Thursday, December 6, 2007

Conversational partners talk up a storm

By Betsy Baertlein
Feature Editor

Imagine being a student in a foreign country. Think of how much more difficult life would be. Making conversation would be hard enough, let alone making friends. No doubt studying abroad is an eye-opening and amazing experience, but it doesn’t come without its struggles.
This is part of the reason that Jessica Bare, hall director of Skemp and Heffron halls, decided to re-implement the English conversational partners program this year.

“International students may feel anxious about meeting new people,” Bare said, “but they really do want to be involved.” This program began last year, and when Bare began asking the international students from her residence halls what kind of programs they would like to see, many of them mentioned conversational partners.

Bare began the program by emailing the students of Saint Mary’s University, asking English-speaking students who were interested in spending one hour a week talking with an international student to volunteer. Partners were assigned based upon interests and, in some cases, language. For example, students taking Spanish classes may want to be paired with a Spanish-speaking student so they can practice their Spanish as well. Bare said that the meetings are “kept really open-ended.”

The majority of the students meet over a meal in the cafeteria, but anything is fair game. Some suggested activities include cooking together, going to the game room, studying together, or exercising together. Most students meet one-on-one with their conversational partners, but small groups are an option as well.

There are currently about 30 participants in this program. The international students in the program speak English at various levels, as some have come to SMU to learn English, whereas others already are fairly comfortable with the language. Native languages of those involved in the partners program include Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and Creole. Speaking with these students allows English speaking students to expand their cultural horizons. Having the commitment makes this easier, said Bare. “People have good intentions, but unless it’s on your calendar, it’s hard to follow through.”

Students who are interested in participating in the conversational partners program may have an opportunity to join in January when more transfer students come. Those interested should email Bare at

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