DVIDS – News – Why Afghan refugees met instructors from the 37th Training Wing


JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — The wind whipped sand across her face and a generator hummed in the background as Davina Farrell stepped off the plane. It was October 2021, and Farrell, an English as a Second Language/English as a Foreign Language teacher, and seven of her colleagues had just left the 37th Training Wing with a mission: to prepare Afghan evacuees for integration into the United States by teaching them basic English.
The timing was perfect—the Defense Language Institute’s English Language Center, where Farrell has worked for nearly 11 years, had just developed a new American language course to provide non-English speakers with a base layer of everyday vocabulary. The course, ALC-Fundamentals, was designed to help new 37th TRW students succeed in future junior high English courses and to help them adjust to life in the United States. ALC-Fundamentals was originally developed as a three-week, 90-hour language course to meet the unique needs of service members from partner nations whose native language differs significantly from English, meaning that their native language does not share the Latin alphabet or grammar structure. The material translates easily for use with the evacuees at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.
“Everyone was excited about the role and excited to contribute and make a difference to this community,” said Farrell, the team leader. “All the lecturers already had experience with Afghan students and felt a connection.”
When the team arrived at Holloman, they unloaded the course materials, a collection of posters and flashcards, and began administering a series of placement tests to gauge student knowledge. Evacuees wanting to learn English lined up to secure a spot in the class, and although participation was entirely voluntary, all 80 student spots were filled on the first day.
Some of the students had worked with US forces in Afghanistan, while others, including a dentist, had dedicated years to a civilian career they hoped to continue in the United States. According to Sheri Padilla, one of the ESL/EFL teachers, all the students hoped that improving their English “would help them take advantage of the tremendous opportunities in the US”.
“The simple act of teaching and sharing our culture meant so much to them,” said Lisa Lundien, an ESL/EFL teacher with 10 years of experience at DLIELC. “I believe we represented America to those we came into contact with and I was proud to be a part of that mission.”
Echoing Lundien’s thoughts, Anne Griffin, an ESL/EFL teacher, said, “It was a privilege to count us among our students’ first US contacts as they began their new lives in this country.”
The course lasted three weeks and focused mainly on teaching students how to tell the time, describe people and shop – all in English. Farrell and her team put up clock face posters and arranged product index cards to guide their students through the new vocabulary. According to Padilla, one of her students, an Afghan primary school teacher, sat more upright when covering school-related words and her eyes lit up whenever she had the opportunity to share her job with her classmates. With plane engines roaring in the distance, the instructors would often listen to their students tell stories and then make connections between the evacuees’ experiences and English vocabulary.
“What I enjoyed the most was learning about their life stories and how they plan to make a difference with what they have learned from their past,” said ESL/EFL trainer Hadel Bilal.
“This experience reminded me that you’re never too old to learn a new language,” said ESL/EFL instructor Nickola Wilson-Chung. “Offering our Afghan allies the opportunity to learn English was a great honor and a chance for me to once again serve my country by helping future citizens adjust to the United States.”
At the end of the course, the team unanimously rated the mission a success. Padilla and her colleagues agreed that “although language learning is a long-term effort, we could see their confidence grow as they started speaking more and expanding their vocabulary. The honor of teaching her has been an invaluable gift to any instructor.”
According to Farrell, the students were not only “overwhelmingly grateful” for the lessons, but also expressed a desire to continue learning English and improving their skills. “The Afghan people are determined to succeed,” she said. “You will achieve great things and contribute much to US society.”
The team returned to the 37th TRW after completing the mission, where it continues to teach ALC Foundations and other English courses to service members from partner nations. DLIELC is the leader in English language training for the Department of Defense and is the premier stop in the United States for many international allies and partners for military training. DLIELC focuses on National Defense Strategy and Department of Defense priorities and builds security cooperation skills with U.S. partners through English language training and cultural immersion.

Date of recording: 05/04/2022
Release Date: 05/04/2022 18:39
Story ID: 417895

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