Inside Southampton's ESL Class by Becky Dion

Welcoming the Stranger’s Tuesday morning ESL class got off to a great start at their new location at Southampton Friends Meetinghouse.  Returning students and volunteer teachers love the extra space that allows for the larger group to break down into smaller groups to meet students’ needs.  In addition, the lighting is wonderful in this old farm house’s spacious rooms, making for an engaging learning environment.

Our winter session was very productive.  Students of all levels participated in a seven unit medical lesson, learning about when and where to go for medical treatment, what to expect at the ER, what information to take to fill out forms, medical insurance, the right to ask for a translator and how translator services may be provided, how to make an appointment with a doctor, how to describe symptoms, fill a prescription, read the prescription label, and alternative treatments. Students said this was a very helpful series and that they are more knowledgeable and confident about using medical services.   

One of the students’ favorite lessons was a large group discussion in which each student and teacher pointed out on a world map where they were born and lived in their birth country.  Students were eager to hear about the experiences of each other and asked many questions. During this session when it was the teachers’ turns, retirement came up. Lo and behold, such a simple thing, but we teachers totally missed that the students did not really understand what “retired” meant, so the conversation took a turn as teachers explained what that was and how retirement worked in the United States.  Teachers, in turn, learned that for many of our students, retirement ages differ by gender and often occurs at an earlier age that in the United States.

Students and teachers celebrated WTS’s 20th Anniversary with a little party and made a card for WTS that included pictures, some of which the students brought in from their countries of origin, and best wishes written by all.  

We have many Eastern European, Asian students, and South American students at this location.   The students are so appreciative of all the teachers who work with them. Shilin who is from China wrote a very heartfelt letter expressing her gratitude.  The night before, she practiced reading the letter with her husband George. During the class Shilin read her letter to the teacher and her fellow students, as George proudly watch and made sure that everyone knew that the words were Shilin’s alone.  An excerpt from her letter follows:

“I am very lucky to attend the English class supported by WTS (Welcome The Stranger). Thank you very much for all teachers' hard work. In two months of learning, I learned a lot. Before I attended this class, I didn't dare to talk to other people, and now I 'm not afraid of talking.”

From letters, kind words, and smiles that melt hearts while they learn together, the students and teachers bridge differences and forge bonds with each other.

At Southampton the team of volunteers is a group of retired women with Becky Dion as lead teacher and Sherry Eichert and Linda Wentzel.  While Becky is the lead teacher, this is truly an equal endeavor, as all teachers contribute to the curriculum, bring worksheets and ideas to class, and act as supports for each other when each is leading the class.  We are lucky to have Sherry who has years of experience teaching ESL at Bucks County Community College. Through WTS Sherry is able to continue to interact with immigrant students. Sherry says, “. . .the dynamics of Tuesday’s Southampton class shows how much our students and teachers enjoy coming together to learn and socialize.  It is a pleasure to watch our students improve their language skills and grow in self-confidence. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to learn and grow with them.”

Linda, too, brings her experience and skills to WTS after a long career in the computer world.  Through WTS Linda is able to befriend and communicate with people from all over the world. Linda says, “As volunteers we receive a real sense of accomplishment watching the effort undertaken by the students and then observing them improve throughout the sessions; their confidence builds.  It is an honor to welcome these strangers into our country.

Becky comes from a career in psychotherapy and social work as a director of several programs.  Helping others comes naturally and is what she finds most rewarding. So, “volunteering with WTS is perfect! “ Becky says, “It Is both an honor and a privilege working with the students, who share their lives with me and the other teachers and students.  Whether it is just one class or many classes where positive connections are created, you do not know the full impact that your helping relationship will have on another human being, as those same people who you may only interact with and know for a short period, go on to care for and influence others in their personal lives by taking their experiences with you with them.  I may never know how much or how deeply I’ve touched their lives, but what I do know is kindness, respect and leading a helping hand are powerful and are felt long after they are given. Working with WTS students and volunteers brings me joy.”

Meg Eubank