Bridging the Cultural Gap: The OLLI/CESL Collaboration


This is an incredible opportunity to help out the OU students and OU community, while getting to learn more about cultures around the world.”

Student and senior citizen campingOLLI at OU strives to provide its members with stimulating noncredit learning opportunities and seek other ways to connect with the University of Oklahoma community.

This fall semester, OLLI has found a way to do both, by giving OLLI members the unique opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students who participate in OU’s Center for English as a Second Language (CESL) by becoming mentors to students from other cultures.

CESL Director Donna Alexander provided us with information about this volunteer program, its purpose and the simple, yet helpful actions required.


OLLI at OU: What are CESL’s goals for this collaboration? What do you hope to have your students achieve?

CESL: CESL students will have the opportunity to have increased exposure to Norman community members, enabling them to develop a relaxed relationship with someone who can answer their cultural questions. The students will fill out surveys, may have interview questions on different topics and will meet periodically with the assistant director to monitor the progress of the program.


OLLI at OU: What would you like OLLI members to know before they choose to participate in this program?

CESL: The more they are willing to be open to students—answering questions about families, holidays or other customs our students may find strange or inexplicable—the better. They should have a natural curiosity about other cultures and be interested in sharing their time with a student.


This program is not about “entertaining” the student, it’s about letting the student participate in some of the natural life events the volunteers already have in their lives. Possible activities could be as mundane as grocery shopping and preparing a meal, taking a pet to the vet, allowing the student to accompany you to your child’s swimming lesson, etc.


The CESL students speak English well, allowing conversations to flow naturally during the time spent with their OLLI mentor. These students come from all over the world, including Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East. This program will help them practice and refine their English in an informal setting, while comprehending the North American culture and, more specifically, the Oklahoma culture.