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Catching Two Birds with One stone: the ESL Program of Wesley

3:00 p.m. On Friday, the silence of a hallway in the Wesley student foundation is broken by the sound of a clear and warming voice from Pastor Julie, hearing from the conference room. I, a communication intern assigned to explore the international programs run by the foundation, timidly approach the door for approval to come in and participate. A sight that immediately greets the shy and nervous intern as she walks into the room are the welcoming and enthusiastic students sitting around the table, saying hello to the latecomer with friendly smiles on their faces. Kindly offering a seat next to her for the intern, Pastor Julie continues the lecture of the day. The class’s goal is to learn about some useful idioms and Groundhog Day, a national tradition of the United States celebrated on February 2nd every year.

The ESL program I participated in as an intern and could learn more deeply thanks to the interview with Eun-Ha Kim, one of the diligent participants of the program, is held every Friday in the Conference room under the lead of Pastor Julie. Eun-Ha Kim is one of the Korean students in this program, who has been attending this regular meeting for more than 10 months and has abundant experiences of learning from other different ESL programs in Champaign. The best quality of Wesley’s ESL program Eun-Ha points out, besides learning English and communicating with various international students in English, is that it provides opportunities for students to gain knowledge about American cultures and participate in various local events.

Eun-Ha recalls her own joyful experiences of going on picnics and rafting as part of an extracurricular activity in the program, describing the experiences as ‘a great opportunity to catch two birds with one stone.’ She could not only socialize with the students in the program and share useful information about learning English, but also made herself familiar with different cultures and local events she learned in the class. According to Eun-Ha, Wesley’s ESL program is not just an English class that provides quality learning opportunities, but a valuable stepping stone to broaden cultural perspectives and socialize within the community that share similar goals-to learn English and seek good friends to get along with.

After the regular meeting hour from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Friday ends, most of the students who are willing to spend more time talking in English or get along with peers gladly move to a coffeehouse in church called ‘ETC.’ Eun-Ha is one of the students who frequently use the coffeehouse as a place to not only have conversation with more proficient or native English speakers, but also to share their own knowledge and skills with anyone who is interested. “Having fun and talking with peers in ETC is like an extension of the ESL program. Socializing and learning English are always available in this place after the regular meeting time.“ One of the things Eun-Ha has been deeply impressed with is that every Friday after the regular meeting hours, Pastor Julie kindly saves a place in the coffeehouse for the ESL students to let them use it as a space to gather and spend time with each other.

At the coffeehouse, students never hesitate to not only help each other improve English by becoming conversation partners for someone in need, but also teach their native language to other international students who are interested in learning different languages. “It is not just English that we learn in the ESL class every Friday,” Eun-Ha says. “A valuable lesson of Friday’s ESL class is that language should be a bridge to connect people from different cultural and national backgrounds, which I would say is one of the biggest takeaways from the class for me and many other students.”

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