Building confidence and having fun outside of the classroom
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
By Ryan Connell, Coordinator, International Student Experience (BASE)
Alec Li can tell you it’s not always easy to venture out of your comfort zone. As an English Language Learner in a new environment, the experience can be rewarding but even more intimidating when you lack confidence in your ability to speak the language.
Students in UWaterloo’s Bridge to Academic Success in English (BASE) program needed an innovative opportunity to get involved in building their language skills outside of the classroom but at a pace right for them. With this need in mind, the idea for the BASE Rep volunteer team was born.
“International students often group together when we have classes, so we can lack opportunities to communicate with native speakers,” said Li, an Engineering student who participated this past academic year in the BASE program. “By volunteering, I grew my social circle and improved my communication skills in the meantime.”
BASE is one of UWaterloo’s English language foundation programs offered through Renison’s English Language Institute. Students complete one or two terms of the program to meet the English language requirements of their conditional acceptance into their respective Faculty at Waterloo. Fifty-seven students were enrolled this past term, from the Faculties of Applied Health Sciences, Arts, Engineering, Environment, and Science.
While on-campus clubs and student societies already provide a myriad of opportunities for students to get involved at Waterloo, many English Language Learners (ELLs) often lack language confidence to readily participate in co-curricular activities with native speakers. Many campus opportunities can also struggle to recognize the unique needs of ELLs as they build their language skills.
An on-campus event was piloted in the fall term as part of Random Act of Kindness Day, an initiative headed by Community Relations at UWaterloo. BASE student volunteers mobilized as a Kindness Krew in the Student Life Centre and hosted activities to encourage others to spread acts of kindness on campus. Following the success from this initiative, the BASE Rep volunteer program was launched in the winter 2016 term.
Students attended meetings every two weeks that would involve experiential leadership exercises and language-building activities. They were also tasked with planning two on-campus events for the winter term. More than 35 students from the program signed up.
The first event, aptly called “Good Luck on your Midterms!”, focused on educating students about stress management strategies to reduce anxiety during difficult times of the year, such as mid-terms and final exams. BASE students brainstormed ideas for experiential – and fun – activities that would help students de-stress while also learning about helpful tips and resources available on campus, such as the Student Success Office and Counselling Services. On February 8, the students hosted interactive games such as “Make your own ninja stress ball”, an adult colouring station, and a paper shredding exercise.
It was totally a fantastic experience, and my communication skills improved through the process.
- Alec Li
“It was a great experience to learn how to make a ninja stress ball. Once I learned, I began teaching others how to make it,” Li said. “It was totally a fantastic experience, and my communication skills improved through the process of teaching others.”
For their next activity, BASE students joined with the Federation of Students to host an International Fair in the SLC. This time, the BASE Reps could proudly showcase a cultural background – perhaps even their own - by hosting interactive activities about an aspect of world culture.
Booth displays featured experiential learning activities that encouraged interactions between native-speaking students and the volunteers. Students could paint coloured eggs while learning about the cultural traditions of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, or they could take a moment to create their own Beijing opera mask while learning about its rich history. On-campus departments, like Waterloo International and St. Jerome’s Beyond Borders program, as well as student cultural clubs were also included in the fair.
The idea sounds pretty straightforward, but the results can be, and were, astounding. From the end-of-term survey, 100% of volunteers surveyed reported that the experience had helped them to build their basic interpersonal communication skills as well as their confidence and self-esteem. All of surveyed students agreed they felt more willing to get involved on campus in the future.
As an additional incentive, each student was rewarded with a letter of recognition and a certificate of participation to acknowledge their involvement. For Li, this was a great résumé-building opportunity.
“I would say I’ve developed leadership skills and communication skills as part of the BASE Rep team,” said Li. “I’m thankful for this opportunity, which helped me form a seamless transition from BASE to my academic studies. Looking towards the future, I’ve never been so confident.”
I'm thankful for this opportunity which helped me form a seamless transition from BASE to my academic studies. Looking towards the future, I've never been so confident.
- Alec Li
Li's strong leadership skills made him a worthy candidate as the BASE program's valedictorian during the winter end-of-term celebrations in April. Li addressed his fellow peers and spoke about his tremendous language growth during the past eight months.
Moving forward in future terms, the BASE Rep volunteer program will continue, including in this summer’s seven-week intensive program called iBASE. The volunteer activity will also expand to include native-speaking domestic students who will work in partnership with the BASE Rep volunteers to build their mutual intercultural communication skills while planning an experiential activity on campus. Native-speaking domestic students can register to participate on LEADS.
About the Renison English Language Institute
The Renison English Language Institute (Renison ELI) has offered high quality English as a second language (ESL) programs and courses since 1970. We welcome more than 1000 students each year to Renison University College.
Housed within Renison ELI are the English Language Centre (ELC) and English Language Studies (ELS). We invite you to explore our programs and courses, and look forward to welcoming you to the Renison community.