Nuray Grove has all the qualifications of a good ESL teacher. Originally from Turkey, Grove herself is a non-native speaker, which puts international students at ease practicing their English; after eight years of experience, she has struck the elusive balance of classes that are informal, even fun, while preparing students for the academic rigor of a Richmond education; and, she has memorized almost every episode of Friends—an accomplishment Grove would argue is not to be underestimated in her line of work.

Friends is a great way to introduce international students to American culture!” she said.

Each fall, Grove teaches a class called “Academic Writing in ESL,” which helps international students strengthen their language skills and introduces them to U.S. culture through everything from texts to movies to guest speakers. She also takes her students on trips—to Jamestown and Washington D.C. and locally to the Virginia Capitol Building in downtown Richmond.

“When international students learn about U.S. history, they are often able to make connections to their own history and culture,” said Grove.

Guest speakers have been as high profile as Dan Roberts, producer of the award-winning radio series “A Moment in Time,” and as casual as a fellow Richmond student, ready to answer questions that international students might be hesitant to ask outside the classroom.

Grove believes that one of the most important things she addresses in the class is culture shock, which she says is a cumulative experience, with symptoms that are not always immediately noticeable. She addresses this in class and in informal gatherings throughout the year.

For the 2009-2010 academic year, Grove is revamping the ESL curriculum for international students. These students, she says, fall into two groups—exchange students at Richmond for the semester, who may not have very strong language skills, and four-year international students who will spend their entire undergraduate career at Richmond.

The original course will essentially be split into two—one will help exchange students get all they can out of one semester in the U.S., without too much of an emphasis on analyzing texts or writing research papers, and the other will be geared towards the four-year students, most of whom speak almost perfect English.

“The philosophy of both courses will continue to focus on helping international students adjust to U.S. culture but just in slightly different ways,” said Grove.