The Catholic University of America

The Stories from Our Alumni:
Over Thirty Years of History in Three Buildings:
A Short History of the Intensive English Program
It all started in 1983, in St. John’s Hall, a sort of Italian Renaissance Villa, now a grassy knoll in front of the Pryzbyla Center, with the first students from mainland China to study in the US, one of them a painter of some renown who decorated with daring brush strokes the back wall of the first language lab:  tape recorders and home-made tapes.  The program shared space with architecture freshman studios:  the English students at work during the day, the freshmen architects at night.  It took off from there as more and more international students were applying to study at the Catholic University of America:  from Asia and South America, from Europe and Africa, brave young men and women, ready and patient to grow in their knowledge of English so as to be able to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in English.  They went on to become engineers and architects, nurses and professors of nursing, teachers in Catholic schools and musicians, priests and bishops, all over the world.
The program expanded, a miniature reflection of geo-political events and the vicissitudes of world economies.   Dozens of students from Korea and Japan, whole families of youngsters from Columbia and Panama, and soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, waves of young and not so young people from what used to be the Soviet Union and its satellites:  close to 100 seminarians from Ukraine, priests and religious men and women from Poland, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia.  One spring day, our neighbors, the Bishops’ Conference, approached us about a program in ecclesiastical English for a large group of clergy from Russia and Eastern Europe, and soon afterwards, the Intensive English Program became “Little Rome,” with the Archbishops of Moscow and Latvia, a bishop from Kazakhstan, priests from Moldova, Russia, Hungary, Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland walking in the hallways with English books in their hands, memorizing irregular verbs.  The program was already moved to the less architecturally inspired Pangborn Hall, with a dedicated language lab space, equipped with computers through the generosity of an alumnus, and two classrooms, filled to capacity every day, abuzz with voices getting shaped around English vowels.
The new century welcomed new cohorts of students, from the newly founded seminary Redemptoris Mater, from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, from Brazil and Mexico, and the many religious orders in the Brookland neighborhood and beyond. But now alumni who come back to visit—and there are many who have not forgotten their first home at the Catholic University of America—find the program in its third location, in Gibbons Hall.  A most providential location, for in the early years of the Program, a Vietnamese student, one who had escaped with his little brother walking through the jungle, chose for our emblem the most beautiful building on campus—the turreted Gibbons Hall—and his drawing appeared on the Program’s first advertising brochures. It still is the watermark of our home page.  The current location of the Intensive English Program is in the shadow of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, on whose steps a few thousand students who started out their academic journey in the Intensive English Program receive, several years later, their degrees from the Catholic University of America.
Anca M. Nemoianu
March 11, 2015
It’s been almost fifteen years, and yet every time I remember my time at The Catholic University of America, these two words keep coming into the memory of my heart: beauty and goodness. I can still vividly remember coming along Michigan Avenue with my family and enjoying the beautiful landscape it offers to visitors. By a miscalculation (We did not have a GPS then!), we entered into the campus using the entrance to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which led us to Gibbons Hall and Cardinal Station and finally parked in front of Mullen Library (which turned out later to be my second home at CU). At that moment I felt that it was not only the University that was welcoming me but also the National Shrine. I confess now that I took advantage of that invitation: I was drawn to the noon mass at the Crypt church from that first day! But this experience of the architectural and natural beauty of the campus was just the prolegomena to a deeper and more fulfilling experience. The beauty that first met my eyes was transformed into the goodness that I experienced from everybody working at Catholic University: janitors, staff working in the dining halls, administration, library and academic units, my classmates and residence mates and, of course, the faculty. It was at Catholic University that I first learned about the March for the Homeless and the March for Life and the importance of the Martin Luther King Day celebration. I met amazing students and made friends in and outside the classroom. (Yes, I am thinking of you, Page Brannon!) And, of course, I do remember the dedication and care of the faculty in the Intensive English Program, my first academic experience at CU. And then, Dr. McCarthy’s engaging efforts to make his Greek lessons on Plato’s Phaedrus delightful and meaningful and Dr. Klingshirn’s always well researched classes on Roman civilization and history marked a path on my later academic research and development. The love I experienced at Catholic University was unique. It left a distinctive mark in my personal journey, one that I treasure and try to honor today by mimesis: it inspires me in my own daily interaction with students. Having been a student at Catholic University was an intellectual journey that challenged me to ponder ideas in a different way and yet let me be free to make my own decisions. The love and kindness that surrounded me at Catholic University were the ground that made it possible to launch not only my career but my own personal journey in life.           
[Carmela went on to get a doctorate at The University of Chicago, and is now Assistant Professor of Spanish at Louisiana State University.]
    On January 3rd, 1996, I embarked on one of the most wonderful adventures of my life. I traveled from La Paz, Bolivia, where I lived, to Washington D.C. to study English at the Catholic University of America. I arrived in Washington D.C. in the middle of a strong storm; the whole city was covered in snow and there was a strong storm. I was supposed to take the metro (the red line to Brookland/CUA Station) to go to CU, but the trains were not running.
      Once the storm ceased, I was able to visit the campus. I was impressed by the beauty and the harmony of the old and modern buildings, as well as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I was also delighted with the friendliness of the students, professors and administrative staff.
