Castleton University has a very diverse campus filled with students from all different backgrounds, but one thing most take for granted is one of the biggest challenges for internationals.
For many of the university’s international students, English is not their first language. Castleton works to help these students become more comfortable with the language through created programs to develop proficiency in reading, writing, speaking and listening.
Adrienne Matunas coordinates one of these programs.
“I coordinate our Pathway Program for English language learners, and that is a program for Castleton students who are international students who are just below our admissions requirement for English,” she said.
The Pathway Program is a one-to-two semester program.
According to the Castleton University website, the program, “combines degree credit-bearing classes with developmental English language coursework to enable a student to pursue a degree from the University.”
“We also have a Conversation Partner Program,” Matunas said. “Students for whom English is not a first language will be matched with a native or near native English speaker … it is also a two-way cultural exchange.”
If you are an English speaker who would like to get involved in this program or are a non-English speaker who would like to talk more with an English speaker you can go to the International Students Office located above Coffee Cottage in Moriarty House.
There you can fill out a form and be matched up with your speaking partner.
“Learning another language is a life-long thing,” said Frank Wan, a junior international student from China.
Wan is very active on campus. He is a community advisor, math tutor and president of the Badminton Club.
He said he tries to help some of the other international students.
Shirley Benítez, an international student from Honduras, has had her share of struggles.
“I think there are a lot of challenges,” she said. “Before I came here, I thought that communication was going to be a challenge.”
Some of the international students find it difficult to understand their course work due to the language barrier. Benítez is one of those students.
“In classes, I like participating … I want to say something, but I don’t know how to explain it, so I just don’t participate,” she said.
She said that this is not always the case, but most of the time she does not know how to explain the main point she wants to get across, so she remains quiet.
“It frustrates me,” she said.
Bryce Diggs, a first-year student at Castleton, sees the struggles of some international students in his classes.
“I help the teacher when the international students need help in Spanish classes,” he said.
Diggs believes that the university does a good job of providing non-English speakers with the help they need.
“We have a very good international program here…I think that’s an amazing thing,” he said.
Although communicating through language is a big part of it, the culture shock international students face also plays a role when trying to get comfortable.
Irakli Iagorashvili, a first-semester international student from Georgia, is a good English speaker. But he says that the lifestyle of American students is hard to grasp.
“Sometimes it’s really hard to understand why people do certain things that we don’t do in my country,” he said.
Even something as small as taking off your shoes in a friend’s house. Something we wouldn’t think twice about, but in other cultures is not the norm.
“When I visited my friends here, I had to take off my shoes, and it was really uncomfortable for me,” he said.
Iagorashvili said he always likes to make sure what he is witnessing is not out of the ordinary.
“I always ask people … some things are really different,” he said.
Students on campus believe that non-English speaking international students benefit from talking and being around English speakers.
Benítez herself has taken notice to international students surrounding themselves with other international students.
“They hang out with international students because they feel identified … they feel that click,” she said.
“The more friendships you build, the more you’ll want to talk to them and the more it pushes them out of their comfort zone to learn the language,” Diggs said.
“One thing American students can do is invite international students to go to programs or activities on campus together … it’s a really great way to know international students and get to know other countries’ cultures,” Wan said.
Another thing that students can do is join The International Club on campus.
“The International Club is not just for international people, and I think that’s misunderstood,” Benítez said. “People think that the club is just for international students because of the name, but it’s for everybody.”
The International Club meets on Tuesdays from 12:30 to 1:30 in the World Languages Lounge in the bottom of Leavenworth Hall.
According to the Castleton University website over 36 countries are represented on campus.
If you would like to find out more about The International Club, you can go to their Facebook page “Castleton University International Students” to join today.