They went, said teacher Suzanne Powell, to see books made by artists Donna and Peter Thomas, who were guests of Special Collections. The artists had stopped on a trek across the country to show their art books and to talk with people about their work.

Artist Peter Thomas challenged the students to think about what makes an object a book and what makes an object art. Is a ukulele a book? he asked, producing the instrument that most students had never seen. When it has pages and tells a story it is, he said, as he opened the instrument to reveal the pages inside.

The art book, Peter said, is an artistic medium — as is painting. The genre is just beginning to be known in the United States.

The concept of artistically designed books is not a new one, however.

“I have seen that kind of book before,” said IESL student Amar Tumurbaatal.

It’s not what’s inside that is important; it’s what is outside, Tumurbaatal said, explaining that the artists’ books reminded him of jeweled books or ornate religious books that once were made in his country of Mongolia.

Those types of books give people something valuable and precious, he said.

Hee Chung, an IESL student from Korea, said she was surprised and glad to see a book about the art of making Korean paper, a process that is lost to modern Korea.

Chung and Tumurbaatal are among about 40 students from as many as 15 countries in UofL’s IESL program. The program, a unit in the College of Arts and Sciences, is designed to help students improve their English language skills before they enroll in an American university.

“As part of the College of Arts and Sciences, our students have access to everything at the university, which makes it different than a program just sited here,” said Anne Griner, program director. “We promise students a chance to get to know how the university works.”

IESL classes often attend lectures on campus and use such campus resources as the libraries and the Writing Center, said Powell, who has taught in the program for nine years.

Teachers always are on the lookout for talks and events that relate to class work, she continued.

For instance, Powell said, her class had read an article about vocations not long before she saw an announcement about the book artist visit in the UofL Today e-mail. She thought it might be a good fit.

“I was pleased that he actually used the word ‘vocation’ in his talk,” because that reinforced what students had read and discussed, she said.

IESL students meet for four hours a day, Monday through Friday.

The program is “intensive and academic based,” Powell said. Teachers try to equip students to study in a university and try to teach their classes in the same way a university class is taught so students know what to expect.

“We have high standards and good outcomes,” she said.

The program’s quality drew Tina Nguyen of Vietnam to UofL.

“I heard that UofL is a very good school and students had to take a very difficult exam,” she said. “I wanted to be here to interact with native students.”

Nguyen said she wants to study finance at UofL when she completes the IESL program, but not all IESL participants plan to later attend a university or college.

Cuban native Adonis Peña said he had lived in Louisville for more than four years before he heard about the program. Peña went online to get more information and enrolled so he can “have a chance at a better job.”

Ghaith Aldammad, a pharmacist from Syria who worked for GlaxoSmithKline, is exploring going to graduate school. Even if that doesn’t happen, he said he thinks the intensive English education will benefit him in the workplace.

In the meantime, “I’m happy being here and always find new things to do in the school and in Louisville,” Aldammad said. And, as did Chung and Tumurbaatal, he found a book that was special to him among the Thomas’ work: an illustrated book about the medicinal uses of herbs that included the plants’ Latin names.

“It’s rare to find books like this,” he said.