ESL Book Club Helps New Immigrants

Zoom gatherings offer opportunity to practice English

Mina Youn knows the challenges that come with moving to the United State from another country and attempting to socialize and communicate with people within your new community. Youn, an adult services librarian at Schlow Centre Region Library, came to America around 20 years ago from South Korea, and most of her first several years were spent at home raising her children and being with other mothers from Korea.

“Even though it was a very meaningful and priceless time as a mother, I wished I could spare some time every day for myself to prepare to live in the new country,” Youn says. “Living in a foreign country is challenging, especially when you have to speak a new language.”

Youn is using her experiences to help new immigrants in the State College community who find themselves not only living in a new country but also unable to socialize and adapt to their new home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Three days a week, Youn leads Schlow’s ESL (English as a Second Language) Book Club via Zoom. The group meets Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at 10 a.m. 

Each meeting lasts for 30 minutes, and participants take turns reading passages from a book — currently, the group is reading from Emma by Jane Austen. Anyone can join even if they haven’t attended from the start.

Youn was inspired to start the club at Schlow because of an online group she had participated in last fall.

“I joined a nationwide online book group by Korean immigrants,” she says. “Even though we are not native English speakers, it has been helpful in improving our speaking and listening, in addition to building a meaningful friendship.” 

Youn says one member of her ESL Book Club moved to State College in January, and before she was able to know anyone in town, the stay-at-home orders came down.

“She was very glad that she had a place to improve her English during this pandemic without any health risk,” Youn says. “I adopted this book club format with the hope of giving a chance to new immigrants to improve their English without coming to the library, which even when the building is open may be challenging to people with younger kids or without a transport. 

“State College is very diverse because of Penn State, and I think having this online book club should be beneficial to our new community members.”

To participate in the club or for more information, e-mail


Posted 4/24/2020