As “Jojo” Kittiya Laophanich sat cross-legged on the floor of the Boys & Girls Club gymnasium, she leaned forward toward a group of little girls staring up at her, and smiled. She put her hands up to her ears and said, “Jojo says, ‘Touch your ears!’”
With a fit of giggles and a flurry of motion, the little girls hurried to touch parts of their faces other than their ears. Jojo and her teaching partner, “Chris” Che Lee, were teaching the girls games from their home countries, Thailand and Taiwan, respectively. This time it was a version of Simon Says where you have to do the opposite of what ‘Simon’ says.
The forfeit for losing was to perform a little dance. Chris smiled. “Jojo is a really good dancer!”
Both Chris and Jojo are INTO Oregon State University students who are in Corvallis to learn English before they pursue higher education degrees in an American university. They are participants in a new INTO class, “English through Volunteering.” The class was created by Kristi DuBois, an INTO instructor who combined her love of teaching with her dedication to community service in order to craft the class.
“The goal of the class is to develop the students’ English skills while also increasing their awareness of social and environmental issues,” DuBois said. By partnering with a number of Corvallis nonprofits, she has been able to expose her students to a variety of volunteer opportunities, from Habitat for Humanity to Stone Soup.
INTO OSU offers a program where staff can propose special projects, and if approved, they receive release time to develop their proposal into a course. DuBois was excited to pursue the project, and said the summer test run taught her the need to be flexible when working with nonprofits.
“I learned not to get too worried when plans change due to weather, or an organization suddenly says ‘We can’t accommodate 15 students,’” DuBois said. The logistics can be challenging, but the results are very positive.
Chinese student Chunhui Gou would agree. He’s been in Corvallis a little over six months, learning English in preparation for pursing an MBA. Gou said he loves the peaceful life he’s experienced here, but his time volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club was anything but peaceful, as children danced, jumped and ran around him. Gou doesn’t have a lot of experience with kids, but admitted the experience of teaching children had been the best part of the class so far.
“This (project) is my favorite,” he said. “They’re very cute,” he said, as he helped a group learn to do origami. He’d also had a chance to volunteer at Stone Soup, feeding a group of homeless folks, and had done some gardening at SAGE garden.
Maken “Veronica” Shabila is also from China, and has been with INTO for two years. She is also planning on pursuing an MBA, perhaps at OSU.
“When I do volunteering, I can learn how native speakers really speak, and learn a lot of slang,” she said with a smile. She said helping work at Linn-Benton Foodshare gave her the most practice with her language skills, but the Boys & Girls Club was the most fun.
“I have a lot of cousins who come over to our house a lot so I know how to interact with kids,” she said.
For Shabila, the language skills weren’t the only benefit of the class. She said she’s been gaining a lot of cultural insights as well.
“I didn’t know how the food share program worked,” for example, she said, and having a chance to volunteer gave her an insider’s view of how the program serves the community. In China, she said, there are volunteer opportunities but they’re not as readily accessible to college students, so she was happy to have the chance to participate.
Meanwhile, the children were benefiting as well, learning new games, new songs and making new friends.
“It takes 20 hours on a plane to get to our country,” Jojo told a wide-eyed audience of cross-legged girls. Distances may be great, but games and laughter were making it seem like a very small world in the Boys & Girls Club gym.
~ Theresa Hogue