Staten Island, like the other four boroughs of New York City, represents a diverse ethnic fabric, with many people coming to the Island and the College of Staten Island to make better lives for themselves and their families, some eventually choosing to remain in the U.S., while others return to their home countries.
Some of these people, in particular, those who lack English language skills, become students at the College of Staten Island’s English Language Institute (ELI), where they are challenged and engaged while immersed in the language and culture of New York City.
Since 1984, nearly 5,000 people have been able to participate more fully in and with our society, thanks to the ELI and its exciting and innovative academic program for students learning English as a second language.
Nickolay Shevchenko, originally from Siberia, Russia, is an avid swimmer. His dream was to swim for a college in the United States. That dream came true when he was recruited by the CSI swim team. In order to improve his English for college admissions, he joined the ELI. When he came here in 2006, the only English words that he knew were “Hello” and “Thank you.” After finishing his course of study, he now speaks better than some students who were born here. As a CSI international student on the swim team, he has already set school records in the free style, butterfly, and medley. As a new member of the Dolphins, he has garnered six individual first-place finishes and another three in relay events. He also finished first at the ECAC Division III Championship. Nicholay, a business management major, has set his sites high in both academics and sports, and he hopes to pursue a career in the sports management field.
Georges Bouobda Tsemo, a native of Cameroon, joined the ELI in 2006. After finishing his course of study at the Institute, he was hired as a student aide at the Center for International Service. Georges also participated in a Naval Academy conference through Metro International, an organization promoting pluralism and diversity among the different colleges and universities in the Tri-State area. During the sessions, he was expected to represent viewpoints and generate possible solutions for the problems facing the countries of Eastern and Central Europe today. Georges is presently majoring in biochemistry at CSI and hopes to attend medical school upon graduation.
Georges recalls the impact that the ELI made on his life. “At the… Institute I did not just learn English, I also learned about American culture. In classes, I read books on how Americans live; I was taught how to behave in American society…I went to museums and learned about American art and society. I went to the Statue of the Liberty and received a lesson on American history. I did not just learn English and American culture at the…Institute, it is also the most fun I had [during] last two years; it is the place where I met my friends.”
Iranthi Peiris, originally from Sri Lanka, came to the U.S. four years ago. She was anxious to begin her nursing courses at CSI, but she needed to improve her English language skills. She joined the ELI and soon excelled in her studies. After completing the ELI program, she qualified for the nursing program. In just four short years, she has made amazing strides in reaching her goal. CSI recently saluted the 2008 nursing graduates with a special Lamp Ceremony and Nurse’s Pledge. Iranthi was chosen to be the student speaker. She was given the honor of representing the graduating class because of her outstanding academic record. After receiving her AAS degree, she is continuing her studies and hopes to complete her BSN degree in January 2009. She plans to take the licensure exam (NCLEX) in March and engage in practical training during the summer.
Other exemplary former students’ stories can be found online at www.csi.cuny.edu/international
The late Edmond Volpe, first president of the College of Staten Island, founded the Center for International Service in 1976 in order to foster and support international education and exchange. Soon thereafter, the ELI was established. Today the Institute offers CSI students from abroad and new members of the Staten Island community nine- and 14-week programs in English language and U.S. culture. In addition, the ELI works with partners around the world to create tailor-made programs for professionals who need grounding in our language and culture.
Barbara Murphy, Coordinator of the ELI, notes that the Institute serves a variety of people. “Many of the students who come to us have various reasons for coming. There are people who want to improve their skills to go on to college and we offer that service as a very nice transition from our program to the College. We have people in the community who come for various reasons, to improve their skills for business, or for just basic communication. Sometimes they take a full program; they might come for a partial program, depending on what their needs are.”
Future plans for the ELI include further development of the service learning program where visitors from abroad have the opportunity to volunteer at local agencies not only to learn the English language, but also to experience, first-hand, volunteerism in the U.S. A pilot program was launched in August of 2007.