ESL program creates roundtable discussion for international students

St. John’s is proud to be one of the most diverse universities in the country, with a high number of international students coming to the University.

But it is sometimes hard for these students to acclimate to life at St. John’s, because of the language barrier they may face.
Dr. Herbert Pierson, chairperson of the Department of Languages and Literatures, has worked with students and the administration to create a program where these students can come and talk without any pressure in response to the language barrier.

Along with Millard Yoder, assistant director of the University’s ESL program, Pierson has created a safe haven of sorts for international students to come and express themselves.

Every Tuesday during Common Hour, dozens of international and American students gather in St. John’s Hall for a roundtable discussion and a chance to get to know each other.

Sitting in small groups, students talk about everything, from classes to vacations, to homework to weekend plans.
The conversations cover a wide range of topics, but a common question is how everyone ended up at St. John’s.

Yoder said that one of the challenges international students face is socializing. Pierson said this roundtable allows students a causal way of socializing.

“Students are able to interact with each other in a more social setting, which allows people to open up more than they normally would,” said Pierson.

Yoder and Pierson feel that the discussions have allowed many of these students the opportunity to meet people and learn.
The students, both American and international, also said they feel that the discussions have had an impact.

Ming Yan, a freshman, believes that the discussions are a good opportunity for international students.

“We can meet many new friends, and practice our English,” said Yan.

“Also, we can meet other international students to share our cultures.”

Students are surrounded by different cultures, which they may or may not choose to explore.

The roundtable discussions allow St. John’s students to see the diversity that is happening immediately within their community.

“Being in Jamaica, Queens, puts the University community right at the heart of diversity,” said Pierson.

Many students talk about exploring New York City, as well as other countries they have been to. It also allows the international students to learn about American culture.
Pierson encourages all students to come and partake in the discussions.

He has made it part of the curriculum for his Discover New York classes, counting it as academic service learning.

He said he feels that the American students are contributing to the program’s success with their enthusiasm and participation, and should receive the proper credit for that.

When planning the sessions, Pierson and Yoder strategize on how to get American students interested and to stay involved.

However, as the weeks went on, it became obvious that the students enjoyed coming and talking with their peers.

“It’s amazing how much the American students enjoy it,” said Pierson.

He said that many students have approached him about expanding the discussions, even increasing their frequency.

Both Yoder and Pierson said they believe that the roundtables are a positive experience, helping bridge the gap between the University’s international and American students.

This feeling is echoed by the students who show up every week.

Diana Morales, a freshman, said she enjoys talking to her fellow students and has noticed a difference.

“I see a big improvement, see how their English skills have improved,” she said.
Many of the international students feel the same. Vivian Cheng, a graduate student, believes that the practice has helped her become more fluent in both the English language and American culture.

The roundtables are held every Tuesday during Common Hour in St. John’s Hall, room 212.