Partners help international students adjust

Monica Connor and her Conversation Partner, Emily Wang, share an embrace. Photo courtesy of Deborah Singiser. 

Moving to a new country is difficult, especially when you don’t speak the language. But at Castleton University, there is a program to help international students learn English called the Campus Conversation Partners and it needs volunteers for next fall.

The program requires an American student who signs up to meet with the same international student for an hour every week for a semester to just talk or do something together. Through this program, international students have the opportunity to make a friend and talk informally without any pressure.

“It’s hard as a new student in college, even if you’re an American going to an American school,” said Deborah Singiser, director of international student services. “Then when you have to travel to a whole new country with a new language, a different time zone, different food, it can be very stressful and I think what I like about the Campus Conversation Partners is that it’s just one on one. So it’s not like you’re in a classroom with lots of people looking at you, you just have that one person so there’s no stress.”

The program runs every semester, but typically gets more international students in the fall.

“Finding the partners is challenging sometimes and as our English learner population grows, it’s harder to find more Castleton students who wish to do it,” Singiser said.

She believes it is a good program for both parties, and current Conversation Partners agree.

“It can really kind of take off and become this amazing lifelong friendship,” Singiser said.

One current pair in the program have become good friends and now do things outside of their one hour a week like go ice skating or skiing.

Junior Monica Connor said she also has learned a lot about her Conversation Partner’s culture and has even started to learn Chinese to better chat with her partner, Emily Wang, from China.

“I think for us it’s not a duty or a task to meet each other every week. We’re just friends like normal friends and we meet each other if we want or if I just miss her I will call her,” Wang said.

Both said it hasn’t been difficult to make the time to see each other once a week because for them it was fun.

“We just kind of hit it off like right away,” Connor said.

It is clear that these two have become good friends listening to them talk about each other.

“I think my partner is the best,” Wang said, with a huge smile.

Another pair is junior Molly Marcy and Lucas Pires, an international student from France. They found success in the program too.

Marcy gained interest in the program through her interest in other cultures. She admits at first it can be hard to communicate, but she says her Conversation Partner talks to her about everything and she thinks he has benefitted from the program.

“With an international student, you don’t have the convenience of knowing their gestures, they’re completely different. You really have to rely on caring for each other and making each other comfortable,” Marcy said.

Pires was happy to learn of the program when he came to Castleton this spring.

“It was a way for me to meet people, to speak English because I am here to learn English and it’s a benefit for me,” Pires said.

The two talk about a variety of things during their meetings and found they have a few things in common.

“He talks to me about his classes. We both like to watch soccer so we talk about that. He talks about his life and family back home and stuff that he’s been up to,” Marcy said.

The language barrier can be difficult for students, but Singiser makes sure to meet with the American students before they start the program to teach them some tips to better communicate.

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