program.

“I remember the day I received the email from the family program officer . . . I was very excited!”

‘Learned from other cultures’

The Intensive English Program runs for 12 weeks, plus a week of orientation and placement testing before the program begins, covering a wide range of topics like writing, conversation and Newfoundland and Labrador and Canadian culture.

“The teachers are amazing. I have improved my speaking, listening, writing and vocabulary skills and have learned note-taking techniques in class,” said Ms. Diaz. “I have met wonderful people and I have learned from other cultures.”

“Some of the spouses are even interested in pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees at Memorial.” — Francesca Boschetti

Francesca Boschetti, associate director of the ESL program, says opening up the semester-long IEP and IBP programs resulted in an overwhelming response.

“Some of the spouses are even interested in pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees at Memorial,” she said. “We are so delighted to have provided them with a chance to improve their English skills and help them succeed in the academic and work environment. Students are loving the experience.”

With the skills and knowledge she has gained from the program, Ms. Diaz hopes to put them to good use in her future career.

“This opportunity has been unique for me. Having worked professionally for non-profit organizations, one of my dreams is working as a fundraiser in St. John’s. This course has allowed me to improve my English and for that reason, I know that I will be able to achieve my goal.”

The ESL program is currently accepting applications for the fall semester, which runs from Sept. 8-Dec. 4, 2020. They are also offering virtual social events for students in the Intensive English Program (IEP), Intensive Bridge Program (IBP) and participants in the ESL conversation partner program. You can learn more about the ESL program and its offerings here

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