Some could argue that Springfield College is surrounded by its own bubble. Not that it’s a bad thing, but SC has been identified as a tight knit community, which has a lot of pride. To outsiders, it might be intimidating, but not for the 20 new Saudi Arabian students who have been residing on our campus since the middle of this summer.
“When we first came here, it was a little bit difficult, but it has become easier,” said Ali Almutairi, one of the group.
The whole process of getting these 20 students here happened roughly a year ago.
“We were approached about a year or so ago about our ability to bring in students who were interested in our Emergency Medical Services Management program, which is a big need in Saudi Arabia,” stated the director of the International Center, Deb Alm.
Over the past couple years, Springfield has proven they are one of the leading EMSM programs around. While SC was more than willing to take on the challenge, the thought of taking on one international student who didn’t know much English, let alone twenty, seemed a bit daunting.
Alm coordinated with the International Language Institute in Northampton and created the College Language and American Studies Program (CLASP).
“They will study with us in this intensive program for up to a year and a half,” Alm said. “The intent is as their English improves to the point where they can be successful, they [then] will matriculate into the EMSM program.”
Classes so far have been successful. All 20 students are split into two different groups, based on their level and how comfortable they are with the English language. With that, three hours each day are dedicated to speaking, reading, and writing English.
“We use and do English. We don’t learn about English,” said instructor with the International Language Institute (ILI), Danica Messerli. “We might have a short grammar presentation, but that isn’t what we focus on. We focus on a lot of speaking basically, but we also focus on reading and writing.”
ILI instructors Danica Messerli and Samira Artur work hard to make the classes fun and interactive, as well as informational. The twenty Saudi Arabian students first came to Springfield in July, when there weren’t many students on campus. But now that the semester has started, the students come in to class with an increasing number of interesting words they hear on campus.
“A whole bunch of new words came in yesterday. ‘Hey bro’ and all of those slang words. They’ve noticed that nobody actually says ‘hi’ or ‘hello.’ It’s all slang,” Messerli said.
“The other day I was asked about the word ‘swag.’ I couldn’t tell them because I didn’t even know what the word meant,” Artur said with a chuckle.
Learning English in an intensive program surrounded by a bunch of college students is intimidating, but immersing oneself into a completely different culture is also its own monster.
“They have very open minds,” said junior Katie Patrick, a Resident Assistant who worked closely with the group this summer. “It was scary at first for them, but they are doing great. I’ve never met a more polite group of men that are willing to learn.”
Alm and the rest of the International Center have been working hard to immerse the group into American culture as much as possible. Before the semester began, the group went to Boston, Washington D.C., and into the local community of Springfield several times.
“[We] liked Washington, better because of the museums,” said student Moaad Almuallimi.
They have also become more comfortable with other elements of American life, such as the clothing, food and coffee.
“They love to wear jeans,” Patrick said with a smile.
The Saudi Arabian students made it very clear they miss their beloved kabsa, a common rice dish served in Saudi Arabia. However, they have warmed up to the idea of Dunkin’ Donuts and can often be spotted in the Union ordering their coffees before their 8:00 a.m. class.
Another challenge the students are currently facing regards the big issue that fewer people in America like soccer.
“My least favorite part has been that people are not as interested in soccer here as they are in Saudi Arabia,” said Almutairi shaking his head in disappointment.
The group plans to start an intramural soccer team, once intramural begin.
“We hope to beat everyone,” Almutairi said with a grin. “We’ve played here many times with the American students, and the best team that we played we beat them 7-1.”
In the short month and a half they have been here, Almutairi, Alumuallimi and the other students from Saudi Arabia have made huge strides.
“I think they have made enormous progress in learning about how we do different things here. I think our campus has been particularly flexible, welcoming and warm. Was it always easy? No. They come from families, like many of our undergraduates and graduates, where they had their own room, they had their own bathroom, and then they come here and they have to live together in a community and in a residence hall with a lot of rules. They had to learn how to do that,” said Alm.
“There have been many incidents where I didn’t want to say something in fear that I would offend them, but they always say, ‘No, no, we want to know.’ They want to learn; they want to understand,” Patick said.
The students from Saudi Arabia have made light years of improvement in the past month. Their English has greatly improved, and their level of comfort in American culture is really shining through as well.
“We miss home, but we feel comfortable here,” said Almutairi. “It has gotten much easier.”