There’s so much food.

That was the sentiment expressed around the table as the visiting EFL instructors stared at their tacos, fried rice, and stromboli. The lunches consisted of typical UCLA campus fare – Taco Bell, Panda Express, and Sbarro. But some instructors came from cultures where it is rude to leave food on the plate, and they were not prepared for the large portions. An American host explained to them that restaurants in the U.S. give a lot of food, but nobody is offended if it is not finished.

The instructors, from 23 countries, came to take part in cultural exchange and a weeklong series of teacher-training workshops in English language instruction at the UCLA Center for World Languages (CWL), on March 16-24, 2014. The teachers came “to exchange professional insights, experience American culture, and focus on effective language-teaching methodologies, TESOL pedagogy, differentiated teaching, materials analysis, and technology incorporation,” said Claire Chik, assistant director of the CWL.
Rajni Sood Laurent from FHI 360, which administered the workshops, described the teachers as “the best and the brightest” as well as among the most active in their field.

The workshop gave the participants an opportunity to compare and contrast American methodologies with their own programs.

“This after school program, we don’t have this thing,” explained Maissa Mahfouz, a teacher trainer in the Department of Faculty Education at the Lebanese University. “We don’t have something called service learning.”

Just as important, the teacher-trainers were able to collaborate among themselves and learn from each other. This peer exchange was valuable for Georgian teacher Nicholoz Parjanadze, who trains EFL instructors through the English Teacher’s Association of Georgia. “What’s good about this program is that we get in touch with lots of different people. And when I listen to them, I have a clear picture of the status of teaching English in different countries; what could be done; what could be borrowed; what could be shared. So this is a very good opportunity.”

This workshop also was an opportunity for UCLA to engage with talented instructors who are “the top educators in their field” as Andrew Fine from FHI 360 described the participants.

For some instructors, this program was the first opportunity to visit the United States and experience firsthand American culture.
“This is the first time I’m exposed to the culture that you have here in the U.S.,” said Parjanadze.

The instructors also had a chance to experience parts of Los Angeles -- they strolled along Venice Beach, enjoyed a ballet, cheered at a Laker’s game, and saw other local sights. Some even had a bit of luck: Turkish teacher Asena Cifi was on Hollywood Blvd with her group one night and found herself with free passes to a screening of the film Divergent, a few days before it was officially released.

The participants followed their week at UCLA by attending the 2014 Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) convention in Portland, Oregon.

As Chik said, “The participants in this program were an extremely talented and committed group, each one of which was determined to get everything they could out of their trip to America in order to enrich the programs in their countries of origin.”
The participants also created a Facebook page to stay in touch with each other and share ideas and resources as well as photos of their trip.