Conversation partners build strong friendships

For an international student at Northern Kentucky University, a conversation partner is one of the key steps in making native speaking friends in an unfamiliar place. Through this partnership, American students can also gain an insight into another culture and a new friend.
Conversation partners bring together American students and international students studying at NKU.

Jamie Tanzman, director of the American English Language Program, helps in finding conversation partners for international students.
“Conversation partners are a learning experience in two directions because both the American and International students can learn language and culture from the experience,” Tanzman said.

Tanzman pairs international students with American students. It’s not easy to find American student volunteers though, according to Tanzman.
“I advertise this program in weekly newsletters…such as N3,” she said. “I advertise every 2-3 weeks, and each time I may receive only 2-3 replies. But the number of international students who apply for this program during a semester can number as high as 40-50 people.”

Makita Toro, a sophomore communication major from Chile, and Garret Lauders, a junior cultural anthropology major, have become very close friends since they met in the fall of 2008 at the Baptist Campus Ministries.

“She helps my Spanish study and I help her English,” Lauders said.
They said they believe that they’ve learned a lot of things that are not in textbooks from each other through being conversation partners, about their respective languages and about their differing cultures as a whole.

“International students are here to learn English mainly,” Toro said. “But they can’t learn English from only going to classes or just standing where people are. I’ve learned details about English such as accent, or how to exactly and differently pronounce words from my conversation partner. It pushes you to try harder. It’s a great idea.”

Lauders enjoys the fact that he is learning about other cultures from this experience as a conversation partner. “I learned pieces of their language, parts of their culture,” he said. “It also opens your mind to how other people understand the world, and how other people understand language . . . It opens your mind to what they don’t know about the world, America, and your culture, and what you’re able to teach them.”

Friendship is another one of the precious benefits of being conversation partners. In addition to being friends with Toro, Lauders has been a conversation partner with many Koreans and Saudi Arabians also.

“What I realize the most is that it should also be a friendship relationship, because then you’re able to connect deeper with the person and critique them on things while still having a good relationship,” Lauders said.

Toro also said, “I gained more friendship from conversation partners while drinking coffee, and hanging out together. I recommend having several conversation partners for international students, and then you can make friends and spend more time with them.”

Suji Ham, an exchange student from South Korea, has been at NKU for one year. She had two partners in her first semester at NKU.
“I met them through group meetings between AELP students and sociology class’s students the first time. He tried to be my real friend and we spent valuable time together where we learned different things culturally from each other.”

Ham said she was lucky because many of her friends couldn’t meet their partners after the first meeting.
“I hope that NKU has some specific plans about conversation partners, such as celebrating American holidays together,” she said. “Because it’s a good opportunity to experience another culture and language for both international and American students.”