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International Students Converge on Santa Barbara Language School
Walk along the 1400 block of Chapala Street in Santa Barbara at certain times of day, and it’s likely to feel a bit like the United Nations.
A large group of young people gathers on the sidewalk in front of a commercial building at 1421 Chapala, chattering away in a variety of languages.
They are among some 650 students from 50 countries who attend classes at the Santa Barbara campus of EF-Education First.
“We have students from everywhere,” said Fysal Safieh, school director since 2010. “They come from every region: Middle East, Europe, Asia, South America, Russia.”
There’s a huge flow of students due to the different lengths of programs. Some come for two weeks and some stay for a whole academic year, Safieh said.
“We have students arriving every week,” he added.
EF is a private company founded in 1965 by Swedish billionaire and entrepreneur Bertil Hult. The nonprofit Hult International Business School, which is ranked 21st among North American business schools by The Economist magazine, is named after him and he is associated with the nationally acclaimed Bertil Hult Prize.
The EF Group operates in more than 50 countries in which it runs 400 schools, and the Santa Barbara location recently was named school of the year within the organization.
Safieh said the local EF school contributes to its community foremost financially. With around 1,000 students attending each summer, the EF attendees make up about 1 percent of Santa Barbara’s population.
“I think that alone really is helpful,” he said.
Trips to local as well as state attractions are offered to the students. Some, for example, volunteer at the annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
One year, Safieh recalled, a student from Belgium was asked to help with translating for a Belgian director who spoke poor English and was presenting his film at the festival.
“It was really excellent,” he recalled of attending the premiere and witnessing the student on stage for film director’s post-screening Q&A session.
“It is hard to believe that we’ve been here for 30 years and that not everybody knows about us,” he said. “We’re going do a lot more to kind of integrate ourselves into the community.”
The basis of all programs is to improve English skills. A sign posted on a wall prohibits the students from speaking other languages than English while at school.
As Safieh said to Noozhawk: “Over and over and over again, I say, ‘This is your opportunity ... Don’t clump together with students who speak your language. Meet people from everywhere.
“You’re going to make friends that last forever, and your Facebook friend count will go really high.’”
The learning is interactive, and the teaching methodology includes lectures as well as discussions and group projects. The youngest attendees are 16, and the average age is 20, said Safieh, adding that the school once had a 67-year-old student from Spain.
Moritz Steffien, 19, of Hanover in Germany paid approximately $14,300 for a six-month program that included housing. He’s about to start studying international business back home, but came to Santa Barbara first to improve his English skills.
“In Germany, the teachers are more strict,” he said.
Saskia Branschen, 16, of Switzerland, attended a six-month program to improve her English skills. She currently takes an English, a communication and a special-interest course.
She said she goes to school four hours per day, five days a week, and that there are around 14 to 16 students in each class.
“I like the people here,” Branschen said. “They’re very nice. My teacher is 25, very young, but she’s so cool.”
The female scholar, who’s already multilingual and speaks German, French and Finnish, said she lives with a host family and five other EF girls, from Africa, Chile, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.
Branschen said English is only taught during three of the undergraduate academic years in the Swiss school system. As a result, she said, her English skills are therefore poor.
“It’s really bad,” she said. “And, grammar they can’t explain very good.”
Here, she said she’s learned much.
“You learn more when you have a good atmosphere,” she said.
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