International Students get first taste of Halloween

Tucked away in a corner of the bottom floor of the DePaul Center, tables are strewn about, adorned with festive orange and black decorations and covered with candy.  Music plays as students in costume mingle about, eyeing the spread on the buffet table.  Passers-by may be reminded of a grade school Halloween party they had long ago, but for those in attendance: this is their first taste of the October holiday.

The party is hosted by the DePaul English Language Academy (ELA), which provides classes and activities for international students to help them learn English and acclimate them to American life.  It may look silly to us natives, but for the students, it’s an event unlike one they have ever seen before.

“It’s important because it is a cultural experience,” said Susanna McCall, a staff member for DePaul’s Office for International Students and Scholars.  She works with the ELA to organize events like these for international students, which are essential to making them feel apart of the culture in which they now live.

“Halloween is something uniquely American, so it’s very interesting for them,” said McCall.

One of the international students in attendance was 22-year-old Lin Chen from China.  She was ecstatic about the Halloween festivities, the first she had ever seen of the holiday.

“It’s really cool,” she said, dressed as a cat.  “It’s funny to see people in costumes.”

When asked what she thought was the best costume she had seen all day, she couldn’t help but laugh.

“I saw a chimpanzee!” she said, still enthralled by the encounter.  “I love to see people being weird.”

DePaul’s ELA assists students from 35 different countries in learning English and American culture.  Based downtown in the Loop campus, the ELA offers classes on English writing, reading, grammar and speaking.  According to the ELA’s website, students reach adequate proficiency within two terms of study, although it typically takes five terms before they reach the highest level of language mastery.

The services provided by the ELA and the Office of International Students and Scholars are becoming increasingly important thanks to rising international student enrollment.  According to enrollment statistics provided by DePaul’s department of Enrollment Management and Marketing (EM&M), international student enrollment was up 22 percent in 2011 from the previous year’s number.  This means a total of 1,069 international students, or about four percent of total university enrollment. 

Most of these students come from China, Saudi Arabia and India, although as a whole they represent 86 countries.  Fifty-one percent of these students are business or commerce majors, while 30 percent are enrolled in the College of Digital Media.  International students are likely drawn to American universities like DePaul for their high quality of education that is unattainable in their home countries. 

For now, though, these students are enjoying their home away from home and reveling in its unique traditions.  Sultan al-Maliki, a Middle-Eastern international student, dressed up as the Joker from Batman, and was eyeing the wide variety of food that could be found on the buffet table at the party.

“The candy,” was the best way he could describe his favorite part about Halloween with his limited knowledge of English.  With the help of the ELA, students like al-Maliki can expect to soon have a strong grasp on the language.

“Most of them have never celebrated Halloween before,” said Valerie Egon, 29, explaining some of the students’ bewilderment at the sight of the festivities.  Egon volunteers with the ELA and also helps to teach classes for English as a Second Language.  She could not stress enough the importance of the event.

“It’s a lot of fun for them and for us, because it’s all new to them,” she said.

The ELA Halloween party will continue until 5 p.m. in the DePaul Center in the Loop.  Anyone is welcome to attend.