Meeting the “Other” Side

By Michaela Johnston

Take the elevator to the second floor of 890 Commonwealth Avenue and you will enter the all-inclusive world of CELOP, the Boston University Center for English Language and Orientation Programs.

The center is representative of a mini-high school; it includes a large front lobby, offices, meeting spaces and numerous classrooms. A bulletin board in the main room is speckled with bright posters and a monthly calendar lists events such as free daily tutoring, Monday Meditation, and Conversation Club.

CELOP, an Intensive English Learning Program (IEP) has served international students on BU’s campus for over 40 years. Through the programs, individuals enjoy the perks of being a BU student (on-campus housing, FitRec membership, etc.) while taking classes at the center.

According to Shelley Bertolino, Student Life Coordinator at CELOP, “The overarching mission is to teach people English…and promote global understanding and good will. They know Americans and Americans have gotten to know them, in a nut shell.”

A popular program amongst students is Conversation Club and Partners. A CELOP student is paired with a BU student who is fluent in English, and together they practice speaking skills. Partners meet once a week on their own time. Shelly tries to pair students together by age, hobbies and interests. The Conversation Club takes place Mondays at 4 p.m. at CELOP.

Santiago Marquez, Conversation Club leader and junior studying psychology in CAS, emphasized the impact of CELOP programs. He says the discussion groups allow students to practice their English in a non-academic environment, something he first struggled with being an international student from Mexico.

“As an international student, when I came to the U.S. I had a rough time adapting to BU because I always learned English in an academic environment,” Marquez said.

Marquez, who served as an ASB coordinator last year, says he enjoys being a “more personal resource” for the students on campus. “They are international students so they have a whole new set of experiences,” he said.

In reference to The Empowerment League, Bertolino mentioned how CELOP is empowering certain groups of students.

“We have had so many students from Saudi Arabia in the last 10 years and that is the group that I feel really good about what we see going on with them,” she said.

Bertolini expressed her excitement over seeing this group of students achieving and growing, mentioning examples of Muslim women getting their driver’s licenses, learning to ride a bike and receiving graduate degrees in engineering and speech pathology. She continued to emphasize the friendships that develop in CELOP.

“One of my happiest moments is when you see the Chinese student and Mexican student hugging and crying [at the end of the semester]. It’s very heartwarming, especially in today’s climate. And you do see a lot of that,” Bertolino said.

Jessie Levinson, sophomore in the College of Communication, found a new friendship when she became a Conversation partner her freshman year. “I was able to meet someone that I never would have met otherwise. She’s a 24-year old from Saudi Arabia and I’m a 20-year old from America and it’s cool because we have so many more things in common than I thought. It’s great that I have such a good friend half-way across the world,” she said.

“I think in the media you hear, especially in this political climate, you hear about the Chinese, Muslims, Mexicans and here you meet the “other” and make these friendships. I think that goes a long way for better understanding,” Bertolino said.

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