Jan. 25, 2017


Hillary Kirk

This month, Hilary Kirk, CESL’s favorite British ESL instructor, is celebrating her 6th year here at the Center for English as a Second Language at OU. Anytime you enter Hilary’s classroom, she is ready to greet you with her cheery personality and a warm cup of tea. After spending just a short amount of time with her, you will likely find that she likes the color red. You will often see her in her red boots and a matching red outfit. She is kind, encouraging, and always prepared to teach.

Hilary has a vast amount of experience teaching languages. Not only has she taught English, but she has also taught Italian, French, and German. She has lived and traveled many places around the world until finally settling here in Norman, Oklahoma, with her family. We interviewed Hilary so she can tell us in her own words more about herself. 

Where are you from and where did you originally attend college?

I am originally from London, England, and I attended college in Manchester, in the north of England. However, at this point I have lived almost half of my life in different countries. I came to the U.S. 6 years ago. I love living in Norman, Oklahoma!

Growing up, what did you think you would be doing or what did you want to be?

When I was a child I wanted to work in a flower shop, arranging and selling flowers!

Who has been your greatest influence in life?

I think the person who has had the greatest influence on my life was my grandmother. Ever since I was a young child people told me I was like her and that always made me very happy because I thought she was wonderful! She studied chemistry at university even though her father told her women should not study. (She was the only woman studying chemistry in the whole university!) Her husband died when their two children were young and she brought them up on her own. Then, when she was 85 years old, she remarried and lived happily until she was 100!

What is your favorite hobby/way to spend your spare time?

I love to ride my bike with my family, go for walks, sing, invite my friends to eat at my house and read, mostly non-fiction.

What's the best advice you would give to an aspiring educator?

Enjoy yourself! If you don’t have any fun, neither will your students. And people learn better when they are happy.

Do you have any advice for prospective students or current students?

Find things to do on the weekend. Try to meet people and see new things.

What profound changes do you see coming to your field within the next 10 years?

In the next ten years maybe someone will succeed in teaching a computer how to grade written homework. I’m not sure if that would be good or bad: I don’t want to lose my job!

What is the best part about being a CESL faculty member?

My students! Thank you all for making this a great place to work!


Nov. 14, 2016

Letter from the CESL Director - Safety at OU

To the Students of CESL:

I know that the recent presidential election has left everyone unsettled. Please be assured that as members of the University of Oklahoma community, you are in a safe place, and our support of you is steadfast.

You represent all that is good about our university. President Boren’s efforts to invite you here and the rich diversity that you bring to our campus have not changed because of the election. If you have any fears or experience any bad behavior from other university students or the Norman community, you can seek help from the following people:

  • your instructors
  • Student Support Advisor Mrs. Haley Vickers
  • Assistant Director Cory Northern (Boomer Building rm. 107)
  • Director Donna Alexander (Boomer Building, Rm. 108)

Always call the police first, if an incident occurs involving you or something you want to report on another person’s behalf. Please also call the CESL emergency line if you need support, but in an emergency, call the police first, especially if your safety is in question.

Police emergency: 911

OU Police emergency:  405-325-1911                             

OU Police non-emergency: 405-325-2864

CESL Emergency Line:      405-795-3269

In light of incidents on other campuses and to further enhance responsiveness, the University of Oklahoma has established a 24-hour Reporting Hotline.  The hotline will serve as an added protection for OU students, handling reports of bias, discrimination, physical or mental harassment or misconduct by OU community members.  The 24-hour Reporting Hotline can be accessed by calling 844-428-6531 or going online to www.ou.ethicspoint.com

You can also call the hotline number to report an incident, but please call the police first if something is happening. This hotline is only to keep track of the things happening on our campus.

Please make smart decisions and stay aware of your surroundings. We want everyone to feel safe and to feel welcome on our campus and in our community.


Donna Alexander

Director, Center for English as a Second Language


August 24, 2016

Greetings from the Director's Desk


Welcome to the Fall 2016 Session I!

This session, CESL has 115 students from about 20 different countries! The population is a 60/40% split between males and females, and we have 14 teachers in the building. The fall weather in Oklahoma is cooperating beautifully with cool mornings, warm afternoons, and lots of sunshine!

To the new students, I hope you enjoyed the kick-off orientation luncheon at Couch Restaurants, with about 250 of your closest new friends and 22 different in-house restaurants to choose from. Since it’s within walking distance of the CESL building, I hope you’ll go back again and again to increase your experience with the variety of American and other countries’ foods available here on campus.

To the returning students, I hope you have lots of fun summer adventure stories to share with us!

Thank you for being respectful with other students and your instructors by being on time and getting your work done. I’m sure you heard more than you wanted to from each of your instructors about homework and quizzes and discussions and teamwork!

I hope that you will take a moment and appreciate what a huge step you have taken to come and study in another country, try to speak as much English as you can, and get to know your international classmates. This is a great opportunity! Stop by any of our offices to have a chat or ask questions about life here in Norman, the university, and rules you come across that don’t make sense to you. If the staff or the instructors don’t have the answers you need, we’ll help you find who does.

