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English program connects international students, creates ‘unique’ cultural experience

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The English Conversation Partners Program is filling up fast Winter Quarter, but interested students can sign up in the spring to gain cultural knowledge and have a unique experience with another student.

The program pairs an international student with an American student so they can practice speaking English and learn about each other’s cultures.

Lulu Shao, an international first-year Ph.D. student in veterinary medicine, said she was grateful to practice speaking English during her time with the ECP program, and that she and her partner learned about each other’s customs.

“We talked about American food and Chinese food, and I told her (how) Chinese college students live,” Shao said. “We both (were) interested in the different cultures between the U.S. and China.”

Culture was also the focus of discussion for Chiqian Fu, a third-year in actuarial science, and her American-born partner. Fu came to the U.S. from China after high school and lived with a host family who mentioned the ECP program.

Although most conversation sessions are one-on-one, sometimes they get together with friends.

“We watched movies and once we hung out with my friends and her friends as a group,” Fu said. “It is nice to be in a one-on-one situation mostly though because it is casual, relaxed and very comfortable.”

Fu also said it’s about being comfortable socially and getting to know people, not simply speaking English. She said she is glad she became involved with the program because she thinks it has helped her transition into American life and wishes more students were part of the ECP program.

“It’s a feeling of being welcome and to know that people here, especially OIA (the Office of International Affairs), are here to help international students adapt to American life,” Fu said. “It would be good if more students were involved so we can share our cultures.”

Caroline Omolesky, immigration coordinator at Ohio State, said there are 100-300 participants each quarter, and she thinks both international and domestic students who take part benefit from the time talking with their peers. Many of the international students who are looking for people to talk with are from Eastern Asia, such as China and Korea.

“(The ECP program) gives (students) a chance to come into contact with someone from a completely different cultural and linguistic background, and learn firsthand about ways of life they may not be familiar with,” Omolesky said in an email. “For a variety of reasons it can sometimes be difficult for international students to make close American friends, so one of the main goals of the program is to encourage friendships that might not otherwise have formed.”

Catherine Guo, a third-year in psychology, said her partner gave her tours of campus, took her to High Street and showed her around town.

“Her family owns a restaurant so we ate there often. She also had me try frozen yogurt for the first time,” Guo said.

Guo said she felt that lots of the domestic students involved were immigrants themselves, like her partner who came to the U.S. from Vietnam when she was very young, or that they have international issues in their lives such as studying abroad. Fu agreed, adding that students studying a foreign language seem more interested as well.

Terry Barakat, academic specialist at the English Language Institute at Missouri State University, said in an email that there are two programs like this at MSU, one of which is formal with assignments related to the interactions, the other informal and very similar to the OSU program.

“In the social work department, there is a class called human diversity designed to expose the future social workers to the diversity of the people they will help,” Barakat said. “We partner the 40-plus students with ELI students in our high-intermediate and advanced listening levels. The partners must meet and fill out journals or logs with guided questions about the experience.”

Barakat echoed Omolesky about the friendships that can be made through the program.

“These relationships are great because the Americans get a personal look into another culture and the International gets to use their English authentically outside of the classroom plus make a friend on campus and get some insight into campus life,” he said.

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