Unknown to many domestic students attending UMBC, the English Language Institute, or ELI, is the de-facto home to UMBC’s international students. Located above Chick-fil-A and Starbucks on the second floor of the University Center, the ELI has programs and events that aid in the integration of the domestic student and international student population. Among these are the Conversation Café and the Conversation Partner Program.
The Conversation Partner Program is a language and cultural exchange program that aids both participating parties in increasing awareness of different cultures and generally helps to integrate domestic students and students studying English at the ELI. The Conversation Café is held every Thursday in UC 201B from 3:45 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Café is an opportunity for both ELI students and domestic students alike to meet casually, chat and participate in fun activities.
Despite the entertaining and interesting programming the ELI regularly offers, students besides friends of the international community do not seem to be aware of its existence. The ELI advertises its programs regularly through Instagram, Facebook, and MyUMBC and even has its own webpage through UMBC’s internet portal. With such an online presence, it is interesting to note that the Conversation Partner Program and, to a lesser extent, the Conversation Café, are not taken as seriously by all UMBC students as the participating international students.
Ching-An Wu, a level 5 ELI student, described how the ELI does its best to invite UMBC students to programs such as International Days, the Conversation Café, and the Conversation Partner Program. However, students are not taking advantage of all of the enriching activities that the ELI has to offer. Wu explained that, “My first partner… I waited for two months [before I was assigned a partner]… that’s almost half a semester.”
Since studying a foreign language is not a prerequisite for volunteering and those participating only have to meet with partners once a week, it is not an arduous process, so the dearth of volunteers is surprising.
For a little bit more commitment each week, students participating in the Conversation Partner Program can coordinate hours through the Shriver Center and even receive service-learning hours. Still, the larger UMBC community is not taking advantage of all that the ELI, its programs and its friendly staff and students have to offer. With this lack of participation can come a lack of awareness of our international and ever-changing global society.
The ELI’s tab in the International Education Services webpage reads, “The ELI…assists UMBC as a whole by providing cross cultural services in an ever-changing world.” This could not be more accurate, so it is all the more unfortunate that the UMBC community at large is not as involved with the ELI as they could be. As a result, students cannot reap the rewards of living a more enriched, culturally-aware, and internationally-minded life.