“I arrived at this city with my husband last autumn. Before we came here, we lived in a very beautiful small town in Tennessee. Most of the people there were Americans. English is almost the only language that was used in that town. Like most Chinese people my age, I learned English almost from childhood. We spent lots of time reading and learning English grammar but we seldom had a chance to practice our speaking and listening. When I came here, I found that speaking and listening were a big problem. When I read, yes, it was easy, but when I listened everything was different from what I learned at school. The problem was becoming more and more severe. I felt very nervous because I couldn’t communicate well with others. And language is almost the only tool for communication. I decided I should practice my language and began to search material online. I learned things, but it was boring to study alone. My husband told me that religion is a part of American culture and life. I didn’t associate with any religions before but I didn’t refuse to learn and communicate with believers. I thought I could go to church to learn something about American culture, practice my listening and speaking, and find out what I could do for others. It’s so difficult for me to learn unfamiliar things, though people were so kind to help me. When we moved to Fayetteville, I decided to find a language school to learn English. One day my husband told me his colleagues had told him there was a language school called OLC near his office. We thought we could go there and have a look. We didn’t realize that everything would change after I entered the school.
I’ve been at OLC almost one year. I practice and improve my English here. It’s not an ordinary language school, it’s like a big family. We learn and enjoy the atmosphere here. Every morning I am the first student to arrive at school. Teachers here are so nice and students are from different countries. I was a medical professor in China for more than 10 years but it was so exciting for me to sit in a classroom and study like a student again. I learned not just the language but also the history and culture, which help me to understand America differently. I still remember the first class I took here was Paul’s class. He gave us a lesson about American pop music. I had heard some about American music but I didn’t think that I liked it—too noisy. But Paul introduced the background and history of the music. When I learned that, American music meant something different to me than before. ‘Ah! This music is very interesting! It also has a kind of history.’
My classmates are from all over the world. We use our different “Englishes” to talk to each other. It is an amazing feeling and experience. Now, other countries’ names are not just a name, a word to me. They have vivid and diverse meanings. Two of our students are from Iran and Saudi Arabia. When they first came and met each other at OLC, one would say something and the other would challenge him because of their different cultures. But after studying together for a very long time, they became very close friends. I am often touched by such things and also have learned to care about world events. I think the most important thing I learned here is thinking for myself. I used to just listen to my teachers, my parents, and my bosses. I didn’t care about, ‘is it right? Is it correct?’ But now I think for myself.
There are other students from China that study here at OLC who have more trouble with English than I. It’s really difficult for them to live a normal life. When we had class, I would translate everything that the teacher said to them. Some wished to quit the class because they felt it was too difficult for them. Then, Mina [our program director] came to me with a suggestion: ‘Can you teach them and help them?’ I said that I could try. Eventually I had five students; I taught them and saw their progress. They would say, ‘Today I learned which door is exit and which is entrance;’ ‘Yesterday I found the restroom myself.’ If they don’t know the signs, they don’t know which restroom is for men and women, or even which door is pull or push. I think I can use my teaching experience to help people, which is very exciting. I never knew that volunteering in America was popular until I got here. I got a lot of help from others when I came here first and now I want to do something to help others. My husband encouraged me. He said, ‘Perhaps you cannot be a physician, but you can do something good for society and for your community.’ It makes me feel satisfied. You learn something, you give that to another student, and you hope to improve their life.”