Imagine visiting a country and not knowing the language. Some of you may think of your cross-cultural trips. Now, imagine visiting a country, not knowing the language, or anyone else. You are alone, alone in a country that you have no ties to, other than the possibility of an education. This is the reality for many of the students in the Intensive English Program (IEP).
Professor Ervie Glick began the IEP in 1989, after inspiration from James and Doris Bomberger, who taught at a mid-level college in Japan. Glick carried on as director of the program until Mike Medley relieved him of his position in 1999.
In 2001, Medley was faced with the task of keeping EMU’s IEP alive after the setbacks imposed by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “Half of the intensive English programs in the United States went broke after that,” said IEP Director Kathleen Roth. “Ervie was the perfect person to start [the IEP] and Mike was the perfect person to keep it going despite the setbacks.”
Recently, Roth has dealt with similar issues. Following the 2016 presidential election, the IEP witnessed a sharp decline in the number of applicants. “Students from countries that we’ve never had trouble getting visas before were not getting visas,” she noted. Despite these difficulties, students are still participating in the program.
First-year Dorcas Kalunga finished the program last semester. “It definitely helped me learn English … I didn’t know how to write or speak English. It was really, really helpful,” she said.
Students enter the program and take an assessment to place them into classes ranging from levels I-VI, most students starting at levels III and IV. This assessment includes an oral, written, and computer portion. Students can also receive conversation partners. “I have been a conversation partner twice and I’ve also tutored an IEP student once,” junior Emma Stutzman said. “It opens you up to another culture … [and] I really like making people feel more at home.”
The conversation partners allow IEP students to connect with EMU students with whom they would not normally interact. Kalunga expressed the difficulty of meeting other EMU students while in the IEP. “It would be more interesting if EMU and IEP tried to organize some activities that bring students together because it’s the same school, but many students don’t even know about the IEP… We are EMU students, but we don’t really feel like EMU students,” she said.
The location of the IEP may be part of the reason for this disconnect. Although the IEP is located on the first floor of Roselawn, it seems removed from the rest of the building and campus. Those who do enter the department find a cozy lobby with an open doorway to a lounge on the right. In the lounge, a bulletin board labeled “The IEP Times” is on display with photos of various activities members have participated in, like the International Food Festival.
The IEP is a valuable aspect of EMU that should not be isolated from the rest of campus. Stutzman and Kalunga both want to bridge that divide. “We tend to gravitate towards people who are similar to us,” said Stutzman. “Find a couple of friends who have similar ideas as you and think of something brave to do, whether it’s becoming conversation partners or sitting at a table with people you don’t know.”