      The first day of class, I was told the guidelines of the program and basic rules to comply with while on campus. I barely understood what people were saying. After all, that was the reason I was there: to learn English. On that first day I also met a girl who kindly smiled at me and who realized, right away, that I could not understand anything. Abir Fareed is still a friend.
      In one class, after many answers to my questions about English grammar rules--why this, why that? why?, why?—the professor finally answered: "Because my mother said so." At that moment, I realized that English grammar has many exceptions. I understood why we call our first language “mother tongue.” And I also learned that English and Spanish are similar but different, and one can get easily confused. 
      During the next few days, I met classmates from many countries: China, Ukraine, Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia. As their mother tongues were so different from mine, the only way to communicate with each other was through English. We were learning English, but we learned about the United States of America, about its culture, literature, history and more. We also shared our different cultures, customs, religions, art, food and experiences. I also understood that learning English meant experiencing life in English.
      While I was in CU, I also enjoyed the love and generosity of my aunt and uncle Carolyn and Juan Carlos d’Avis, to whom I am deeply thankful.
      All these years, thanks to this English program, I was able to enjoy movies, songs, books, magazines, operas, all in English, travel around the world, participate in international conferences, lecture outside of my country, study law and work. Nineteen years later, I can still remember with accuracy many details from my experiences studying English at CU.
[Gabriela Urquidi is an attorney-at-law in La Paz, Bolivia. She currently works in her own law firm.]
In May, 1985, I arrived in Washington, DC after more than 30 hoursfrom Jakarta, through Amsterdam and New York City. I was assigned by my superior to pursue my Master/licentiate degree in philosophy at CU in order to teach at our Divine Word Missionaries’ formation house on the island of Flores, Indonesia. To be admitted at the university in general and at philosophy department in particular, all international students are required to have a good TOEFL score, and in order to take this test one, has to go through some intensive English courses. At CU at the time we had an excellent intensive English program (IEP) and had some good and lovely instructors like Ms. Anca Nemoianu and some others. I was one among many other international students who were admitted in this program from June to July 1985.
The IEP was an excellent program academically as well as culturally. There we were introduced to the American culture and its way of life. It was so well-organized, for one can never master any language if one does not know anything about the people who speak that language and their culture. We were always busy the whole week in classroom, yet every now and then we were involved in many well-arranged activities outside the classroom, such as picnics, sightseeing, barbecues, and international social gatherings organized either by the IEP or by the university. We did not only adjust ourselves to the American culture, but also learned from one another, as all students came from different nationalities from all corners of the world. It was really an amazing time to be together and it is unforgettable.
Besides, the IEP instructors at the time were really inter-culturally mature and therefore we could understand each other easily. All students were ready to adjust themselves to the American life style, and hence everybody could do whatever he wanted as long as nobody felt bothered with his or her attitude and life-style. In such situation the learning process was well conditioned and we were really getting into a deep intensive learning program. No wonder all of us were happy and successful with out language course.
With my proficiency in English as second language (with proper TOEFL score) I was admitted to the Department of Philosophy and was able to finish all course works in 2 years, including a thesis on Plato’s theory of knowledge. I remember that Dr. Jude Dougherty, a dean of philosophy himself, was my advisor while doing the studies at CUA. It was hard in the beginning, but once you mastered the language and got to know many people and friends in the department, everything became easier. At the School of Philosophy I got in good contact with some professors such as Dr. Jude Dougherty, Fr. George McClean, Fr. Robert Sokolowski, Fr. William Wallace, Fr. John Wippel, Dr. Paul Weiss, Dr. Anthony Cua, the late Dr. Kurt Pritzel, and many others. After finishing my studies, I left Washington, DC in November 1987 for Germany for an intensive German course at St. Pius Kolleg, Munich.
After 3 years teaching in Flores (1988-1991), I returned to the States for my PhD program at Boston College. With my more or less good English I found no difficulty at BC and in only about three years I defended my dissertation on Michel Foucault’s Question of Ethics, a French post-structuralist thinker.
Returning to my home country, while lecturing at School of Philosophy and Theology, I was also invited to lecture Philosophy at St. Peter’s College in Kuching, East Malaysia and in some universities and Institutes in Indonesia. In about 30 years of teaching, I have published over ten books, translated 10 books (from English, German and Dutch), and many articles issued in different journals, periodicals and magazines.
With all these achievements, I have to cordially say thanks to my alma mater, all lecturers and friends who dedicated much of their time and energy to support me. Ms. Anca Nemoianu, the person in charge of the CU IEP, is the one who knows me well and is always being in good contact with me in Indonesia. She also proofread my Master’s thesis on Plato’s Theory of Knowledge at CU and my dissertation on Michel Foucault while I was at BC. My sincere thanks go also to all friends and lecturers at School of Philosophy, CU. You are always remembered in my prayers and mass offerings. To all of you who are still active at IEP and Department of Philosophy, may God bless you with good health, joy and happiness, and to those who already passed away, may our loving Father reward you with His eternal grace and peace in Heaven. If anyone of you have opportunities to travel to Indonesia, particularly to Bali or Flores (east of Bali), please stop by and stay with us. Just contact me and you will be OK.
[Father Konrad Kebung went on to become Rector of St. Paul Major Seminary; Director of the School of Philosophy and Theology at Ledalero, Flores; and finally, The Provincial of the SVD Order, Ende Province.]