MSU English Language Institute: Cultural Aide
Cali Pettijohn has a fascinating job. Since 2008, she’s been immersing students from other countries in the American experience and teaching them English. She works for Missouri State University’s English Language Institute, and her students recently volunteered with Ozarks Food Harvest.
Part of her work is planning culturally relevant activities. Pettijohn says volunteering at Ozarks Food Harvest benefits the students because they can talk with native English speakers who use authentic dialectics and fast-paced speech. However, there’s more to it than that: the students want to have all kinds of American experiences. One of her students, Erdene, from Mongolia, was curious about American “free-work” (his word for volunteering). However, he was also determined to try fishing. Arranging these opportunities is part of Pettijohn’s work.
Pettijohn’s students come from across the globe to earn American degrees or simply to study English. She has had students from the Sorbonne in Paris as well as schools across Europe, Asia and South America. Education in other cultures has a very different dynamic. “They are very respectful. In some countries, teachers are higher than doctors and lawyers, after all, doctors and lawyers learned from a teacher,” she shared, “and the students are eager to learn.”
In class, she talks with them about some of the issues in America. One thing they spoke about was food waste. The students noticed that the MSU cafeterias compost their trash whenever possible and donate to local hog farmers – like Ozarks Food Harvest. So, it made sense to volunteer at The Food Bank where they could help divert food waste.
Pettijohn said that volunteering “made the connections among the students stronger. It’s a team-builder.” She said a friendly competition broke out among the students to see who could go faster and do more. Also, working with Ozarks Food Harvest staff was a practical way to use the English they were learning. “It was great to help others,” Erdene said, “We are very grateful to Ozarks Food Harvest and the school community for this opportunity. When the finals are over, I will go back and help if there is an opportunity.” For the coaches at The Food Bank, it was a great experience, too; they welcomed the opportunity to work with such a diverse and motivated group.
Pettijohn has a heart for students from other cultures because she was an exchange student herself: she studied in Madrid, Montreal, and France. “Those experiences help me understand what my students might be going through. They’re in such a vulnerable situation. They don’t know anybody,” says Pettijohn. “You really have to open your mind and heart.” That’s just what she does. She shepherds students, like Erdene and many others, through the cultural landscape, like volunteering, eating out, or even fishing. She polishes their English while helping them understand American culture through experiences.
One thing about American culture is our love for happy endings. So, you should know that Pettijohn did arrange a fishing trip with the Missouri Department of Conservation. And Erdene? He caught a perch.
Ozarks Food Harvest is so happy to partner with Cali Pettijohn and the students from MSU ELI.