When Mohammed Al Hajji came to the United States, he spoke no English.
Al Hajji moved from Saudi Arabia to the United States to pursue a bachelorâ€™s degree in biomedical sciences. But without the CSUâ€™s Intensive English Program, IEP, he never would have been able to understand his teachers or read his textbooks.
Before completely throwing himself into his studies, he had to complete the IEP, which is designed to help students from foreign countries learn English in a fast-paced environment.
â€œ(IEP) is pretty intense,â€ Al Hajji said. â€œThatâ€™s what we needed.â€
IEP students work on a variety of skills, but practicing conversations in English is one of the most important parts for them, said Beth Cloven, IEP curriculum supervisor and coordinator for the Conversation Partner program.
To help students improve their skills more rapidly, the Conversation Partner program gives volunteers an opportunity to come to an IEP class and engage in English conversations with students.
Many IEP students go on to complete undergraduate and graduate programs at CSU or other American universities. Others simply join the program to learn English as a personal achievement.
â€œStudents come to us with various goals,â€ Cloven said. â€œOur purpose is to prepare students for whatever is coming next.â€
For the majority of IEP students, completing the program is a requirement to begin taking classes at CSU.
In the beginning it was hard for volunteers and students to communicate but, as time progressed, the task became easier. IEP students would often â€œbutcherâ€ English words and volunteers would have to figure out what they were trying to say, Al Hajji said with a laugh.
â€œThey would just bear with us and simplify their communication with us,â€ he added.
There are six levels in the program, ranging from beginning to advanced. For students who go through all levels of the program, it takes about one year. IEP students have class five days a week in grammar, reading, writing, listening and speaking.
Al Hajji started out at Valparaiso University in Indiana but was dissatisfied with the English program, he said. He considers CSUâ€™s IEP option to be unique and more effective than programs at other universities because of the conversations program and intensive approach to learning English.
The Conversation Partner program helped him make friends in a school where he knew no one and pick up the English language quickly, he said. During the program, Al Hajji spent time with volunteers in and out of class and is still close friends with some of the volunteers he met.
Volunteers for the conversations program are mainly students at CSU, but some are members of the Fort Collins community. Volunteers sign up for a time slot once a week for 80 minutes. They are expected to participate for five consecutive weeks.
Danielle Egeler, a junior international studies major, has volunteered with IEP off and on for the past three years. Her favorite part of working with IEP students is getting to connect with the international community.
Egeler studies Japanese and plans to become an English teacher in Japan after graduation. She helps Japanese students learn English in class, but outside of class they also help her learn Japanese.
Of the 219 students taking IEP this semester, 60 percent are between the ages of 17 and 22.
There are two terms per semester in the IEP program. At the advanced level, students can start taking regular CSU classes. Sections have no more than 14 students and conversation partners usually work in groups with one to three IEP students.
Students interesting in being a conversation partner can contact Cloven at email@example.com or 970-491-7900. They can sign up for a time on Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m. or 2 p.m., starting Oct. 27 and ending Dec. 1, or on Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. or 2 p.m., starting on Oct. 28 and ending Dec. 1.
Students and volunteers can benefit from a cultural exchange, Cloven said. IEP students have the opportunity to practice their skills and volunteers can meet new students and learn about their culture.
â€œWhen you get the international perspective, the whole world opens up to you,â€ Egeler said.
Staff writer Keeley Blakley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.