Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Lee Fair and the English Language School - we have the best!

Tuesday afternoon, Lee Fair met with my Intercultural Communications class to speak about all his endeavors with international issues, and told us about his life's journey from a lone white high school student on an all Native-American campus to being the Training Supervisor of all ELS teachers across the world, bringing the best of the best to Dominican University.

Fair, originally from Oklahoma, started his path to international affairs as a high school exchange student in New Mexico, with all Indian and Mexican students. It was government subsidized, and he couldn't eat at the cafeteria, and had to pay a lot extra for things he, as a white student, was not eligible for.

The culture was vastly different from the typical southern American life: "One of the first nights I was with my host family, I was taking a bath and my host mother walked right in, sat on the toilet, and started having a conversation with me!" he laughed, gesturing how he had sat up awkwardly in the tub, trying to cover himself. "I didn't know what to say, so I just responded, 'Si, como no?' to everything she said!" [Si, como no translates to "Sure, why not?" in English]

In the 1960s, after the assassination of President Kennedy, many young people were looking to make a difference in the world and promote peace. Fair, in his early 20s, decided to join the Peace Corps. He requested to go to an island nation, and was instead deployed to Afghanistan. He says the experience changed his life and he absolutely would do it again if he had to, falling in love with the Persian culture and lifestyle.

After his time in the middle east, became interested in library science and decided to pursue his Master's Degree. "I figure, I know nothing, but I can find everything," he told us, jokingly.

But then he realized that he could teach English to international students, got his degree certification at Concordia, and began working for the multi-national English Language Schools. Owned by a company called Berlitz, the ELS program is the largest English training school, "and the best in the world," Fair added. "There are 50 alone in the United States!"

He started the ELS program at Concordia, then brought it here to Dominican over 20 years ago--and the rest is history.

"We're not simply teaching English," Fair told my class. "We're teaching them communication, the nuances and semantics of language." It's so much more than just vocabulary.

Judging from my experiences with my international students from Colombia and Ecuador, the program is doing fantastic. And at $2500 per month, it better be! At times, I can hardly believe that my new friends have been here for only a few months--their English gets better every week I meet with them. My group is wonderful, and I'm so thankful for Lee Fair and the ELS program for giving us the opportunity to create meaningful relationships with people who are so different from me, yet very similar.

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