When students first walk into the BridgeEnglish Denver reception area, it can be a bit daunting. There are people from all over the world gathering together. There may be some students from Saudi Arabia talking by the coffee machine or some Japanese students chatting on the sofa. Teachers walk by in a rush to get to class and administrators busily deal with their duties.
Through the crowd of people and papers and at least three different languages being spoken in the background, students make their way forward towards reception, and there behind the tall wooden desk sits a smiling face and the eyes and ears of BridgeEnglish Denver, Ms. Colleen O’Brien. Colleen is the administrative assistant here at BridgeEnglish Denver but her job far exceeds assisting with administration. She took some time out of her busy workday to enlighten me about all the things she does at BridgeEnglish Denver and, boy, is it a lot.
AB: Colleen, tell me a little about yourself and how you got involved with Bridge.
CO: I am originally from Denver. I have been working at Bridge for one year now. When I was looking for a job last year I had a contact here at Bridge and she helped me get the job, which was great. I originally was going to be the IELTS administrative assistant but then the director, Richard (Brown), offered me the front desk job.
AB: What exactly is your job at Bridge?
CO: I welcome students when they first arrive, answer phones, give directions, manage office supplies and give information to walk-ins who want to know about all of the programs and services we offer. I also handle IELTS applications and inform students on what they need to do to apply, help them fill out the application correctly and get all of their documents ready, like their passports and their visas. It can be a little crazy because we are one of the biggest IELTS testing services in the US. I also grade tests and enter the scores into the computer. That takes a lot of time. I help out with admissions too.
AB: Wow! That is a lot. What are some of the most challenging aspects of your job?
CO: My job is very demanding, as you can see. I print out many documents for the students and then I help them fill them out if they are having trouble. When students have questions about visas or about getting a driver’s license, I assist them with that as well. So it is very challenging because what I am doing can change at any moment. It is never boring, that is for sure. It is also a great challenge communicating with the students because, obviously, most of them don’t speak very much English and so I have to speak very slowly and repeat myself so they can understand me. It’s easy to lose your patience but I am very patient now because the students rely on me for information and help. I know how confused and scared they must feel, so I really try to be as helpful as possible. Sometimes there are more advanced students in the reception area that help translate, so that is beneficial, but it doesn’t happen all the time.
AB: What about when students call on the phone? Isn’t it hard to communicate with them?
CO: Yes, it can be very difficult because, when I can’t even see their faces or hand gestures, it makes it that much more challenging to communicate with them. Many times we send the students emails with the information they need and then they can go on the Internet and have it translated. That is the easiest way to convey the information they need if they call. Many of our students are Spanish speakers and so I am taking Spanish classes now so that I can become proficient enough to at least communicate with some of the students.
AB: What do you like most about working at Bridge?
CO: I love getting to know the students and helping them, suggesting ideas to them about what to do on the weekends and where to go in Denver. There is constant interaction with them, so it makes my job more fun than a normal desk job where there is no interaction with anyone. Plus, now I have friends all over the world, which is fantastic. Actually, when I went to Paris and Brussels last Fall, I met up with some former students and they showed me around. It was so neat to be able to do that. I have a network of people all over the world that I can connect with via facebook or, if I want to go travel, I know I will have a friend wherever I go. Also, socializing with the students at Happy Hours and on the weekends is super fun. We recently had a ladies night for the Saudi women and it was so special because I got to see them without their hair covered and without all the long, bulky clothes they usually wear. They were gorgeous! They all wore makeup and actually some of them had a different hair color than I expected. They wore beautiful clothes and jewelry. Very fun.
AB: Do you have any funny stories from working the front desk?
CO: It’s always funny when students ask me how to say bad words or they teach me how to say bad words in their language. Or sometimes, students just ask me to explain simple things. For example, one student asked me recently to explain the difference between like and love. It was so cute. Everyday, something amusing happens but I have to say that there is an on-running joke amongst me and the other front desk ladies about how we aren’t really the front desk workers, we are the “coffee slaves!” The students drink so much coffee, sometimes it feels like all I do is brew pot after pot of coffee and refill the cups. Students are always asking me, “Where is the coffee Colleen?” and I have to say, “You drank it all!” It is funny. I would also like to add that my co-workers Kristi and Joelle are great and they help out so much with everything. We are a team for sure and my experience here has been very positive but I do more than make coffee.