Troy students are invited to participate in the Conversation Partners program, offering international students the chance to practice conversational English with native English speakers.
The program is designed for each participating native English-speaking student to pick one available hour a week to volunteer time to speak with one to three international students, explained Robert Klein, an English as a second language (ESL) instructor and program adviser.
English-speaking students who are interested in volunteering are asked to attend an orientation session at noon, 3 p.m. or 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7, or 8 a.m., 10 a.m. or 3 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 8, in Pace Hall. The orientation will include logistics, tips and possible conversation topics for partner meetings.
After the orientation, English speakers will sign up for a day and time that will be posted for international students to view and select the option that works best.
“Sometimes we have Americans who, especially freshmen, want to do everything,” said Klein. “And they suddenly realize after a few weeks that they’ve bitten off more than they could chew, and they have to let it go.”
Therefore, he strongly recommends that students make sure they can afford to take on the responsibilities of the program before signing up.
During the meetings, the partners can speak about any topic they want, but are also given a list of possible topics such as food, jobs and movies.
According to Klein, the program helps many international students become more confident speaking English and talking to Americans.
“As for the American volunteers, they say they get a lot out of it,” he said. “They learn about other cultures, they make friends from around the world and it opens their minds.
“Sometimes great friendships can come out of this, and the American might wind up inviting the internationals to, you know, his or her house for Thanksgiving, or they may start going to football games together. We have had partners who graduated and went back to their countries on the other side of the world but still keep in touch with each other via Facebook or Skype.”
Rielson Lopes, an international business master’s student from Salvador, Brazil, and a conversation partner, said that he made a good friend through this program.
In just two years, Lopes said he is able to converse fluently in English, thanks to his partner.
When they were still in the program, Lopes said, they did not just have conversations but also developed a true friendship by traveling, playing sports and doing outdoor activities together.
“He is going to Brazil this December with me for the winter break,” said Lopes. “We are very close now.”
Lindsey Taylor, a senior marketing major from Spanish Fort, is an active participant of this program.
Taylor learned about this program through IMPACT orientation and applied to be a conversation partner three years ago.
She said the program gave her the chance to meet many kind and interesting people, some of whom she is still in contact with.
“I have actually taken classes studying different foreign languages, but lost a lot of what I’ve learned because I don’t have anyone to practice with, so I know how important it is and how much it helps to actually speak new languages with a native speaker,” Taylor said.
Taylor said it was funny how the group first met and had to find things to talk about.
“The first time, we typically talk about ourselves and where we are from and what we are studying,” Taylor said. “After that, we just can talk about any random things. It’s difficult, but it will always make interesting conversations.”
According to Taylor, she learned a lot about different cultures that she probably wouldn’t have learned on her own.
“There are so many stereotypes about different countries and cultures that are not true,” she said. “I actually met someone and learn real things about them and the places they are from.”
She said she hoped international students would keep their minds open and try to learn more about American culture as well.
“It’s not just an international student getting a chance to practice their speaking, but also, they get to know American culture better and actually an American student,” said Maria Frigge, the associate dean of international student services.
All native English speakers are welcome, and even those who miss the orientation sessions can contact Robert Klein in the International Program office in Pace Hall to sign up.
Klein advises international students who wish to participate to watch for an email describing how to sign up and begin meetings. The time slots will open first to ESL students and then to all international students.