A Window Into American Life

By Freedom Zhou (China)

“It is not as big as I imagined,” I thought when I went there after I saw the advertisement in the email. I thought the International Center would be a very big and beautiful place as it is “international.” However, there are just several rooms: conversation partner room, the lounge, several small classrooms, several offices, and a coffee shop.

But I didn’t hesitate to join the Center after talking with Joe Lamb, an older teacher who has worked at IC for many years. When I talked with him, I felt my English was not as bad as I thought it was. He told me he knew people from more than 70 countries and he had heard many different accents. He could understand me easily, and he spoke slowly using simple words to make me understand him quickly. “You don’t need to talk politics or economics whenever you talk with others,” he said. “Choose some easy and familiar topics, including complaining about the bad weather. Small talk is good for your oral English.” I thought his suggestion was both funny and useful.

I was happy to know I could take various classes, from Monday to Saturday. And I was moved by the smile on the faces of the people in the lounge. They sit in a circle and chat about everything in a friendly way. I hadn’t seen such a group in other places in New York. I was eager to be one of them. Soon afterward, I was.

I learned English in China before coming to New York and I needed to activate the words and knowledge I learned. I liked Joe’s class. As we speak, we follow him and copy his funny English words, and I can correct my accent. The IC provided the platform for me. I felt more comfortable speaking English in front of people after my participation in the class. I also liked some classes about American culture, history, and politics. I still remember the weekly news reports and Declaration of Human Rights in Carol Barker’s Government class. It was really a useful class. I took Diana Bittern’s Business Culture class twice as I think she is not only a good instructor but also a good friend. She invited me to her party and I had a good time at her home. I will always thank her for her help and kindness.

The memories from the lounge are interesting. I felt shy and timid at first when I talked with strangers. But I found the friends there who understood my feelings, and they were nice to me. It is so amazing to know that they are from many different parts of the world, Japan, Korea, Russia, Turkey, Dominican Republic, Spain, Philippines… Even though most of us were not so good in English, we all tried very hard to communicate smoothly and to improve ourselves. I can never forget the different activities in IC: the dinner meeting, the book salon, theater workshop…

Well, I knew that all the staff and volunteers worked hard to make the Center what it is. I asked Shawn, a young manager in the Center, “How long have you worked here?” I was very surprised to know he had worked at the Center for almost ten years. He must like it there very much and he is dedicated to his job.

All in all, the International Center is a great window into American life for new immigrants and visitors, and also a warm harbor for everyone who wants to find friends and explore New York. I hope I can return to the Center in the near future.

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