We know that CESL is just a short stop on your way to doing great things, and we don’t want to waste a minute of your time! I hope that your semester is all that you imagined it could be. Welcome to university life!

I’m sure that having you here is going to add fullness to the diversity on our campus and color to our lives! Enjoy the journey.


Donna Alexander


July 14, 2016

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Anna Restuccia Bucciarelli


Anna Restuccia

In August 2010, Anna Restuccia made her way to the Center for English as a Second Language (CESL) aspiring to be a journalist.  Anna comes to us from the capitol city of Caracas, Venezuela. Her dreams of being an accomplished contributor to the journalism field are coming true, but she credits CESL as giving her the foundation she needed to succeed in America. 

If you were to ask Anna how proficient in English she was when she arrived, she would say terrible.

“My English was really bad when I first got to CESL. I just accepted all the extra help I could get. I would come on Fridays when we had no class and study extra hard.  I joined a language exchange program through CESL and met for 3 hours every week in the library on campus so my language partner could learn Spanish and I could improve my English skills. I knew I had to put a lot of effort into this so I did whatever I could to get better,” Anna explained.

Upon graduating in 2015 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations through the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communications, Anna is now pursuing her Master’s Degree in Strategic Communications. She also serves as a graduate and teaching assistant where she helps 60 students with research, in addition to being named the first Spanish-speaking ambassador of the Gaylord College by former Dean of the OU Journalism program, Joe Foote. 

Anna attributes her drive to succeed being inspired by her grandparents.

“My grandparents were immigrants from Italy who moved to Venezuela. I watched them struggle and overcome many challenges in life. They were poor and did not know the language. Coming from that background just made me want to work hard and do good,” said Anna.

Like her grandparents, Anna overcame her own challenges of learning a new language.

“Knowing a second language is a different world," Anna said. "As I see it, CESL gave me the tools to communicate with the world. My favorite class was Public Speaking. Being a native Spanish speaker, we typically speak very fast. Public Speaking taught me how to slow down and articulate my words so that people could understand me better.  Now, I can think in 3 languages and have become a more conscious person, sort of like a citizen of the world. I don’t look at CESL as an English academy; it’s so much more than that. I see this as a place for friendship. I made many connections while there including with the director, Donna Alexander.  She was the first person I met and she believed in me. I always felt very supported at CESL.” 

Although Anna has achieved many great things while studying at OU, she is particularly proud of her employment as a Telemundo reporter in Oklahoma City. Telemundo is an American Spanish-language television network owned by NBC.

“Not only was this a great opportunity for me to gain valuable skills in my career field," Anna said. "But it allowed me to reach a minority audience that often does not have a voice.”

Anna aspires to work for a global corporation in the United States. She hopes to become an expert in international communication campaigns and possibly return to Venezuela one day to work as an anchor/reporter there. 

There is no doubt that Anna is climbing the stairs to success quickly and the sky is the limit for her. Even though it has been 6 years since she attended CESL, she wanted to share some heartfelt insight to future and current students. “Be open to other cultures and try not to focus on JUST learning English. When I was at CESL, I was invited to the Mosque to learn about Ramadan and I went. I love diversity and welcome the opportunity to learn about a new culture.  Being at CESL is being part of a community where everyone is hungry to know different people from everywhere.  That is why coming to Oklahoma is a good thing! When you get here, not many people will speak your language, which will force you to learn about other cultures and grow as a person.”


Learn more about CESL's Intensive English Program


June 8, 2016



Benmadi Milad

In Sirte, an average-sized, modern city in Libya, Benmadi Milad spent his childhood days watching oilfield trucks and exploration equipment pass by through the streets of his hometown.  His curiosity led him to start reading books about petroleum engineering and by 8th grade, he knew for certain what he wanted to be when he grew up.  Fast forward to 2016, and you can now find Benmadi pursuing a Ph.D. in Petroleum Geology at OU, but his journey was not met without challenges.  As if learning a new language and integrating into American culture was not trying enough, Benmadi’s home country of Libya was in a civil war.

Benmadi came to the Center for English as a Second Language (CESL) at OU in July of 2010 and ended his studies in August 2011.  In just over a year, Benmadi was able to improve his English skills enough so that he could enter directly into the Petroleum Engineering Master’s Degree program at OU. This daunting task is an uphill battle for any student, but Benmadi accomplished it amidst a turbulent civil war brewing in his country, which eventually came into fruition in February 2011. 

Benamdi may have been physically safe from the ravages of war while studying here in the United States but constant worry plagued him about what was occurring to his family back home.  While Benmadi says that he was fortunate enough to come over here on a scholarship from the Libyan Government during the Gaddafi regime and have the opportunity to study in America, he says it was often stressful for him.  “I had very excellent days and I had very bad days,” Benmadi said. “I remember having so much pressure on me. Not only did I have to keep my grades up to maintain my scholarship, but I also had to pass the TOEFL exam and the GRE so I could continue my studies and keep my visa status.  I had a timeline to follow, and I knew if I didn’t meet the requirements, I would lose not only my scholarship but so much more.  It was a lot of stress on me.”

Benmadi persevered despite the setbacks he experienced.

