By Naomi Chandra, former A.C.E. volunteer and senior at Seattle Pacific University, majoring in Communications with a minor in Women’s Studies
I had the opportunity to volunteer at A.C.E. this winter and my focus was working with their female students. My goal was to do a study that focused on cultural differences in hopes of better understanding the A.C.E. students and provide A.C.E. with a perspective that will be of benefit in how they care for their current students, as well as future incoming students.
A.C.E. is a place where young adults from all over the world come together, from many paths in life, for one common goal: learning English. Language barriers, differences in worldview and our own walls that we put up may prevent students from opening up to new surroundings. However, several ladies at A.C.E. are handling the situation well. They have exhibited great personal strength, and are comfortable in a new environment, surrounded by a new language, far away from home. I greatly admire the personal character traits they exhibit.
As a part of my study, I held interviews with each of these wonderful women. We talked about life in relevance to school and culture. I was born and raised in Seattle, WA and have experienced mixed gender classes, male and female professors and have always been encouraged to further my studies.
Many A.C.E. students are from cultures that have gender-segregated education. Ghaida, Reem, and Renad, are from Saudi Arabia and have experienced a different life as a student in their home country and I was interested in learning exactly what these differences were and how they adapted. None of the ladies from Saudi Arabia had experienced mixed-gender education before coming to A.C.E. These women have adapted by keeping an open mind, and persevering to develop new cultural norms.
Ning, from Thailand, and Shuying, from China, have faced different struggles. While the education systems are more similar, they are both sad to be so far from their families. Ning and Shuying have benefited greatly from being surrounded by students from other countries. They cannot rely on their native languages to communicate. As a result, their English has improved greatly.
From this experience I have gained a new understanding of international women students, what their lives are like, and what challenges they face. I have developed a deeper, unique perspective that I would not have gained without volunteering. For all I have learned, I am grateful.