Unfamiliar Territory

In the spring semester of 2014, I studied abroad in Mendoza, Argentina. With the goal being Spanish language immersion, I stayed with a host mom who did not speak a single word of English. Even though I was an intermediate Spanish speaker prior to departure, living in a non-English speaking country was frustrating and felt isolating, at times. Still, I was surrounded by a group of aides and friends to support me.

Now, imagine a recent migrant woman from Mexico, with her three kids, living in Adams county without knowing a single word of English. It is hard to imagine how isolating being thousands of miles away from home without knowing a single word of the language must feel.

One of the things I was most excited to be involved with prior to the start of the summer was ESL. The classes started this week, and I was inspired by the energy and excitement with which the adults took on the class. The student who most stuck in my mind was Maria, who came into the classroom with her three kids. Maria did not know a single word of English, but she came in with a smile on her face and was eager to learn. I can only imagine the courage it takes to leave Mexico and come to Gettysburg without knowing English. It must feel extremely isolating and frustrating at times. I look forward to seeing her progression and growth as the classes continue.

In an ESL workshop I attended last week at the Migrant Education orientation, the workshop instructor came into the room and gave a thirty minute lesson on the rainforest in German. The point of the lesson was to demonstrate what an ESL student can go through. I was completely lost at first, and it was very frustrating. However, as the lesson progressed I started to pick up on words and sounds and it was extremely rewarding. The instructor stressed the importance of authenticity and drawing from the students’ backgrounds as a basis for fostering the learning process. It think this is something important to carry over to our ESL lessons.

These ESL classes are important for cross-cultural exchange. It is a phenomenal opportunity to help eager students learn English, and it is also a great opportunity for me to speak with native Spanish speakers and continue to improve my Spanish. In the United States today, Spanish is undeniably important, and it is great to be a part of a community in which one can hear both English and Spanish daily.

Nathan Cody ’16