Photos by Mark Mattos unless otherwise noted

The three ESOL5 classes at Portland Adult Education – two meeting in person and one online – spent the fall working on a project comparing their home communities to Portland. Each student chose a specific topic to focus on. Students visited websites, practiced summarizing and paraphrasing information, and learned how to cite sources. Some used a rubric to help identify errors in spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation, and everyone made many corrections. Some errors remain, underscoring the difficulty of learning English.

I created this community project in the fall of 2018 with several goals in mind. First and foremost, students would learn and practice skills to help them in their future academic life, such as conducting internet research, citing sources, editing their work, and planning and delivering an oral presentation – all in English.

Also, the project would give students an opportunity to share information about their home countries. This sharing would motivate them to work hard, and show them that others in the community value them and their contributions. As you read excerpts from student reports, I hope you will benefit by learning a little about the places the students call “home.”

— Shoshana Hoose, ESOL Teacher, Portland Adult Education

Photo courtesy of PAE

Portland Adult Education offers six levels of English study. ESOL5 is considered intermediate English, roughly equivalent to fifth grade English skills. Some ESOL5 students have slowly worked their way up the levels. Others, particularly those who were well-educated in their home countries, have advanced more quickly. Many students speak multiple languages. They draw on that language knowledge to help them master English. 

The retail market in Libreville, Gabon, is predominantly informal, [however] that of Portland, Maine, is highly structured and formalized. We see big differences between the way the market is organized in these two places … In Libreville, the price of goods is always negotiable when buying, because we pay with cash directly to the owners of the goods. In Portland, retail prices are non-negotiable, and accounting involves sophisticated cash register machines that accept both cash and cards, with or without the intervention of a cashier.  

– Guelore 

In Portland, people eat corn on the cob with butter. In Angola, we eat corn on the cob also, but without butter. And we also use corn to make our traditional meal, which we call funge. First we dry [the corn] and we smash it. After that it is ready for the funge. Corn is used in Angola out of the cob by boiling it and mixing it with other ingredients such as pork, sausage, homemade chorizo, cabbage, onion, collard, garlic, carrot, tomatoes, olive oil, bay leaves. In Angola, we feed doves with cracked corn.  

– Teresa

I am going to compare … biryani from Dhaka, Bangladesh, with an American food – burgers from Portland, Maine. One of the similarities between biryani and burgers is that both of them are heavy foods. Bengalis eat biryani at lunch or dinner time, and Americans also eat burgers at lunch or dinner time. But burgers are not healthy. It can make us fat. Biryani is like a burger because biryani has a lot of spices and masala. So, eating too much is also not good for [one’s] health. Another similarity is that biryani and burgers are both delicious foods that are popular and loved by the people of their country or city. Bengalis only eat biryani occasionally … every time there is anything special like a birthday, wedding, or guest coming. …They never get tired of eating it, and because of its rich ingredients and spices, it is a satisfying meal that fills you quickly. In the words of Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Thakur, “I have loved you hundreds of times in hundreds of ways.” Americans also eat burgers occasionally … sometimes Americans make burgers on holidays like 4th of July. Also, biryani are made with meat, and burgers are also made with meat. Some people eat vegetables with biryani. They make salad to eat with biryani. Some people also add lettuce, tomato, olive, cucumber, and other vegetables to the burger. One big difference between biryani and burgers is that biryani is made with rice, but burgers are eaten with bread. They are also cooked in different ways. Burgers are much easier to cook than biryani. A burger is a patty of ground beef, grilled and placed between two halves of a bun. It is cooked on medium-high heat for 3 to 5 minutes and then flipped and cooked for another 3 to 5 minutes. Then we can add other optional toppings or ingredients like vegetables and sauces as we like. Biryani [requires] a lot of steps and ingredients. … Biryani is basically cooked in one of two ways. In Pakki biryani, meat and rice are cooked separately, then placed in layers for roasting. To make Kachi biryani, mutton is marinated with yogurt and spices overnight, then placed at the bottom of a big cooking pot. Potatoes and rice go on top of the meat and the lid of the pot is sealed with dough to make it airtight. The meat, potatoes, and rice all are cooked together over a slow fire … which helps the dish retain its natural aromas.  

