I put my pencil down and watched as Varoosh Muradian’s fingers skimmed the 28 Arabic characters of his keyboard while he revised his sentence, silently repeating the words in English under his breath. English isn’t his first language, but neither are the other three languages.
A native of Erbil, Iraq, Muradian is one of the 2,800 international students currently enrolled at BYU-I, and one of the dozens of English language learner students who come into the McKay Library Writing Center for free tutoring. While Muradian boasts a repertoire of five languages, English was most recently acquired with the same mentality that brings him into the Writing Center several times a day, three times a week: sink or swim.
Enrollment rates at BYU-Idaho are at a record high, with a 7.9 increase in the last year; however, the enrollment rates of international students are nearly 10 times that, as international student enrollment has increased by 69 percent in the last two years alone. Students worldwide are flocking from their homes to Rexburg for an education now more than ever, and you can find most of them working full-time, religiously attending their classes and signing into the tutoring centers over and over again.
“Assignments that take anyone else an hour usually take me about three hours,” Muradian said. He knows if he doesn’t double-check his papers with a tutor, he’ll be staring at a marked-up essay while he listens to the professor give a lecture in a language that wasn’t his first.
It’s the same routine. Sit down. Ask the student to read their essay out loud. And there it is. The first mistake is usually in the first sentence with another three in the second, and maybe two more in the third. The student never gets discouraged, though. As they fumble through the silent B’s and I before E’s of the English language on paper, words they speak are clear: “Ok, I’ll fix that.”
When I tutor the student who just arrived on a plane from Seoul not yet two months ago with everything in tow besides a knowledge of the English language, or when I work with the student whose paper is more red than white with corrections, all I can think is, “Would I be this dedicated? Could I go to a university and hardly know the language, let alone write an entire essay in that language for four years?” Could you? I believe that for most of us, the answer is no.
While I know there are plenty of American students who take full advantage of the opportunities at the university, I believe there are more international students cleaning school buildings at 4 a.m., more international students involved in extracurricular activities and more international students correcting their homework for the third time at the tutoring center. I believe more international students take advantage of many of the opportunities offered at BYU-I.
The university offers free tutoring in all subjects, from public speaking to nursing to engineering. As a tutor at the Writing Center, I’ve had the opportunity to work with an international or an English language learner student every day, and never once have they given me the white piece of paper that signifies they’re there because a teacher required them to; they’re there because they want to be.
Varoosh Muradian signs into the tutoring center nearly every day, every week, every semester because he wants to. These dedicated international students have taught me to work harder and more efficiently.
So, next time we think of complaining about an assignment that might take us an hour or two, I suggest we take a step back, because the person next to us might be working just a little bit harder.