By Julia LeDouxAugust 12, 2013
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - It's a scenario that American military families are familiar with: You've been assigned to a foreign country and you don't speak its language, know little about its culture and history, but it's going to be "home" to you and yours until the next set of orders sends you off to another locale.
Family members of International Fellows and select civilians - active duty military officers from foreign countries who are studying at the National Defense University on the Fort McNair portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall -- face a similar situation. A volunteer program at the university seeks to help them strengthen their English speaking skills while introducing them to the history, traditions and culture that make America unique.
Daniel Magalotti, the acting public affairs officer at NDU, said the English for Speakers of Other Languages or ESOL program consists of classes for children, young teens, young adults and spouses.
"Every year we hold a one-week program, this is only for the families," stressed Magalotti. "Officers [international fellows] themselves are enrolled in a writing course over the summer where they learn academic writing, university-level writing ... That's an actual course that NDU teaches."
Noting that there are 98 international fellows from more than 50 countries enrolled at the university this year, Magalotti said about 80 percent of the students bring their families with them.
"The ESOL volunteers teach them English for a week, but it's really about building communities and introducing the families to each other. It's really a great volunteer program and a way to reach out to the families. Our mission is primarily for the officers [fellows], but the families are here. We really want to build a community."
Lead instructor Fredericka "Freddie" Wall on July 30 condensed history and taught her group of spouses about what led up to the American Revolution.
"After a while, [the colonists] said 'I don't feel like I'm English anymore. I left England. I didn't like the king because he told me I had to go to his church, and I wanted to go to a different church. I really want to be separated from the king. I don't really want him to be my king anymore. He's over there, I'm over here,'" she said.
Along the walls of Wall's classroom were self-portraits that each woman had drawn. After the history lesson, Wall broke her class down into several groups and had the women discuss what they had just learned.
"It's great fun. We have fun," said Beatrice LaBorie, who is from France. "We're making new friends from other countries."
Volunteer instructor Eun Ju "Christie" Kim, who teaches ESOL to predominately Spanish-speaking students at a public school in Maryland, led her group of 6 to 9-year-olds in counting from one to 100 last week.
"This is my first time working with ESOL students from different countries and it's really interesting to see how they interact because they have to use English with each other," she said.
Maya Shafran Liss and Aakash Timmapurkar, students in Jori Beck's class for 10 to 14-year-olds, said the sessions were helping to improve their English speaking skills.
"It's helping," said Shafran Liss, 10, who is from Israel. "I didn't speak English in Israel. We really don't know to speak English."
"It's helping me to improve my vocabulary," agreed Timmapurkar, 12, who is from India.
Magalotti said the international fellows "really appreciate these family programs."