On a cold Wednesday evening, a group of students hang outside their dorm room in Building 12.
A couple feet away from the building, some people are talking, laughing and smoking cigarettes. Another group of about 10 people is playing basketball.
At first glance, these people may seem to be CSUN students just hanging out. However, there is something different about the students who live in this building. They are all part of English First, an international language school connected to more than 250 countries. About 176 students live in the building, according to Roger Fong, director of English First at CSUN.
The students are from a wide range of countries, including Argentina, Indonesia and Japan. No CSUN students live there, because it’s for students who are learning to speak English.
The program is referred to as “The Global Classroom.”
Luca Toneatti is one of those standing outside with his best friend, Takafumi Tezuka. He said he doesn’t have anything to do.
“I finished my homework,” Toneatti said. He had been waiting to play a game of basketball with his friends. “If you don’t play basketball, what do you do? Nothing. So I must like basketball, so I (can) have something to do.”
Toneatti is happy to be living in the EF Building. He came to America from Italy 12 weeks ago and, as an option in the EF program, lived near CSUN with an Indian family that placed restrictions on what he did.
“I (couldn’t) eat beef or pork, and three days in the week … I (ate) only vegetables,” Toneatti said. He couldn’t go outside for a smoke after 10 p.m. either.
But things are different at EF, Toneatti said.
For EF students and staff, EF is a cultural melting pot.
The building is also a place residents say stands out because almost everyone knows each other, or are at least familiar with each other by appearance.
CSUN is the only university in Los Angeles that houses the EF International Language School, which started in 1965. The EF Building has been on campus since 1996, according to Fong.
On the English First website, a message reads, “Experience the life of a typical American student at California State University, Northridge.”
With promises like that, some EF students said they have had a great time at CSUN.
“(EF) said this is the best and biggest dorm EF has,” said Jana Truschkowski, a student from Berlin, Germany. “Because, for example, in Boston, they don’t have a living room. They just have a bed with four beds in one bedroom. When you hear that, I feel glad (I’m here).”
EF students attend classes in the building and the Satellite Student Union, which is about five minutes away. There is also a special “state-of-the-art” lab on the fourth floor.
The earliest class starts at 8:25 a.m., and the latest class ends at 5 p.m.
“The students live in the dormitories, and you’re teaching them on the floor where they basically sleep,” said Fawzia Mohamed, an instructor for the EF program and the lecture series coordinator.
For them to roll out of bed and walk five feet to a class is easy, she said.
“I think one of the great things about EF is that it’s a really integrated experience with students,” she said.
She said students expand their knowledge of American culture as EF students.
“It’s an immersion program that’s designed for the students to really get the most out of their time, not only learning, but experiencing America,” Mohamed said.
If students don’t go to their classes 80 percent of time, they receive three warnings and may be kicked out.
There are eight different levels of classes. Students are tested and placed into each level.
Toneatti said he has learned in his courses, but wants to advance.
Truschkowski and her German roommate, Vo-Lan Nguyen, said they are not satisfied with the level eight English courses. They said they tried to go back to level seven, but the classes were too crowded.
“We didn’t talk at all anymore for the whole day,” Nguyen said.
According to several EF students, cultural integration is difficult.
The students said most people hang out with people from their native countries.
Lucy Bricard, Audrey Dardenne, Laila Mezira and Sarah Sinclair, all from France, and Tania Mascia, a student from Switzerland, agreed that language barriers prohibit integration among students.
“One of the reasons we do the lecture series is to try to make that bridge a little shorter from country to country,” Mohamed said.
One place where integration does take place is at parties in the EF Building, according to residents.
“There’s the possibility to get to know and meet people,” Nguyen said.
Parties also give her a chance to learn English, she said.
There are parties with different themes, including Dutch and South American parties.
“We’re always known as the party building, and that’s quite true most of the time,” Truschkowski said.
She said there is an average of about two or three parties a month.
Manuel, a junior mechanical engineering major who preferred his last name not be revealed, is an international student at CSUN but does not live in the EF Building. However, he said he went to the building at least 30 times last semester and thinks it is completely different from other dorms.
“It’s more free,” Manuel said. “(The) sense of community is huge. It’s like a little village. Like (if) somebody does something, everybody knows about it.”
He said he was attracted to EF because of the diversity.
“Basically, you have a lot of European people, and the way they think is so different,” Manuel said. “They’re more open-minded about different things.”
Not everyone can have the same experience as Manuel. He said you have to know somebody to get in.
There is heavy security at the dorms.
Cameras are outside and in every hallway, with signs warning residents and visitors that they are being filmed.
A security guard keeps watch from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.
The first and second balconies are sealed shut. Anyone caught opening them will be fined $100, taken out of the EF program, and sent home, according to a memo written by Fong.
“It’s like any other dorm,” Fong said. “We have petty theft. There are certain things that they are not used to, coming to (another country).”
Since they are in Los Angeles, the second largest city in the United States, EF wants its students safe, he said.
Toneatti will be going back home to Italy on April 9 to visit his girlfriend and his parents. He plans on coming back to the United States and going to Santa Monica College.
He said he will miss his friends and associates at EF.
“Here, I can prove my culture and my mentality,” Toneatti said. “I think that now … I know a lot of different cultures, so my mind is open. So now I’m ready for travel and work in another place. Also, I improve(d) my English.”