When Cultures Unite

Chloe Gillum, Writer, Reporter

Sherri Morrison has always felt strongly about culture. She loves to travel the world but never could have imagined just how much an impact culture could have on her life as well as her students’. Learning about different cultures has become a great way to bring diversity into her classroom.

Morrison taught ESL – English as a second language to non-native English-speaking students at Southern Methodist University for eight years. In 2010, she began working full-time in the intensive English program. She worked part-time at Dallas County Community College prior to teaching at SMU and started off teaching developmental reading and writing.

“I think I’m really passionate about helping people see things through somebody else’s eyes,” said Morrison. “I got to see that every day in my classroom when people from countries that didn’t get along with each other became friends.”

Morrison speaks English but is familiar with a small amount of German. Throughout her classes, one class, in particular, had been made up of six languages. She and her students relied solely on English when communicating with one another. Students underwent pretesting and were then grouped into a class with people on the same level as them. 

“Because I had so many different languages in one class, we started with the very basics,” said Morrison. “We called it “Survival English” and students would learn phrases to help them interact with other people since they were so far from home.”

As time progressed, students learned about nouns, verbs, and were able to put sentences together. Morrison believes she built her closest relationships with her students through laughing and getting to know each other.

“Students would give presentations about their culture, they might cook food and bring it into class and do a how-to speech on how it’s fixed,” said Morrison. “There was a unit where we worked on restaurant vocabulary and we went out to eat one day to practice that vocabulary.”

There was a tradition at the end of the semester to have a banquet.  Everyone would come together and meet at Morrison’s house for a class party.

“A lot of my kids never knew American football so I had them over to grill hamburgers and watch football,” said Morrison. “They all came over in their little Cowboys jerseys and I loved sharing traditions with them.”

Morrison has kept in touch with some of her past students over the years. About six months ago, she got an email from a student who she had in class.

“He was from Saudi Arabia and really struggled through the ESL program,” said Morrison. “He was ready to quit [the program] and go back home. He ended up working so hard and passed the class so he finished the program.”

After finishing the program, he left SMU and went to school in Oklahoma. He emailed Morrison to let her know he was working towards a Master’s degree.

“It was so cool to think he was about ready to leave and now he was starting a Master’s degree,” said Morrison. “It was really sweet because he said I pushed him and believed in him and now he is where he is. That was a really big success.”

Morrison enjoyed getting to know her students from different cultures and growing close friends with them. However, over time, the program began to dwindle.

“Due to international world events, we were getting less kids coming over so it was starting to get smaller,” said Morrison. “After Covid, it got especially bad. After eight years I thought it’s been really fun and I heard about a position here. It all worked out and I feel like it is meant to be. I miss it, but I love the challenge here.”