After Amaury Fichant graduated from university, he dreamed of a career in international business. But he realized that there was one major thing that could hold him back: His English was not so good.
So Fichant came to Oahu, to study English as a Second Language at Intercultural Communications College Hawaii, where he spent a few months working on his speaking, reading and writing skills.
Now, three years after his stint at ICC, it seems Fichant is realizing his dreams: He’s living in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in West Africa, working as a sales manager for a French agricultural company.
“You can’t learn to drive a car from reading a book…The same is true with language.”
“To be honest, my English is really not perfect…But after my time in ICC, I was able to understand English and be understood in English,” Fichant says. “This is just what companies are looking for.”
Offering foreign languages and teacher training in addition to ESL, ICC attracts students from all over the world for a range of reasons – older people wanting to brush up on a different language before they spend their retirement traveling, foreign students who want to spend time in Hawaii while learning English, local people who work tourism or retail and international professionals like Fichant who need to improve their English to further their career.
While it might be a thriving hub now, ICC has had its struggles since opening in 1990 – most notably, the recession was rough on the school. But after a series of smart business plays and restructuring, the college has emerged on the other side, stronger. And now, it’s in the midst of a period of significant growth. Just a few weeks ago, it moved from its downtown location to a larger space near Ala Moana (1585 Kapiolani Blvd.) in order to address an increased demand.
“We needed more classrooms,” explains ICC director of academics Louise Minervino. “For the past three (years), we have had to rent additional space to house all our programs…Since the move, we have experienced a 20 percent (increase) in international student enrollment.”
The college, as executive director Mika Sasamoto sees it, is a place where “students can realize their potentials.”
“I am grateful that ICC can be the part of their journey to open their future possibilities,” she says.
For Izabela Muller, studying language has always been a part of her life and work. Originally from Brazil, Muller has worked as a flight attendant, and lived in Japan for 11 years where she taught Portuguese. Muller has been at ICC since last summer, studying advanced English, and finds the courses here markedly different than others she’s taken: They’re more participatory.
“When I used to study English in (Brazil), the students didn’t talk. Here, it is way more interactive,” Muller says. “You feel like you are having more of a conversation.”
That type of interactivity is central to the ethos of ICC.
For all of its courses, ICC uses what is known as the communicative approach for teaching a language.
“Communicative is you teach a second language like a first language,” Sasamoto explains. “It is a little bit more like a (parent) teaches to their kids. You have to practice speaking even if you don’t know how to do it.”
“You can’t learn to drive a car from reading a book,” Minervino adds. “You’ve got to go in and sit at the steering wheel and turn the key, and you’ve gotta maneuver around and you don’t know what is coming.”
“The same is true with language: You can’t learn a language by reading a book. A lot of people get a grammar book and they read it and they are like, ‘I am not retaining any of this.’ They can take tests and they can do great, but when it comes to asking people for directions, it can’t be done because they need to use the language in context.”
To facilitate that type of learning, ICC structures its classes with games, interactive exercises, and excursions that might take students on a dolphin swim, a visit to the zoo or on a downtown art tour.
ICC offers ESL in various levels, from beginning to advanced, and also features electives for specialized topics like business or law. Its teacher training programs include CELTA accreditation, which give students the opportunity to teach English abroad. In addition to ESL, various foreign languages including Arabic, Russian, Korean and more are offered. Options for customizable private classes also are available. Next month, they also are slated to open additional foreign language classes, for which they have received an increase in interest from locals.
It seems fitting that ICC’s executive director once was an ESL learner herself. Originally from Japan, Sasamoto came to the United States in her 20s, settling first in California, then Boston, and finally Hawaii to study. After college, she worked in insurance for years before taking a reception job at ICC in 2004.
Around that time, the college was struggling financially. When the recession hit, things looked dismal. Watching all of this from the front desk, Sasamoto, with her background in business, felt compelled to share her ideas for how things should be done.
“The income was going down,” Sasamoto says. “The enrollment of the students from Europe and Japan declined. At that point, I told the school that, in order for us to keep open, I think we have to restructure, resize and cut the costs.”
With Sasamoto’s suggestions, the school halted purchases on new equipment, focusing instead on retaining quality teachers and implementing new marketing strategies to appeal to international students. In 2010, they moved into the former downtown location to save on costs. The move, they admit, was not optimal. The space was smaller, meaning they had to cut class offerings.
But it also forced them to come up with new ways to expand their programming. That’s when they began offering specialized programs, like ones geared specifically toward kids, and another targeting those 50 and older. And with the limited space, they also used that as an opportunity to expand their off-site activity lessons.
With the new programming, ICC eventually did begin growing again, leading to the recent move.
Just a week after the move, with her stuff still in boxes, Sasamoto already has her sights set on the future.
“We want to grow,” she says, explaining that branch schools in other parts of the island, or perhaps even in other states, could be on the agenda. The aggressive expansion goals seem to stem simply from her love for the school; she wants more students to be able to experience it.
“When I came (to ICC), I thought this school is fantastic, I wish I knew when I was learning a language,” Sasamoto says.
“It’s very rewarding – the fact that communication is something that everybody needs to do.”
Students come to ICC with their own lofty goals. There’s real estate investor Nobuhiko Tanaka, who used the English skills he learned at ICC to help grow his company’s Honolulu branch. Muller one day hopes to teach English in other countries, or perhaps return to Brazil to open her own language school. For Samira Bani, a young student from Switzerland who currently is taking advanced English classes, she knows that no matter what she chooses to do in the future, English will be an asset.
As Sasamoto points out, it’s a global economy we’re living in now – and intercultural communication is requisite in many fields. To that end, she feels that ICC can have a vital role in “transforming the future” for students.
Fichant, for one, credits ICC with helping him get to where he is now.
“Speaking English gave me the opportunity to get my current job. Even if most West and Central Africa countries speak French, you absolutely cannot make business without English,” Fichant says.
“Also, speaking English allows me to travel all around the world…I can talk with so many different kinds of people now.”
For more information, visit icchawaii.edu
ARTICLE SOURCE: Midweek http://www.midweek.com/