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Experience The World Through a Safe Space

2019-07-10

Marleen Bakker from the Netherlands came to LCC International University in hope to discover various opportunities for Dutch students. While visiting Summer Language Institute (SLI), Marleen has realized the importance and benefits of such a program for Dutch students in the high school where she teaches. Marleen aspires to create a safe, social atmosphere for SLI students in her class, where they would be welcome to speak their minds and improve their English skills.

Marleen, how did you find out about LCC and then eventually SLI?
I first heard about LCC from one of my colleagues who has been looking for some international schools that we could have a partnership with. He came across LCC and in the Fall of 2014 we came to Klaipėda and met with Marlene Wall, Gretchen Ketner, and other professors. During the visit we also heard about SLI and my instant thought was that it would be interesting for our Dutch high school students. In 2015 the first group of Dutch students came to SLI and participated here, and after some time Gretchen asked me to come and teach in SLI. At that time, I could not leave the Netherlands because it was the middle of our summer holidays, and some of my children were still at home. However, my husband saw how much I wanted to teach and he encouraged me to do so. The first time I taught at SLI was in 2017, and I loved every second of it. However, in 2018, to balance out family life and my hobbies, I stayed at home, but at the last moment the person that was supposed to accompany our Dutch students to SLI got sick. I was asked to bring them here because we are responsible for making sure that they get here safe, and even though I was here for one weekend only, I enjoyed the atmosphere. This is why I am back again this year for the full program.

How did you become an English teacher?
Originally, I am from the Netherlands and I lived there from birth till I was 11. Afterwards we emigrated to Canada and lived there until I was 19, so this is where I learned English. Currently, I teach English to grade 7 through 10 in the. I have only been an English teacher for six or seven years. I have always been doing voluntary work at elementary schools. Later, I started volunteering at high school and the first year I did practicing oral English exams with grade 10 and I really liked working with young adults and teenagers. I have been doing that in church for youth group for more than 10 years. My husband advised me and supported me to start teaching. At that time I did not have a degree, but the school agreed to hire me, and while I was teaching I was also pursuing my degree.

As a teacher in SLI, you see many students coming here from different parts of the world to learn English. How do you see SLI and its mission?
Back home, I tell our high school students, that this is such a unique experience for them to come to SLI. We are from a quite Christian Reformed part of the Netherlands, so they go to reformed elementary schools, reformed high schools, and if they can, they can go to reformed universities, but the world is so much bigger than that. Not to say that I do not love the culture we live in, but it is a valuable experience for our Dutch students to come here and come in contact with other Christians who experience the faith differently, have different cultural habits, traditions, but are united by the Bible and the desire to learn English. I have noticed in the last few years that Dutch students who come back from SLI have so much more self-confidence in speaking English. Living in the dorms during SLI also helps them become more independent.

There is another group of Dutch students this summer as well. Are there any returning students?
There are nine students coming from our school and there is one girl returning that was here last year. Last year somebody returned that was the year before and two years ago when I was teaching some students came back that were here the first year. Every year, we have one or more returning students and they are the best to be ambassadors for the program here. Since we have one high school with seven different locations spread out over the province, I would like to take one or two students who have been to SLI, so that they can share how much fun it was. Hopefully, next year we will have a bigger number of Dutch students coming to SLI.

What are your hopes for the next three weeks of the program?
I really hope that students who have no knowledge of Christianity whatsoever come in contact with Christian life and worldview. Not through words so much but more through how we as teachers act, what we do, and how we treat them. I remember two years ago I had my students write me a letter at the end of three weeks for the promise that I would not read it until they were all gone. I asked them to be honest and of course there were some comments. But what was in quite a few of these letters was that as teachers we cared about students and I thought that was a big compliment. I heard that from other teachers too, that students say that we see them as people. We ask how they are doing, what is going on with them and I think this is what we want in SLI. Of course, another important thing is for everyone in SLI to learn English together. I encourage my students in class not to be afraid to stand up in front of the class and do a presentation. I hope that students feel the comfort and social safety in the classroom and they can actually speak what they feel. When I start the class, I make sure to introduce myself, share about my family and what I do. This gives them a good environment to respond and share about themselves. From that moment we form a nice connection that is being nurtured through the whole program and ensures that everyone while learning English is also enjoying the process.

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