Take a look around at nearly every Washtenaw Community College campus event and chances are, you’ll see economics major Nina Pu there smiling, greeting and engaging with the crowd.
Pu, who works at the WCC Student Activities Office (SAO), has only lived in the U.S. for two years, but her English is nearly perfect.
After calling Shanghai, China home for nearly 20 years, Pu’s husband accepted a job offer that would take them 12,000 miles across the world to Maryland. Less than a year later, it was time to move again, this time to the Ann Arbor area where Pu’s husband accepted another job offer.
Taking ESL courses here and in Maryland certainly helped, but Pu credits her love for American television shows, such as “Friends” and “Seinfeld,” for picking up English so fast.
“It’s not enough just to take classes,” she said. “If you want to efficiently learn a new language, you have to push yourself, and that doesn’t always mean speaking with someone else in that language. In my case, watching television and having it on in the background helped tremendously.”
Although Pu has come a long way since her first days in the U.S., the self-proclaimed people person remembers a time when communication was a problem. So, she started a campus ESL Club. The decision to do so came almost immediately after a lunch with WCC President Dr. Rose B. Bellanca.
“Dr. Bellanca asked us, ‘What would you do if you were president,’” Pu recalled. “I explained to her that I still kept in touch with the people who were in my ESL classes and noticed that many of them were still stuck in the introduction class. I proposed the idea of having an ESL Club because I think it would help them want to socialize more and learn English faster.
“She was extremely supportive and encouraging. We’ve had a few meetings so far and all were well attended.”
According to WCC’s ESL Club website, the organization strives to promote ESL students’ social integration and cultural assimilation through language learning and American cultural exchange. There are movie and game nights and local field trips, but there’s a small catch: Students are required to speak English only during these events.
“As Club President, my hope is that by speaking English outside the classroom, students will start to build interest in the language, which helps them learn faster,” Pu said.
Being a full-time student, SAO employee and ESL Club president, Pu has her hands full but doesn’t mind.
“My job at the Student Activities Office means a lot to me because I discovered that I have a creative side. Creativity isn’t encouraged back home,” she said. “I also overcame my fear of communicating with people in English.”
One of Pu’s first assignments at SAO? Making more than 100 phone calls to students when registration rolled around – something that terrified her then but not anymore. “I look forward to it now,” she said.
Next January, Pu will transfer to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she’ll pursue a bachelor’s in economics with a minor in business. And it seems that her work at SAO is rubbing off – she’s deciding on whether to become a businesswoman, marketing manager or event coordinator for a college, but confident she’ll “figure it out soon.”
“WCC has and continues to be a wonderful place to start my college journey,” Pu said.
“During my time here, I found myself because I didn’t know who I was in China. I’ve begun tapping into my potential and can’t wait to see what else I can accomplish.”
The ESL Club meets monthly in the Business Education building. The next meeting is scheduled on Wednesday, April 20 from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. For more information about the ESL Club, visit orgsync.com/130757/chapter.
This story originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of On the Record.