Breaking Assumptions: What I Learned About ECC From Being a Facilitator

Tuesday, April 12, 2022
by Sagal A. Abukar 

What is ECC? 

What are English Conversation Circles? A few months ago, I had no idea, but when I started working at the Writing and Communication Centre (WCC) one of my roles was to facilitate the English Conversation Circles (ECC) program. I assumed ECC would be a program that Individuals used to strengthen their English conversation skills, and I was excited to be a part of this support team. Once I started working on the program, I learned quickly that ECC is a support system for international students here at UW. It’s a community that helps strengthen participants' English conversation skills, but it also provides a safe space where individuals can share their struggles and receive support from others who share the same experiences.  

When I started working with the ECC team 

The first things I noticed were the time and effort everyone put into their work and how welcoming everybody was. I just joined a team of individuals who had been working together for quite some time and from the second I started, I was included in discussions and made to feel like I belonged. 

As we continued to work together, I saw how every lesson was crafted through collaboration and feedback. Aside from the ideas brought forward by facilitators, the ECC participants also had a voice. For example, in the first session, participants were asked what they were interested in learning for the term, and the team actively incorporated their areas of interest into future lesson plans. All of this dedication just made me that much more excited to facilitate the upcoming sessions. I looked forward to seeing how the lessons would evolve into meaningful conversations, and I also was given the chance to be a part of something I had never experienced before. 

What I noticed about everyone during earlier sessions  

As a facilitator, my role was to help keep conversations flowing. The goal was always to have participants practicing their conversation skills and assisting when they’re having some trouble. I noticed that in the earlier sessions, myself and other facilitators would have to initiate more of the conversations. We would start by introducing ourselves and talking about simpler topics like how our day was or the weather. For example, many of the participants had never seen snow prior to moving to Canada, so everyone always had a lot to say about the weather, and their personal adjustments to it. 

Once everybody was more comfortable after introductions and small talk, we began our discussions. As more sessions passed and participants became more familiar with ECC and each other, conversations flowed more freely and there was less overall nervousness. This was also the case for me. I was nervous the first time I facilitated a session, but with the support of the ECC team and the welcoming environment, my nerves faded. 

How ECC surpassed my expectations and created a support system 

It was interesting to see the changes within participants from the first session to the last. In later sessions, once we were in our breakout rooms, participants would greet facilitators and each other by name, they would check in and ask about their lives and how they were doing.  The conversations would flow beyond the planned discussion topics. Participants would bond over their shared struggles with moving to a new country; laugh about the culture shock from when they first arrived; and share the things they missed most about their homes. Many participants were away from their families, but speaking to others who understood what they were going through allowed them to speak openly and feel truly understood.  

One of the moments that really made me realize ECC was more than a program was in our final session of the winter term. The discussion topics for week 6 were “Describe an unusual festival or holiday your culture or country celebrates” and “What are you grateful for in life?” In this session, participants shared stories about their favorite holidays, talked about what they missed most about being able to celebrate at home, and spoke about what they were grateful for. I learned about the Persian New Year, which puts any new year I've celebrated to shame. I heard stories about the Indian celebration Holi (the festival of colours), and so many more. I gained a new appreciation for global culture, but I also saw how being a part of ECC impacted each person. Later, this session became emotional for quite a few individuals. They shared how difficult it was to move away from their families, and the effect the distance had on them. What stood out for me was seeing how everyone comforted each other, reassured their peers that they were not alone and encouraged one other to keep pushing. 

After the Winter 2022 ECC sessions ended, I ran into a participant at a grocery store. They told me that ECC was a place where they could meet new people and escape from their stressful life. They asked me when the next sessions would start and expressed how excited they were to attend.  It was this interaction, and countless others, that showed me that even in this remote world, ECC still serves as a safe and trusting support system for all.