“I remember preparing as much as I could for the TOEFL exam and studying very hard,” he said. “The first time that I didn’t pass I was disappointed, but the second time I didn’t pass I was very discouraged.  During this time, my country was at war also.  I was very worried about my country and my family back home that I didn’t get to speak to for 3 months, and this only made things harder for me.  Without the support of Donna, Cory and other faculty at CESL, I don’t know where I would be.  That was a very big deal to me to have their encouragement, and it is something I will never forget.”

Upon graduating from his Ph.D. program, Benmadi hopes to first work for a petroleum company that enables him to apply the knowledge he has gained during his academic career and then eventually make his way back to academia and teach one day. 

“I really enjoy the education environment and it would be nice to share my skills and experience with students,” said Benmadi.

When asked what he would like to share with current CESL students, he replied, “Take every single opportunity to do whatever the teachers ask of you, especially in grammar and writing.  Once you move on to main campus or transfer to a university, you will have many demands such as reports, presentations, critiques, etc.  This is why it’s so important to focus on your studies now because that is what will benefit you the most once you leave CESL.”

“Also, once you get to main campus,” Benmadi continues, “do not forget CESL.  Stop by and say hello from time to time…everyone there will appreciate it.” 

Benmadi may have endured many obstacles that would have distracted him from his dream, but he stayed determined and his hard work is paying off.  “The way I stay inspired is that I always remember that if you have a goal and want to achieve it, you can, whether you have challenges or not.  Every goal will always have its challenges and those challenges will just make you stronger,” explains Benamdi. 

“I achieved my dream, which was to acquire English language skills,” Benmadi said. “CESL helped me achieve my dreams and I will always be thankful for that.” 


May 17, 2016



Talal al Hajri

Everyone, meet Talal Al Hajri.

Talal comes to us from Dammam, Saudi Arabia, a city close to the waters of the Persian Gulf.  He has studied here at the Center for English as a Second Language (CESL) for approximately one year.   At the young age of nineteen, Talal seems to know where he is going and is determined to meet his goals. 

Talal grew up watching American movies and TV programming, which introduced him to English as American culture. 

“I used to watch these films that were from America and I knew that someday I was going to learn English and travel to the United States to study,” Talal said. “One day I just told my parents that my dream was to do this after graduating high school.  They were happy for me and very supportive.  I know my dad was especially happy because he had the opportunity to study in America, too.” 

When Talal has free time, he enjoys playing ping-pong (in the student dorms), basketball and soccer with the friends he has made while attending CESL. Something that may surprise you about Talal is his love of old-school hip-hop music.  “Most people wouldn’t think but I enjoy listening to all the older rap music.  My favorites are Dr. Dre, Eminem and Snoop Dog,” confessed Talal. 

Talal has high hopes after he completes his time here at CESL.  “I know that I want to continue on at OU and study Law,” Talal said. “I look forward to being an attorney one day.  I’m not real sure which area of law I would like to specialize in yet but I think that Family Law and Criminal Law would interest me the most.”

While Talal admits it has been challenging living in a new country and being a student at the same time, he is proud of himself for gaining new skills that he didn’t have before he left home.  “Living on my own has made me learn about money,” Talal said. Back home, I never knew how to spend money or how to save money.  Now I can live on a budget and it’s made me more responsible.” 

Often times, our current students have some of the best advice for future students out there wishing to come to America and study English.  When asked what wisdom he wishes he could share with those who may still be at home in their native country and thinking about coming to CESL he replied, “the thing you have to remember is that learning a new language takes a long time.  Don’t worry if you’re not learning quickly or doing well at first.  You just have to study hard and not give up.  Be patient and you will reach your goal, just like I am doing.”  He went on to say, “if I could change one thing about the world today, I would make things to where everyone could have an education no matter how much money they had.  Even if they were very poor with no money, they could still have an education.” 

When asked what Talal wants people to know about his people back home in Saudi Arabia, he said, “we are kind and we are generous. We are very nice people.” 


May 9, 2016


Laughing Man On Computer

We are preparing for a great summer semester at CESL! We are excited to meet our new students and looking forward to seeing our returning students next week. 

If you are a new student for Summer Session 1, arrive at the CESL Cross D building, 4th floor, by 9 a.m. on Wednesday, May 11th, for New Student Orientation. Bring your passport with you and your IbT or IELTS score if you have one. At the New Student Orientation, you will learn all about CESL and the University of Oklahoma. In addition, you will do placement activities so we know which classes you should start in at CESL. 

If you are a Sooner Jump Start student, check with your advisors about any extra activities they have planned for you! 

Returning students who qualify and want to take the Skip Test need to be at CESL by 9 a.m. on Friday, May 13th. 

All students begin classes at 9 a.m. on Monday, May 16th. Returning students can check EngradePro for your schedule. New students can pick up your schedules with Jaime at the front desk on Monday morning. 

Do you have questions? Let us know! Email us at esl@ou.edu, call us at 405-325-2351, or connect with us on social media: 

Facebook: Facebook.com/eslou

Instagram: OUCESL

Twitter: @oucesl

We hope everyone has a great summer!