/Conversation Partners opens doors

Conversation Partners opens doors

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Tori Roper
Staff Writer

Conversation Partners is a program that encourages communication between international and American students through weekly meetings.
According to Robert Klein, the program coordinator, Conversation Partners is a “relaxed social setting where the international students can practice English.”
American students attend an orientation meeting, during which they receive information on the program and are given the opportunity to sign up.
The international students then sign up under the names of the students that they want to work with on a bulletin board in Pace Hall.
Each American student receives no more than three international students to partner with each semester in order to keep the groups small, according to Klein.
Klein is entering his third year as the coordinator for the program, and says that he sees a great deal of improvement in the international students who participate in the program throughout each semester.
“The program forces the international students out of their comfort zones,” said Klein, “They make a lot of progress just because they gain more confidence. It gives them the incentive to improve.”
There are about 130 American students that have signed up for the fall semester, which is enough to reach about half of the international students that attend Troy, if each American has three international students to meet with each week.
Meredith Durden, a sophomore accounting major from Montgomery, participated in the program last spring and said she greatly enjoyed the experience.
“A lot of my friends in my Greek organization recommended that I do it to get plugged in on campus,” said Durden. “They said I would get to know people that I wouldn’t usually get the opportunity to hang out with through the program.”
According to Klein, not all international students need a conversation partner. Those who come from English-speaking countries in Europe do not need the practice speaking English.
“This program is eye-opening to some of those international students,” said Klein. “It gives them the opportunity to learn about the world; it opens up the world to them.”
Durden said that she felt “extremely blessed” through her time involved with the program, even though her partner returned to China before this semester began.
“I joined Conversation Partners to help make the international students feel more at home here, but I got more out of it for me as well,” Durden said.
Durden described her partner as awesome and said that she was always teaching her something.
“She was just funny and was constantly challenging me to get out of my comfort zone,” said Durden. “She came to church with me, too, which was a cool experience.”
Durden expressed her love for her partner in that they still stay in touch through email, regardless of how far away they are from one another.
“When she left, she wrote me a kind note and told me what I did to make her experience in America easier that I didn’t even realize,” Durden said.
For the students who participate in the program, Klein encourages students to think of their conversations as “a tennis match.”
“Both students need to know that the conversation is supposed to be 50/50,” said Klein. “Fifty percent of your time should be spent speaking, and the other 50 percent should be spent listening.”
“Everyone should get a turn to speak,” said Klein of the international students. “There will always be one student who is more talkative and one that is shyer.”
“Don’t be afraid to try new things or invite your partner somewhere,” advised Durden to the students currently involved in the program. “Be open to different conversation topics and allow them to share about their culture as much as you do about yours.”
Klein encourages face-to-face interactions between students and emphasized that “this is not a tutoring session; this is a conversation.”
For those who wish to become involved in the spring, Klein tells students to email him at rwklein@troy.edu.