Living

Partner program bridges cultural gaps

Conversation Partners helps international and U.S. students connect with new people, new cultures and new friends on campus.

Joanne Bateup matches domestic students with international ones. ( LUIS FERNANDO RODRIGUEZ / TTN )

As many freshmen are transitioning into college culture, they are learning new things outside the classroom. They are learning how to behave when riding the elevator in Anderson Hall or what to wear when going out to a party. One could liken it to moving into a new country, dictated by new social norms and its own unique language. Students arriving from foreign countries, freshmen or not, go through a similar culture shock.

To assist these international students, Conversation Partners is run from within the English Language Learner’s intensive language program. The program gives students an opportunity to interact with U.S. college students of the same age.

Though students may know how to speak English, the international students learn more about the conversational and colloquial aspects of speech that are difficult to teach in a classroom through partnerships with U.S. students.

“It helps them build relationships with Philadelphia and with Temple. I hope they also feel welcomed and a part of campus,” said Joanne Bateup, student services coordinator for the intensive English language program.

In addition to possibly developing a relationship with their native-speaking partner, the program also provides additional comfort with speaking to people outside of a classroom setting, thus helping to make it easier to build relationships outside of the program.

Bateup matches domestic students with international student partners. Students are paired based on responses to a short survey that is administered upon expressed interest. The survey asks students about majors, language experiences, gender preferences and non-academic interests. Bateup uses these to gauge possible compatibility of students.

The international students’ language skills vary from student to student. Most in the Conversation Partners program are intermediate and above-level speakers, meaning they are capable of holding a conversation, but might have broken sentence structure and some blanks in vocabulary.

The main goal of the program may be to help international students develop their English speaking skills, but the American students also benefit, Bateup said. These students get the experience of meeting people from another nation and being exposed to other cultures without leaving the United States.

These students are usually in foreign language classes and students who have or are planning on studying abroad as well as some who plan on going into teaching English as a second language, but the program is open to anyone.

“They have an understanding of how it feels, and know the experience of wanting to meet people and not necessarily knowing how,” Bateup said. “They like to be that avenue for someone else.”

Erin Kim, a junior early education major who has participated in the program multiple times, originally entered the program because her ESL education friends were doing it.

Kim had a diverse experience with an array of languages, including Japanese, French and Spanish. Her most developed language, besides English, is Korean. With her mother from Korea and her father from the U.S., Kim grew up in a bilingual houehold.

In America, Korean immigrants and their families develop a tightly-knit community around their shared culture and language that allowed Kim’s mother to continue to mainly speak Korean and even, to Kim’s annoyance at times, not develop complete English skills, she said.

“[The program] totally gives a new view on everything, new way to solve the problem — not really a problem, but a challenge,” Kim said.

She added that the experience teaches patience and to be more accommodating of others.

Kim has been matched with multiple Korean international students, but also had partners from Spain and Saudi Arabia. As a self-proclaimed social person, Kim enjoys the laidback and unstructured nature of the program that allows for much flexibility. She appreciates how often she gets to meet new people.

Kim said she makes it a point to encourage her partners, especially those who she shares Korean heritage with, to fully immerse themselves in the U.S. culture by speaking mostly English.

Morgen Snowadzky can be reached at morgen.snowadzky@temple.edu.

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