‘Ambassadors’ teach English

by Kamariea Forcier

Just a block away from the University’s Superblock of student dormitories is a tiny classroom inside of a house, overflowing with chatter, laughter and love.
This is the classroom of Kathleen Macosko, an English teacher of non-native speakers for the Stadium Village Church.
“We usually start off with about a half-hour of chit-chat” so the students can practice their English, said Macosko, a teacher and coordinator of the school for three years.
Surrounded by maps that cover the walls, the students from Korea, China and Costa Rica share small talk with Macosko and their newest classmate Alex Leima.
For $5 a year, students gather in the program to converse, practice their English and meet people.
“Most of the students have plenty of grammar,” said Macosko. “They just need practice listening and conversing, and they need American friends. And what we offer is a forum for practicing English, but really it’s friendship, too.”
Leima points to a spot inside a world atlas map of the city from which he hails, while the other students lean closer for a better look.
Every now and then a pause in the conversation occurs, as Leima reaches for his dictionary to look up an English word that is not familiar.
Soon, attention shifts to the television screen, where Macosko’s class watches a film and practices understanding the quick-paced English spoken in movies.
Macosko, who has lived abroad with her husband and family, said she began teaching because of her experiences as an international traveller.
“I have lived in other countries, and know what it’s like not to speak the language and be unfamiliar with the culture,” she said. “I always wished I knew how to talk to other people, and that’s how I originally got into (teaching).”
The program is not an official English as a Second Language program, Macosko said. She and her co-workers have a different goal in mind for their school.
“A lot of international students will go back to their country and be leaders,” she said. “Whatever experience they have here will be their impression of America. We’re kind of like ambassadors here.”
Although the numerous English classes are sponsored through a church, Macosko said most of the classes have more to do with explaining Christian values than preaching the Bible. “We are very clear about that,” she said.
The point of this is to develop understanding between cultures, said Macosko. “Maybe they don’t become Christian, but they understand Christians.”
Sun-Hee Kim, a Korean student who came to America in 1995, has been in Macosko’s classes since last May. She came to the United States because of her husband, who is a post-doctorate at the University.
“I had a job in Korea, so I didn’t want to give it up,” said Kim of coming to America. But Kim has since changed her mind.
“I can learn a lot of stuff from people, especially teachers like Kathleen,” said Kim.
Kim said she liked studying this summer, when her class spent most of its time on field trips, exploring the state.
“We travelled to several places in St. Paul and Minneapolis, and that helped me to understand this place a lot,” said Kim.
Kim, who could not speak English at all when she first arrived in America, now speaks with a native-like ease. And it’s all thanks to Macosko, she said.
“I thank them a lot for being teachers,” she said. “It’s not just like a teacher and student. I feel like Kathleen is more like a friend.”
Nine volunteers teach several classes, which are offered six days per week to accommodate the hectic schedules of students and to keep class sizes to no more than eight members.
Macosko said volunteering to help people has its own rewards, but all of the volunteers have a special reason for helping the students.
“The motivation for these people — to do this for free: They know the love of God, and they want to give of themselves to other people,” she said.
And the benefits of giving also bring in some great rewards, she added. For example, Macosko described the changes she’s seen in Lillian Hodges, a 75-year-old teacher.
“For Lillian, this has been a whole new life for her,” she said. “It just opened up the whole world for her to meet these people. She’s never really travelled outside the country, but now she has — through talking to people.”
Macosko said anyone can join the classes, which tend to adhere to University schedules so students can take University classes. And the age of most students range from young adults to retirees.
Some people wonder why Macosko devotes so much time to her work. “It’s really our way of showing you God’s love,” she explained.