Students learn more than language at Coffee, Tea and English

Kayla Kienzle

Like many freshman this past year, Xuanli Wang started classes for the first time at Iowa State. However, not only was it Wang’s first time in an ISU classroom, it was also her first time in the United States.

Wang, who goes by Shirley in America, is a statistics major from Hubei, China.  She came to Iowa State unsure what to expect and uncertain of how she would adjust to American culture.

Luckily, the transition was easier than she anticipated, although the setting was much different from home.

“In my province, it’s a larger city; here it is a good place to learn and study because it is quieter,” Wang said.

Iowa State’s high-ranking statistics program encouraged her to attend college in Ames.

Wang said she had not studied much English before coming to Iowa and it was imperative to have the language down to understand her courses in statistics.

“My first semester I took all English courses that were more relaxed and helped me learn,” Wang said.

A smooth transition helped Wang succeed her first semester. Resources like her “American family” helped her adjust to life here.

“I go over to my American family’s house once a week for dinner, and we also talk,” Wang said.

She said she made many friends, and when she did need advice, her mom was a Skype call away.

“The people here are a lot more friendly, they smile; it’s not a big city like Chicago. It’s a good place to be,” Wang said of Ames.

Wang said she enjoys Iowa State and Ames, but one of the biggest and most positive impacts on her ability to adjust to American life came from Iowa State’s Coffee, Tea and English.

Coffee, Tea and English is a group meeting held every Friday afternoon. A joint effort between Iowa State’s Campus Crusade for Christ and the International Students and Scholars Office, Coffee, Tea and English focuses on forming friendships while learning the English language, American customs and etiquette.

“Most of the time is spent talking, we go into discussions about everything; things like holidays and cultural questions are all addressed,” said Michael Patterson, graduate in computer and electrical engineering, president of Iowa State’s CRU chapter.

Patterson has been attending the meetings for the past three years as a host. He engages in many conversations with the international speakers from various countries.

Some of them have even become close friends of Patterson’s.

“I had a Super Bowl party this year and a lot of my friends came, but I also had some of my friends from Coffee, Tea and English come,” Patterson said.

Attendance at the meetings varies, but usually includes about 30 to 40 non-native speakers. Some, like Wang, have become regulars.

“I made a lot of friends, who I became really close with and have become more outgoing because of it,” Wang said.

Wang has also received valuable advice from members of the group.

“I know about things like festivals and what they are so I can celebrate and enjoy them too,” Wang said.

Not only do Wang and Patterson get to share about their cultures, but they said they also learn from others.

“It’s a good way to experience other cultures, I have learned so many things from when to take off my shoes to differences in lifestyles,” Wang said.

Patterson said the biggest thing he has gained is an international perspective.

“I like helping people, and it has made me realize that people are people, and although we may come from entirely different lives, we have similarities,” Patterson said.

Wang agreed the experience is one that is valuable beyond simply learning English and gives greater understanding.

“I encourage all international students to come; you can make friends, communicate better. Everyone is nice and makes you feel better and more confident,” Wang said.

Coffee, Tea and English is open to anyone in the community that wants to learn English or help others learn and form friendships. The group meets from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Fridays in Ross 212.