Read the story of the ESL teacher who made a mission of keeping the international students of Bournemouth connected in lockdown…
Keeping in touch, and staying active, positive and social in quarantine were the first thoughts of Ali Khalid, a young teacher from Bournemouth School of English in town centre, after receiving the news about lockdown and not being able to work at the school during this time. International students going back to their countries, many leisurely activities cancelled, and no option to have online classes while the pandemic hit.
How can something that seems unsolvable and sad be turned into something good? The answer is basically the adaptive power of the human mind. Before lockdown, Ali was not just a teacher. He was also a respected activity leader of the school, organising between several different meetings and events for the students from the school and also for international people living in Bournemouth who wanted to socialise and discover all the possibilities this beautiful area has to offer. Before all the activities were cancelled, he was managing a WhatsApp group with over 150 members (growing every week), and getting ready for the summer.
It was a shame that finally they couldn’t enjoy the summer they expected, but Ali knew it wasn’t a reason to give up. Quite the opposite — it was an opportunity to keep people and students in touch even at a distance. Online games and movies, quirky quizzes in order to learn English, sharing pictures… these were only a few ideas to hold onto the engagement and not to lose the spark they had found. Ali knew that international people and students are one of the very important groups that keeps Bournemouth alive and in movement, so, what’s better than keeping connected to remind them to come back?
WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE IN BOURNEMOUTH BEFORE LOCKDOWN?
I was an English teacher, teaching English to foreign students as a second language. During that time I was also the activities coordinator in the school, which means I used to organise different weekly activities not just for our students but also for international students that are living in Bournemouth. Activities such as excursions, dance classes, sports training and matches, dinners, cinema…
I’m also a co-founder of a WhatsApp group called ‘Bournemouth Friends’ where the activities are published and people can also propose plans and share any doubts or concerns they have. Everyone is welcome here, the only rule is to be respectful with each other. I thought it could be really helpful for people new in the town who don’t really know anyone or have that support. I also actively took part in a free organisation called, ‘Conversation Club’ where we help students settle in Bournemouth; whether this be conversation classes or general day-to-day things.
AFTER YOUR WORK HAD TO BE CEASED AT THE SCHOOL, WHAT WERE YOUR INITIAL THOUGHTS ON THE PANDEMIC SITUATION?
I was actually disappointed not to be able to pursue the job that I love doing every day and not see my students. I really engaged with them in the time we shared and it became part of my lifestyle. I also felt really bad for them — they had to stop their classes and activities here that they paid for in advance. Some of them were able to travel back to their countries, but others didn’t find any flights, so they had to stay here in lockdown on their own. Also some of them got stuck in other countries during their travels.
In general I had other worries like putting a stop on the things I love whether this is taking part in sports, going to the gym or meeting up with friends. Essentially I was scared of having my life put to a stop for the time being. Just like everyone else.
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING TO KEEP YOURSELF ACTIVE DURING LOCKDOWN?
At the beginning, it was very difficult to do activities during lockdown and keep up with other day-to-day things like everyone else. However I took the initiative to take something negative and turn into positive.
So, instead of doing activities with students physically, I started organising online activities. For example a Netflix party, a coffee Skype session every week, or using applications like Plato, where we can play games online together. My purpose was getting the students involved during this time and keep the group active and alive. And most importantly, not letting them get lonely, whatever their situation was. Not allowing them to forget their good experiences in Bournemouth despite how the things turned out. I think technology gives us a wide range of possibilities in this sense that we shouldn’t waste it.
WHAT FEEDBACK DID YOU RECEIVE FROM THE STUDENTS ABOUT THESE ACTIVITIES?
The feedback I received from the students was very positive. A lot of them are a long way from home, so in general the feedback was very good and many got involved in these online activities. I believe this helped them to stay connected with others living in Bournemouth. Some of them even sent me a personal message to thank me for the initiative, as this allowed them to be more social and happy during this time.
DO YOU THINK BOURNEMOUTH BENEFITS FROM ITS INTERNATIONAL POPULATION?
I definitely think that Bournemouth benefits from having international students. Not only do they provide a strong financial income for the town, but international students also provide something from their own countries. They bring their culture and experiences to Bournemouth. This is a great way to integrate into society and learn from each other.
DO YOU THINK THE PEOPLE WHO HAD TO LEAVE WILL EVER COME BACK?
Our international students that left have basically told us that they are looking forward to come back to Bournemouth at some point. Whether that is the reality or not is very difficult to say. I think, at first, people are going to be hesitant to travel and this will also affect language students due to travelling to the UK, just like anywhere else in the world. But I do think, eventually with time, people will change their mindset and start considering travelling again and therefore return to Bournemouth. It might be themselves a friend or someone they know.
WHAT ARE YOUR CONCERNS ABOUT YOUR FIELD FOLLOWING THE PANDEMIC?
As a teacher, in the school my biggest concern is whether or not I have a job. The school heavily depends on international students for business, and if they don’t have international students, they don’t really have any reason to employ the teachers. I do believe that when the situation passes over, it will affect all ESL teachers, but we must stay optimistic. Hopefully, things will get better and we will return to the same workflow once again.
HOW DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE? WHAT WOULD BE YOUR IDEAL SCENARIO?
For me, the ideal scenario would be getting back into the normal life, nothing more. That means having the same students to teach, and resuming the responsibilities I once had — holding the activities, engaging with the students and enjoying Bournemouth as a town and what is has to offer for everyone.
After this difficult time, we will definitely appreciate our town more and small moments together. I think this experience is making us stronger and we will come back to the new normal life with essential knowledge, teachings and full of desire to live.
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