The English Language Institute, located in the basement of Maag Library, is what many international students consider home. Several of these students can be found outside the library, chatting over a cigarette and coffee.
They look like typical Youngstown State University students, but they are on campus for a different reason: to develop their English-speaking skills.
“The main goal is to improve English language skills to acquire admission to the university,” said Lynn Greene, ELI coordinator.
The international students must pass an English proficiency exam in order to gain acceptance.
Program participants are considered non-regular students, and their ages range from 17 to early 30s. Most of the 67 students are from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey, and their educational backgrounds vary.
“These aren’t typical classes,” Greene said. “They are learning English 24/7.”
Their daily schedules include grammar, reading, writing, listening and vocabulary.
The students are expected to pay their own way, but scholarships are sometimes provided to those enrolled in the program.
ELI student Ibrahim Al-Jumeer, who was given government money from his home country of Iraq, is planning to study nursing at YSU before he returns home.
Dong-Hyuk Kim comes from South Korea and is also on a scholarship. He said his aunt lives in Boardman and came to the U.S. 15 years ago, which is how he heard of YSU.
YSU utilizes the students’ diverse backgrounds in multiple ways.
“We hook the students in with other classes such as geography and business,” Greene said.
Some students also tutor in their native languages.
“It’s a role reversal,” Greene said. “It helps our students feel useful and gives them a sense of empowerment.”
Greene said ELI students aren’t much different from so-called “typical” YSU students.
“The success depends on how much the student puts into the experience,” Greene said. “Some students come here thinking it’s a time to party; others come here with their eye on the prize.”
The goal of the program is not only academic, but also cultural.
“We want to acculturate them and experience America,” Greene said.
Each year, the ELI takes the students on trips to attractions such as Niagara Falls and Amish Country.
“It’s much cleaner here and less crowded,” Kim said about the area.
Abdunah Allhhurayyif from Saudi Arabia and Hakem Ahmhairat from Jordan echoed Kim’s sentiments.
“There is no difference between here and home, except for the traffic and education system,” Ahmhairat said.
Allhhurayyif said he likes the respect Americans have for one another.
The students do try to branch out of the ELI.
“We want to and like to talk to the university’s students,” Allhhurayyif said with a smile. “[It’s] just not about the university itself.”
Allhhurayyif said he enjoys the conversations he partakes in during classes.
Most of the students said they enjoy living in Youngstown.
“They have all of what we need to study here,” Ahmhairat said.