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English Language Institute Offers Meaningful Educational Experience for International Students

María Arancibia in front of World’s Fair Park and the Sunsphere in downtown Knoxville

by Alexandra DeMarco

María Arancibia was 26 years old when she decided to pack up her life in Santiago, Chile, and head to Knoxville, Tennessee.

An avid traveler, Arancibia grew up in Chile speaking Spanish and knew some English, picked up in high school or through English media. Arancibia, who has a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s degree in marketing, found herself bored and itching to learn something new at the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Looking into opportunities to improve her English skills, she soon stumbled across the English Language Institute at the University of Tennessee.

“I was like, English is something that is going to help me so much, so I start looking for information and after a couple days, I find ELI at UT,” Arancibia said. “It was super fast. … I sent an email to get more information, but I would say in less than a month I quit my job, bought tickets.”

In March 2021, Arancibia arrived in Knoxville to learn English at ELI for what was supposed to be a stay of just a few months. However, her experience at the institute was so wonderful that she ended up staying in Tennessee and studying at ELI through December 2021, before eventually moving back to Santiago.

Now, working as a project manager in Chile, Arancibia’s expanded English vocabulary from her time at ELI is proving very helpful in her career.

“Just like a week ago … I was having meetings with companies from other countries completely in English,” Arancibia said. “That was something I was not able to do 10 months ago.”

María Arancibia in Knoxville during her time as an ELI student

Arancibia also credits ELI for helping her develop more confidence in her spoken English. She and other ELI students tried to speak strictly in English with each other in and out of the classroom, and Arancibia advises other students learning a new language to embrace similar opportunities for practice.

“Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk or try to speak or write or read in public,” Arancibia said. “We are all learning, and you’re never too old to learn a new language.”

The instructors at ELI were instrumental to her experience learning English, Arancibia says. Always eager to answer students’ questions, her teachers and Interim Director of ELI Em Chitty were more like family by the time Arancibia left Knoxville.

“They are amazing. They are like parents. … ELI is what it is because of them, because you can learn English online or on an app, I don’t know, but the experience that they give you and how much they care about each student is what for me made it so special,” Arancibia said.

Aside from professional growth thanks to her studies at ELI, Arancibia also says she grew greatly as a person throughout her stay in Tennessee.

“For a while, I was one of the oldest (students), so in some way I felt responsible for the younger ones,” Arancibia said. “They were like my little sisters and brothers, so in that way, like personal, I grew up so much since I moved to Knoxville.”

Though she’s now living in another hemisphere, Arancibia’s connection to Knoxville, which she calls her “favorite city in the world,” and the people she met there remains steadfast.

“Being able to know people from all over the world, now they’re like my best friends,” Arancibia said. “All the teachers and staff at UT, amazing. It was so hard to leave them, like awful. I’m still in contact with everyone, like Ms. Chitty, all my teachers, my friends.”

As for future international travel, Arancibia plans to visit Knoxville in March, take a trip to Chicago while she is in the United States and hopefully even fly to Korea for the wedding of one of her ELI friends. She is also looking into one day working in an English-speaking country.

“Traveling, I would say, is my passion, like number one — meeting new people, going to new places, discovering new places,” Arancibia said.

For more information about the English Language Institute at UT, visit


Jason Moody (865-974-5752,