– Bibi Kulsum 

I will compare typical daily foods in Baghdad, Iraq, to the foods in Portland, Maine. One of the differences is the amount of rice that is eaten in a typical day in each city. In Iraq, people love to eat many different varieties and flavors of rice … for example, when you make roasted chicken it can either have red rice or plain white rice with lentils with it. However in Maine, rice is not really ever used at restaurants or in everyday meals. People mostly eat bread and fried foods. Like when you buy a steak at Texas Roadhouse in Portland, they give you french fries with the steak, and bread with dipping sauce at the very beginning. A second difference is in the types of meat and fish that is eaten in each city. Iraqis mostly eat lamb, unlike here in Maine [where] everywhere you go, it’s some type of seafood. 

– Esraa Al Zuabidi 

Photo Richard Connelly

A difference between [the transportation systems of] Kinshasa and Portland is that the costs of public bus transportation in Portland are fixed: $2 for local service, and $4 for Breez bus because it is an express service. Conversely, in Kinshasa the price varies according to the hours and temperament of the drivers, contrary to the price list published by the City Hall.  

– Jean Claude, DRC 

Photo courtesy of PAE
Photo Richard Connelly

In my country we have open markets where we can buy organic fresh food, like vegetables, meats, oil, spices, fruits. The markets generally open early, like at 5 a.m., and close at 5 p.m. The sellers have their own business, and … as you discuss with the business owner, she can directly make you a discount, or offer you a deal.  

Similar to Kinshasa, Portland has several opens markets … where we can also find fresh vegetables, spices, fruits, eggs, poultry or meat … last time I bought fresh amaranth and small green eggplants. I could not believe that the small eggplant had the same bitter taste as in kinshasa! Something else I really liked was the green onions…I called my mother on facetime and i told her, “You can not imagine I am in an open market!” The woman who was selling gave me 3 bunches for the price of two. I laughed and I felt as if I was in the [home] country, and since then I go there every week or every two weeks.  

– Athalie 

One of the differences between high school in Portland, Maine, and high school in Basra, Iraq, is the school uniforms. In Basra, students do not get to choose what they wear to school whereas in Portland students have the freedom to choose their own clothing. School uniforms are a major requirement in order to attend school in Basra. Girls have to wear a white blouse with a navy dress on top and white sneakers. Boys have to wear a white blouse with a tie and navy pants. For girls, there is a daily inspection by teachers on whether they have makeup or nails on, and bags have to be checked for any sort of accessories which are not allowed. However, in Portland, Maine, girls are allowed to wear makeup and other accessories. Bags are also not inspected daily by teachers. I got this information from being in high school in Portland.   

Another difference between schools in Basra and Portland is that electronics are prohibited in Basra schools. Students are not allowed to have any sort of electronic device during school hours. Students are not able to carry them in their bags either. They are to stay at home while attending school. If an electronic device is seen, even if not being used, students are to either get suspended, marked down a big percentage of the grade, and family are to be informed. Some students bring their devices to school without their families’ permission, so once that is seen not only are they in trouble in school, but also punished at home. I know this from attending school in Basra. In Portland, schools allow electronic devices but [teachers] ask [that they] not be used during class hours. For example, when I went to Deering High School, students were allowed to have their electronics with them but were asked to be put [them] away during class sessions.  

Boys and girls do not go to the same school in Basra. Girls and boys attend single-gender schools. In Portland, boys and girls have coeducation. Girls schools in Basra have only female faculty and staff, and boys schools have only male faculty and staff. In Portland, schools have both genders and both genders are able to work at the same school. That is another reason why schools in Basra and Portland are different.  

– Hadeel Oudah, Iraq