While Elizabethtown is a small community, Elizabethtown Area High School is home to international students from numerous countries. These students are exchange students or immigrants, representing Mexico, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Honduras, Burma, Thailand, Spain, Germany, and Sweden, along with several others. Many of them are furthering their English education and taking advantage of opportunities here at Elizabethtown.
Mrs. Christina Oscsodal is the English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Elizabethtown. The ESL program focuses on supporting students who need help with learning and comprehending the English language. During her time teaching, Oscsodal sees her students grow in numerous ways. Students are tested into the program and from there, the school “monitor[s] their language acquisition” and “test[s] the language of the school” - the instructional language in each class, whether it is history, science, or math. Instructional language does not necessarily focus on a fluent conversation, which adds to the challenges ESL speakers face, as conversational English and instructional English are often very distinct.
Mrs. Oscsodal also sees her students using courage within the average classroom. She says that “when you’re speaking your second language you might be more timid” than in your first language, and yet her students have “learned to be . . . risk takers.” Raising a hand to speak is intimidating, as everyone is then listening to the student and his or her accent. It can be a challenge to overcome that obstacle.
International students face cultural differences within the school, as well. Bwet Psaw (11) said that “everything is different. In Thailand we ate lunch in our homes, and [and there] was no place to play sports at school or a nurse to help you if you got sick.” Each student faces unique challenges, and overcomes their challenges in different ways. For Bwet it took “a year to really begin to understand [her] teachers and classmates.” Many Elizabethtown students were friendly and willing to accept new students even with just a wave or a smile.
Similarly to many high school students, the international students did not just focus on academics. David Fry (10), from Mexico City, has “played soccer and . . . probably want[s] to play basketball.” Ignacio Bartolomé (11), also known as Nacho, from Spain, played for the soccer team this fall, and he is further enjoying the fitness classes that Etown offers such as Lifetime Activities. He is also glad that he “has the opportunity to make new friends.”
International students are still experiencing some of the same difficulties as other Etown students. For David, one of the most difficult parts of the transition to Etown “was waking up too early.” However, social opportunities and school involvement allow the international students to make friends and grow as individuals while living in the United States. International students and advocates agree that small acts of kindness from students and teachers alike can make the biggest difference in a person’s day.