Conversation partners exchange languages as well as their friendships
The conversation partner program helps international students’ English and domestic students’ worldview
October 19, 2016
The 2016 Fall Conversation Partner Program orientation was held on October 14, 3:00 to 4:00pm at the HEC Pierce College Fort Steilacoom campus. With a friendly atmosphere, students pinned their nametags on their heart and waited for their partners’ arriving. One student said this was her fourth time of participating in the program. While sharing their interests and experiences, students talked cheerfully with their partners.
What is the Conversation Partner Program? It is a language-exchange program between American students and international students. “The main purpose of the program is to help international students intergrade to American culture as well as practice conversational style English,” said Breanna Baker, the International Student Activities Coordinator.
The Conversation Partner Program is available at every quarter for all students to apply, except for summer quarter. Each Fall Quarter, generally 120 students join the program. Sixty pairs of partners were matched at the last Spring Quarter.
“This is quite interesting if you find someone to talk to. It would be better if you can be closer and closer to each other,” said Do “Theresa” Ngoc Giang, a Pierce College student who came from Vietnam. She joined the program at the last spring quarter.
The conversation partners meet once a week during a quarter. They usually talk about their daily lives. “We talk about school, classes, our family, and almost everything,” said Giang.
After a number of meetings over the quarter, conversation partners’ official partnerships are end; however, according to the International Education Department, about 20 percent of conversation partners keep and make life-long friendships with their partners.
“Although some students do not match together as they are not mean to be friends, and It is also hard to maintain relationships, a lot of times, students work through the differences and go through the quarter if they don’t have problems,” said Baker.
She also added that sometimes students do pen pals with international students from their conversation partner days and students even visit their partners’ countries.
Celina Maxwell, who has participated the program as a native speaker, has kept in contact with many international students whom she has met during the program. She mentioned that she especially has maintained a relationship with one student as they met through the conversation program.
“We sometimes go a while without meeting in a person, but we have a lot of fun when we do meet, such as we go to the movies or even a concert. It is a friendship. I'm happy it has stayed active, and I hope it does for a long time,” said Maxwell.
For the native English speakers, the Conversation Partner Program is a great chance to extend their point of view globally.
“Domestic students get to know somebody who came from different country, which maybe they never have been heard before. It also gives first-hand access to have information about part of our world for those who heard about their partners’ culture,” said Baker.
“My favorite experiences are the simple ones. When I would meet with conversation partners, sometimes they would bring other international students along to meet. They were always extremely friendly. It was exciting to get to talk to students from multiple cultures at once and watch everyone compares at the same time,” said Maxwell.
The program also brings “a true mutual benefit” for both students in studying languages. “For example, American students who study Korean can practice their Korean, and Korean students can practice English,” said Baker.
Sometimes their relationships with partners get weak or do not the result as they expected since their tight schedules as being college students.
“My partner was a running start student, and I also had three classes. We did not really meet each other frequently; four or five times,” said Giang.
Giang also pointed out that it is tough to make a good conversation for partners. “Finding some topics to talk about was the hardest part, because I didn’t want to be so awkward when we talked to each other. Sometimes my partner and I just looked at each other and said nothing. I was so confused about it. I wanted to find some topic to talk about.”
Students said The Conversation Partner Program could be improved through getting the more native speakers and activities for each international and domestic students. “Groups might also be productive. I have found when I am in a group, there are much more ideas and topics to discuss; Two partner groups are paired together,” said Maxwell.
The most important part of the program must be “remembering to be open-minded to learn about other people’s culture and do not judge” as Baker stressed. Being on time and respectable for each other’s time are also critical part for conversation partners.
“It is a very good program. My experiences have always been fun, and I'm glad international students have an opportunity to make friends outside of their classes,” said Maxwell.
To the new international students who just get into college classes, The Conversation Partner Program is a helpful method to learn English as well. “It is a way to improve your English, just like pre-education,” said Songtao “Peare” Chen, an international student from China.
“There are always students,” said Baker. With its solid system and continuous needs of students, The Conversation Partner Program has been run over 20 years. Many international and domestic students have gotten the opportunity to establish their valuable relationships.
Baker suggested students to join the program and be a conversation partner. “I hope that people would give the program and try; because you never know whom you are going to meet and what kinds of experiences you will have. Could be life- changing, you know?”