FERIZAJ, Kosovo - What was started as an English language course for high school students in Ferizaj has grown to an opportunity for students to enroll in U.S. or European universities.
Soldiers from Task Force Aviation go to Ferizaj every Tuesday and Thursday where they teach English and help prepare top students of Ferizaj high schools to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language.
The TOEFL is designed to test students on their reading, listening, speaking and writing ability in the English language and the score can be used to apply for a university outside of Kosovo.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Thomas Jackson, a Spring Hill, Fla. native and Florida National Guard service member, is a UH-60A Black Hawk pilot for Multinational Battle Group-East. According to Jackson, when he isn’t flying, he is teaching English.
“I love being with students and I really enjoy speaking to them and teaching them English,” said Jackson.
“It’s myself and Jason Abel, another pilot in this rotation that teach,” said Jackson. “Kids really love it; they are always smiling and having a good a time.”
Jackson started his class by writing the quote of the day on a white board and asking students to write what it means to them. For this class, Jackson used Bill Cosby’s quote “in order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.”
Denis Dalladaku, a high school graduate from Ferizaj who would like to study architecture, wrote that “to me success is inner peace.”
In a perfect English accent and wearing an Iron Man t-shirt, Dalladaku explained how much the course helped him with his English skills.
“I have learned how to think in English,” said Dalladaku. “I have been attending this course for two months now and I’ve learned a lot of new words. A lot of grammar mistakes I used to do, I have fixed them.”
Jackson said that in the beginning a lot of students were shy to stand up and speak, prefering to write their feelings and thoughts, “but now out of our 19 participants each one of them will be willing to stand up and read their essays and speeches that they wrote down.”
Taking the TOEFL is not free. It costs $150 for each student, and the money to help pay for those fees comes from donations gathered at the Waffle House at Camp Bondsteel.
“We will pay for all 19 students,” said Jackson. “Basically we make waffles and soldiers from all different camps in Kosovo come on Sunday to Camp Bondsteel, have waffles for breakfast and donate money. It’s a great cause and we usually raise from 450 to 700 Euro every week, and every Euro goes towards the test.”
Naim Bajrami, a linguist at Camp Bondsteel, has been part of the program since it started in 2008 when they began preparing students for TOEFL. They began paying for the students’ test fees and their transportation to American University of Kosovo in Prishtina in 2009.
“In total around 100 to 110 students have attended TOEFL since the beginning,” said Bajrami.
Jackson said that the students will attend the TOEFL test this December, and he is confident they will do well.
“This is a stepping stone for them, it will allow them to explore opportunities and use their English knowledge to achieve their academic goal,” added Jackson.
But this has not been an opportunity only for the local students; Jackson said that it has helped him realize patience within himself.
“Actually I am able to go out in the town and enjoy myself, learn new things from the kids. It’s not a one way street where we are teaching them English and that’s it, they are also teaching me Albanian language,” said Jackson.
Dalladaku is grateful to U.S. soldiers for giving him this opportunity. “I appreciate very much what they are doing for us, because I know that they are doing this outside their daily job, so I would like to say thank you to all them.”
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This work, Through waffles to opportunities, by Ardian Nrecaj, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.