Venturing far away from home and immersing oneself into a new community while having to use a non-native language can be a formidable challenge. However, international students traveling to Emory to receive a college education can take advantage of the Conversation Partner Program.
The University has a diverse student body, consisting of 21.2 percent international students in the first-year class alone according to the Office of International Student Life’s website. In order to ease such a large number of students into the community, Emory has developed the Conversation Partner Program, a volunteer organization that pairs international students, staff and faculty with their counterparts in the U.S. This program has matched over 600 participants since its inception in the Spring of 2014, a number that is growing each semester.
“The vast majority of our participants return for an additional semester,” Fellow for International Student Life Allison Olmsted said.
In fact, according to the program’s website, 56 percent of final survey respondents who do not have a graduating partner said they will continue to meet the following semester. Of the 93 United States student partners in the first semester of the program, 74 percent were undergraduates, and 24 percent were graduates. The top three colleges represented among this group were Emory College of Arts and Sciences (71 percent), Rollins School of Public Health (9 percent) and the Goizueta Business School (7 percent).
The program strives to build bridges between international students and domestic students through conversation, culture sharing and friendship. It allows international participants to learn more about American culture and helps them with their conversational skills, while domestic participants benefit by learning more about another culture and sometimes even practice a second language they’re studying. Ninety-three percent agree or strongly agree that their participation in the program has been a good experience.
“My partner and I get brunch every weekend,” College first-year Stella Chen said. “We have been to a Chinese restaurant, and other places in Emory Village. He tells me about his hometown in Maine, and I share with him my experiences from China, which he is very interested in. He is majoring in international relations, and studying the Chinese language, so I’m able to teach him as well.”
Chen also mentioned how her partner is a second-year student at the college, so he is able to provide her with advice and assistance with problems that first-years often encounter. Many of the partners, including Matt Lamourie, a sophomore in the College, mentioned going out to movies with each other, and other fun activities in Atlanta. All participants engage in scheduled monthly events both on and off campus. Additionally, there are bi-weekly emails providing suggestions for activities.
“I tell my friends all the time that they should join the program, I tell strangers too. It is such a simple idea, but there is so much to learn from it,” Lamourie said. “[This is an opportunity to] … befriend individuals who [you might never have had the opportunity to meet if [you] had not joined the conversation partner program,” like Malaika Gutekunst.
Applications for the Spring of 2016 will be live from Jan. 8 through Jan. 24, according to the website. All new participants attend a training to ensure retention, and also receive a manual that partners can refer back to throughout the semester. Those who want more information about the program can visit the Conversation Partner Program tab on the ‘Programs & Events’ page of the Emory website or go to http://tinyurl.com/CPPSpring2016 in order to directly access the application.