VISAS workplace ESL program finds new avatar online


VISAS workplace ESL program finds new avatar online

First Day Online VISAS UVA Facilities Tuesday Workplace Program Class

As programs moved to online and virtual worlds due to the pandemic, CAELC’S Volunteers with International Students, Staff, and Scholars (VISAS) Program is keeping up with the changes. This month they transferred their 10-year-old program – Workplace ESL - online this past week.

“None of the workers had access to computers and few had access to Zoom through their phones,” said Elizabeth Wittner, Academic Director for Center for American English Language and Culture. “So, this was a big leap this past week and we were thrilled that it went so well.”

The Workplace ESL Program matches UVA Facilities employees with UVA students to work on English.  The program is hoping to help individuals who are working hard throughout the university to follow ever-changing health guidelines, most of which are often in English.

For their first meeting, volunteers met with an instructor and VISAS interns in a Zoom room and then headed to breakout rooms to meet with their workplace partner via WhatsApp video, Facetime, or simple audio calls.

“Some students held their cell phones in zoom sessions, so that their partners could talk to the group, reporting one thing that they and their new partner have in common, and we found so many,” Wittner said.

One group shared that the UVA student spent time in a village in Kenya right next store where her employee partner grew up. Another person shared that they recognized each other from the scene of an accident only a few days earlier, where they were both trying to translate for those involved.

“It does not replace the physical connections students and their employees make as part of the program, but I am so happy that we are able to offer this program virtually.”

In addition, volunteers with CAELC’s MOVE Program (Multilingual Outreach Volunteer Effort) have continued their translating work around COVID-19 for speakers of other languages in the Charlottesville community.  

They are also finding ways to connect outside of the work they do, by sharing favorite words from other languages that illuminate something about the culture. Check the list here and you can add your favorite word or phrase too.