A Good Nervous

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Former Academic English learner, Soukphaxay Khamphilavong, attributes getting involved at the ELP to his language-learning success

Photography and music are a great mix of art that can be reflected in many ways. However, Soukphaxay Khamphilavong, who also calls himself Joe, has decided to mix his passions for photography and music with engineering. 

Joe is a former Academic English learner at the English Language Program (ELP) from Laos who came to Toronto after he graduated from high school. I still remember meeting him at the lobby of the ELP and asking him where Laos was located since for me and many more of our friends at the ELP, this was the first time that we heard about Laos. 

For that reason, when I asked him where he was from, he told me, “I am from Laos, a small country in Southeast Asia.” Currently, he is pursuing his degree in Civil Engineering at Ryerson University and one of his goals is to “Graduate as an engineer from a Canadian University, get a job, and travel the world.”

When I asked him why he decided to come to Canada, he says, “I heard that Canadians are friendly, and Toronto is a very multicultural city where I do not feel different.” Therefore, he decided to move to Canada and start his dream by taking Academic English levels 50 and 60 at the ELP.

Even though he studied in high school in Vietnam for four years, coming to Toronto was a different and nerve-racking experience since it was his first time being this far from home.

“I was nervous, but it was a good nervous more like excitement to learn and experience something new,” he said. 

On his first day at the ELP, he was shy and anxious for the new opportunities. However, all the experiential activities after class that the ELP offers, helped him overcome those feelings.

“The activities after class and volunteering are very important. Almost all my friends from the ELP are people that I met at these activities and volunteering events,” he said. 

He told me that two of the most important skills that he learned at ELP besides the academic ones were the communication and socializing skills.

I was really shy... [and] afraid of making a grammar mistake since English is not my first language. And then I thought to myself, since English is not my first language, nobody expects me to speak perfect English. And that was when I started to speak more and made more mistakes. I was lucky because I have friends who were and are always correcting me. That is how I improved my English and other skills, by learning from my mistakes.

“I was really shy; I am still a bit shy to talk to others but it was mostly because I was afraid of making a grammar mistake since English is not my first language. And then I thought to myself, since English is not my first language, nobody expects me to speak perfect English. And that was when I started to speak more and made more mistakes. I was lucky because I have friends who were and are always correcting me. That is how I improved my English and other skills, by learning from my mistakes,” he said.

During this learning process, Joe thinks that volunteering activities are and were the best way to practice English and communication skills, while giving Toronto and its communities a few hours of time, making it a better place to live. 

“I used to volunteer every week. I volunteered more than 80 hours; it is the best way to practice your English because you are working with people outside of class in the real world. It is tiring sometimes but it is fun. For me, what you gain from it is definitely worth the time.”

Always exploring new sounds and rhythms, Joe is also passionate about photography which is reflected in his five cameras and all the pictures that he has taken for past magazines at ELP. He told me that he likes taking pictures of people and their expressions rather than landscapes. For this reason, he used to be our professional unofficial photographer when we were learners at the ELP.  Showcasing this interest at the ELP allowed him to get involved even more. 

Nowadays, Joe spends most of his time studying math and physics. But, life after the ELP has been great for him in Toronto.  In fact, he considers that starting his dream at ELP was a decision that has changed his perspective on life for the better.

Finally, Joe wanted to share an advice for our current and future students in this adventure of studying in Toronto “Don’t be shy and you will make friends and have fun.  And try to get involved in as many activities as possible. This will help you improve your English a lot faster than you think. But also study hard and have fun at the same time. Meet lots of people, and do not miss out on the opportunities.”