Flashback Friday: A Global Adventure

This year our Language Programs celebrated 35 years here at the Glasscock School. Comprised of a Foreign Language Program that offers eight languages and an English as a Second Language (ESL) program that attracts students from more than 100 countries, the program is all about world culture and global communication. From its humble beginnings in 1978 to today, the program has experienced impressive growth and has evolved into a much sought after program. Dr. Kathleen Sayers, associate dean and director, is responsible for the last three decades and is setting its course for the future. Below Sayers tells us what she is most proud of and reflects back on some highlights from the program’s rich history.

Dr. Kathleen Sayers

Dr. Kathleen Sayers
Photo by Mario González D.

What I am the proudest of in working with the Language Programs is helping our English as a Second Language and Foreign Language students learn to be good communicators with people from other cultures. With the Intensive English Program, we have the privilege of working with an ever-renewing population of some of the best, brightest and most charming young people on the planet. We have had students from 105 countries come to study in our current nearly 50-year-old temporary building.  We look forward to the Cinderella experience in early 2014 when we leave our current home behind after classes on a Friday and begin the following Monday congratulating ourselves on our good fortune as we move into the second floor of the beautiful new Anderson-Clarke Center.

We have kept a “fun file” through the years. I will share a few items from that file because they give a snapshot of daily life with the ESL students. There are three periods that correspond with three decades of the program. For the first that had a number of students from Latin America, Mario González has a special place in everyone’s hearts. Mario is a photographer, creative designer and poet and can best be described as a friend to all he meets.

ESL students

Photo by Mario González D.

He calls the program “mi escuelita” or “my little school.” He took pictures of the campus and the students and had ideas about how we should get the word out about the program. Mario came up with the idea of having a booth at the Houston International Festival manned by volunteers, which happened to be him and me. We had a one-of-a kind day that represents the pinnacle of word-of-mouth advertising as carried out by a true believer in the program.

Mario also was with us as we ushered in the second era of our program. In the early 1990s we sought to attract students from the Pacific Rim. We had very few Asian students at the time and decided to place an ad with Peterson’s guides for ESL programs. For some reason, while Peterson’s is at the top of college guides, the ESL promotion didn’t catch on, so for one year we appeared on their website to be the only ESL program in existence. This jump started our Pacific Rim initiative in a major way. By the mid-1990s we had 90 Korean students per session. That boom continued until the Asian economic crisis in 1996.

As the rock star of communicators, Mario’s role with the Asian students was to get them to open up and talk. The English of the first group of Korean students didn’t sound like anyone else’s.

Inquiries from our first group of Korean students sounded like this:

  • “Morning. I’m interested to know if yu have summer curses in English for people of another language.”
  • “According to the Rice University brochure, a specific English program can be made for cretin individual at their expense. I would like to have that type of program.”
  • “I received your e-mile. I will fax my transcript as far as possible. Thank you.”
  • “Please make a reply before you say Jack Robinson.”

We were told in the mid-1990s we were very famous in Korea. One student wrote, “We learned that your university have the wholesome academic tradition, the excellent professorate and the brilliantable students.”

A hallmark of the past decade has been the arrival of students sponsored by scholarship programs in their countries. These have included the best and the brightest Saudi students sponsored by SABIC (Saudi Basic industries), students from the King Abdullah scholarship program, Turkish scholars from both the Ministry of National Education and the Ministry of Interior, Libyan, UAE and Kuwaiti scholars and scholars from West Africa Management.

We are now ushering in a new era. We have a wonderfully diverse group of students. For the fall 2013 session, 30 percent of our student population is from the following five countries with over ten students from each: Venezuela, Colombia, South Korea, Taiwan and Russia. Students from Saudi Arabia, many from the government scholarship program, make up 24 percent of our student population. Enrollments by Turkish Ministry of National Education scholars doubled and Turkish students comprise 20 percent of the enrollment. The remaining 30 percent are from a mixture of over 30 different countries.

Our current students embody globalization. Many of our Korean students come to us from what is now the most wired, connected city in the world. Government scholarship programs bring us far more young women than in past years, many who will be seeking advanced degrees in the US.

Just how global are we? We currently have a winner from Arabs Got Talent in our midst! On his first composition the student wrote, “My team for black light show win #1 Arabs Got Talent. Special thanks for voting and support!”

We look forward to the continuation of our global adventure—and the expansion of our fun file—as the Language Programs move into the second floor of the Anderson-Clarke Center.

Jennifer Egenolf


Jennifer Egenolf, Marketing Director

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