NORFOLK — Lt. Mario Carbijal is a software developer for the Mexican Navy. He said he often needs to find information on the internet, which is almost always in English.
He believes his experience with the Mexican Military Program at the English Language Center in Old Dominion University’s College of Continuing Education and Professional Development will help him do his job better.
“I need a quick response,” he explained. “So, it’s mandatory that I know some English.”
Carbijal was one of 25 officers who recently completed the 12-week program, consisting of six weeks in the center’s Intensive English Program and six weeks in an individualized program.
“It’s a perfect opportunity to improve your English,” Carbijal said.
The training is “based on some of the objectives that the Mexican Navy would like to see them meet,” according to Alex Harris Jr., assistant director of special programs at the English Language Center.
Other students have stories similar to Carbijal’s.
Lt. Mariana Diaz, a general physician, said: “We improved – speaking, vocabulary, listening.” She hopes to earn a scholarship so she can learn another specialty “and then go back to Mexico and practice.”
Lt. Brian Fiel added: “Because of the relations that we have with the United States, we are always working together and we need to have the best communications between us. I think that because of this course and because of the opportunity that Mexico gave us we think we can be better in our jobs.”
The latest graduates comprised the fourth group of officers who have gone through the program, which began in 2015. A total of 88 officers have completed the program. Three groups of 50 cadets from the Mexican Naval Academy also have completed four-week sessions, Harris said.
“Their government really wanted to get the cadets and the officers to come here to study because they see the future of their military as one that uses English as its primary source of communications,” he said.
“It’s a lot of classroom time,” added Charlotte Young, one of the instructors. “It’s more than experience in just learning a language, it’s the full-immersion kind of thing.”
That involves speaking English for an extended time, the cultural experience of being at ODU, and interacting with U.S. Navy personnel, American and other international students. Young said the officers were tested when they began and completed the program to measure their progress.
“It’s different than teaching 18-year-old students who are here to get their degree because these guys are accomplished professionals in their own right,” Young said. “The motivation is high, and they’ve just been an excellent example of what a student should be.”
Harris said students range in age from around 25 to the late 50s. Capt. Marco Barajas, a 34-year veteran of the Mexican Navy, was one of the oldest students in the group. He’s been through other English programs, but this was his first experience with ODU.
“The teachers here speak only English,” he said. “That was good for us, because we can understand more. That makes a difference.”
Harris said a significant number of officers have moved up in rank after completing the program, and some cadets have gone on to attend U.S. military academies.
“The feedback we’ve gotten has been positive,” Young said, “that everyone’s had a great time and they enjoyed the university, the students and the campus.”