By Kate Kerbrat
Entirely East Lansing staff member
Mary Lou Turnbull is one of the first people that international students at East Lansing High School get to work with. As the ESL—English as a Second Language—teacher for both the high school and middle school, she has worked with a variety of students from around the world.
“Here at the high school I have a student from Iran, from Sierra Leone, one from Peru, one from Cuba, two from Syria, two from Aruba, two from China,” said Turnbull. “There’s no one dominant group that comes to East Lansing. We get students from all over the world.”
Turnbull said students from nations where westernization has influenced the schooling systems, acclimating to living in the United States is rarely a problem. In fact, for students who are used to more rigorous demands in their education, it can be downright easy. But for students without that background, the move to East Lansing can be difficult.
“For some students where their education system has been less rigorous than ours has, or attendance in school has been less than regular, it’s been a big adjustment,” said Turnbull. “The concepts of having to do homework every single day, or participate in class and interacting with other students, language barriers aside, there’s a big shift in the learning style for those students.”
Another adjustment for most students coming to the United States is passing time between classes. In many other countries, students stay in one room all day while the teachers move around.
“They get marked tardy a lot when they first move here,” said Turnbull.
Mobin Arbab moved from Iran to the United States two and a half years ago. Arbab, who came to the United States for religious freedom, sees himself as a typical teenager. He played for the East Lansing football team and enjoys going to see movies with friends. When he first came to East Lansing though, there were many things to get used to.
“Each part is kind of hard and easy. But for me, the hardest part was speaking English, because I didn’t speak any of the language,” said Arbab. “I only spoke Persian and a little Turkish.”
For the first two months of his time in East Lansing schools, Arbab had to go to the middle school to learn basic English in Turnbull’s ESL classes there. He would go to the high school in the morning before going to the middle school for the rest of the day.
Other students came to the United States with a strong background in English. Freshman Ruichen Xia has lived in East Lansing for two months after moving here from Beijing. Xia likes to play tennis with people in her neighborhood, and she just joined the theater club.
Unlike others in the ESL program, Xia learned English in Beijing, and can speak at an advanced level. However, she said she feels she still needs to improve her skills.
“I want to practice my English more, and also learn more about the culture and make new friends,” said Xia.
Turnbull encourages her students to join extracurricular groups. She said that by hanging around native speakers, her students were more likely to improve their language skills, and also make new friends.
“The American students treat the ESL students quite well I think, especially in East Lansing. We’re really accustomed to having students from other cultures,” said Turnbull.
The teachers in East Lansing are also very supportive in accommodating their diverse student population.
“Our system is supportive, we know when Ramadan is, or Diwali is, the holidays my students are participating in,” said Turnbull. “We have a mass email that goes off to all the teachers reminding them to allow them to give students a bit of extra time—not just mine, but any who are in those cultural groups within our schools.”