English as a Foreign Language Program Teaches More Than Proficiency
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, March 26, 2012 23:03
For students like Maha Assubaiai, leaving behind culture, family and language to learn English was a difficult but necessary step in her plan to become a member of the small but rapidly growing group of professional women in Saudi Arabia.
Assubaiai, who joined Georgetown’s English as a Foreign Language Program in August, came to the university to become fluent in English. After completing the EFL Program, she plans to eventually earn her master’s degree in counseling at an American university due to the educational prestige of the United States. She then hopes to teach at a Saudi university or start her own business.
“The people in my country need [professional counselors] a lot. It’s a very conservative culture and they’re facing a lot of things. ... It’s causing a lot of problems. They need someone to help them, especially nowadays,” Assubaiai says.
Although Assubaiai has unique aspirations to make a difference in her country as a professional woman, her story is not unlike the goals and dreams of many other EFL students.
In order to be accepted to Georgetown University as an undergraduate, international students must demonstrate a fluent or near-fluent proficiency on the Test of English as a Foreign Language, by achieving a near-perfect score. But through its EFL Program, the university’s doors are also open to students who do not meet this criterion. With the ultimate goal of attending an American university after bringing their language skills up to par, about 150 students from more than 30 countries currently take English classes at Georgetown through the program.
For 80 to 90 percent of them, according to Sigrun Biesenbach-Lucas, an instructor for the Center for Language Education and Development and head of the College Application Workshop, learning English is one of the necessary steps they must take in order to earn an American master’s or doctorate degree — and with it the power to make huge changes in their countries.
“English is the first-rank language. Books, inventions, everything. All of them in English. How may I know about anything? A newspaper? It’s in English. Even medicine. If I want to take a medicine, I have to read it in English,” says Fahad Alghamdi, an EFL student who eventually hopes to become a heart surgeon.
SAME PLACE, DIFFERENT REASONS
Alghamdi and his roommmate, Manaf Shata, both hail from Saudi Arabia, which boasts the highest number of students in the EFL Program.
Through a Saudi program supported by King Abdullah, top students in the country are given a full scholarship to travel to the United States for higher education.
“[The scholarship] is only for the people that get the highest score in high school, undergraduate or graduate school. If you get the scholarship, who doesn’t want to go?” Shata says. “[The Saudi government] gives you a salary per month, which is how you take care of yourself, pay for your food, your homestay. They give you 100 percent insurance, the tickets to go back home and come back to the U.S. and the tuition and fees for college and tests.”
Aminta Elena Perez De La Guardia also chose to move to Washington, D.C., from Panama to advance her education.
“I chose Georgetown, because in Panama it’s the most known program and they say it’s really good, so they recommended it to me,” she says.
Ryota Emman, 39, a political news reporter for a Japanese newspaper, The Asahi Shimbun, was sent to Georgetown for a different reason. The Asahi Shimbaum sent Emman to the United States to study English and politics, and he hopes to someday work as a correspondent for the Washington or New York bureau of his newspaper.
It wasn’t easy for Pierre Rogy to adapt to American culture upon his Hilltop arrival in August.
“It was very, very hard to adapt to American culture. In France, we are more free than here,” he says.
Last year, Rogy’s family moved from a suburb of Paris to Bethesda, Md., because of his father’s work for World Bank. Although Rogy took English classes at his high school in France, he decided to enroll in Georgetown’s EFL Program in order to reach proficiency before applying to college in the U.S. or Canada.