Nineteen students from 10 different cultures came together in late September when a group of students from OCCC’s English as a Second Language program traveled south to the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge to learn about the Oklahoma prairie.
“The students are enrolled in our Bridge class, a college transition course for ESL students who have reached the point of being able to enroll in college courses taught in English,” said Lydia Rucker, the Communications Lab ESL coordinator.
Buffalo, longhorn cattle, and the unrelenting prairie heat greeted the blended group of students led by Professor Abra Figueroa, ESL program director.
“We feel it’s important for international students to have exposure to the best of what Oklahoma has to offer,” said Figueroa, warmly known as Abbie by her students.
“The Wichita Mountains are a beautiful and historic place where students can see the prairie as it might have looked before our state was settled.”
The students enjoyed miles of unobstructed views as they rode to the top of Mount Scott, the tallest mountain in the refuge.
Cameras and smart-phones clicked as students from Asia, Africa and South America huddled together for pictures with Lake Lawtonka and Lake Elmer Thomas providing beautiful panoramic backdrops.
“This place is very beautiful,” said Sahar Chavili, an Iranian student in the program. “But the mountains in my country are much taller.”
Speaking clearly articulated English with a Middle Eastern accent, Chavili has been in the U.S. for seven years.
She said she feels the Bridge program is a tremendous asset in helping international students learn to speak better English.
The students toured the visitor center where they saw many examples of prairie wildlife and the rugged plains in their natural state, including buffalo, white-tail deer and prairie dogs, along with several species of birds and insects.
A short movie taught the students about the history of the 59,000-acre wildlife refuge, which is now inhabited by approximately 650 buffalo, 280 longhorn cattle, 800 elk, 450 white-tailed deer and many coyotes.
After lunch at a restaurant in nearby Lawton, the students took a short tour of the museum at Fort Sill, led by curator Mark Megehee.
Megehee took the students through the original Army barracks, demonstrating how soldiers of the 7th Cavalry and the famed Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry, the Army’s first African-American division, lived and fought in the prairie fort against Indian incursions during the Indian Wars of the early 1870s.
“When we visit the exhibits at Fort Sill, we can learn about how the U.S. Cavalry tried to keep peace back in earlier days,” Figueroa said.
The students ended their tour of the historic fort with a visit to the original jailhouse that once housed the famous Indian warrior known as Geronimo.
“I feel claustrophobic,” said Rucker, as she stepped into the tiny, 6-by-8-foot, thick-walled cell that held the Indian chief captive.
Rucker, who also heads the ESL program’s conversation groups, was quick to leave the cramped cell through its narrow door.
On the way home the ESL students were happy to discuss how much they enjoyed the trip.
Areej Yacoub, from Palestine in the Middle East, made a connection to a children’s book the class is studying.
“I loved the trip because we learned from ‘The Little House on the Prairie’ some about the beginning of Oklahoma culture,” Yacoub said.
“And when I see it in the mountains and the museums, it becomes real.”
Tired and weary as they were, students and faculty alike agreed the time was well spent.
“No matter how much we study these historical events in our classroom, nothing makes them come alive like a first-hand visit,” Figueroa said.
The students that attended the ESL trip are listed below, along with their home countries:
Quyen Truong, Vietnam; Joy Lee, South Korea; Elena Collins, Mexico; Lana Dang, Vietnam; Yanming Brown, China; Thi-Thanh Le, Vietnam; Stephane Nkolo Balla, Cameroon; Seok Hwang, South Korea; Sahar Chavili, Iran; Areej Yacoub, Palestine; Sharada Dahal Bhattarai, Nepal; Sangita Shrestha, Nepal; Naomi Septier,Argentina; Rossana Mas, Cuba; Jungmi Oh, South Korea; Alex Dao, Vietnam; Mohammed Rakha, Palestine; Reza Rangbast, Iran; Allen Park, South Korea.
To contact Mark L. Simpson,