Brock University is home to a rich and diverse population of students. There are always new faces in the halls, and behind each of those faces is a unique story. Approximately 2,000 of those stories include a common thread: they came to Brock as foreigners, looking to call a new country home, at least for a while. Brock’s international students account for a large part of the total student population. In the 2016-2017 school year, Brock was home to 1,324 international undergraduate students and 499 international graduate students. 76 per cent of those students come from Asia, a region whose first languages do not typically include English. In fact, only 10 per cent of Brock’s international population last year came from regions of the world where English is commonly spoken as a first language.
Language barriers are a very difficult obstacle to overcome, particularly in the high-paced university environment. Coupled with culture shock, learning how to understand course codes, navigating the halls to find your classes and figuring out how to use the buses, being an international student can be intimidating. Fortunately, Brock has several programs designed to help ease students through such a transition, hopefully making the experience easier and more manageable.
Conversation Partners is one of these programs, designed to help with the language barriers that many international students face. Conversation Partners is a partnership program which pairs an English speaking Brock student with an international student partner. The students meet up once a week to have a conversation. A primary goal of the program is to help international students learn English and become more confident in their conversational skills. However, it has become much more than that for many of the students who have participated.
“Students and volunteers also benefit by making new acquaintances and friends on campus. For many, the opportunity to meet for a coffee or go to an event expands knowledge of the area as well,” explained Mike Morrison, Brock International’s Marketing and Communications Officer.
“[The program] equips students with the tools and skills to succeed in a rapidly changing, highly diverse and competitive education structure and global economy,” adds Leigh-Ellen Keating, Director of Brock International. “It increases students’ ability to work together effectively, learn from their diversity and take advantage of the plethora of experience around them.”
Conversation Partners has been running at Brock for over 25 years. It is a great way for students to get involved and get to know students from other backgrounds and cultures. Embracing the diversity that is right here at Brock can open up so many new opportunities and experiences for students.
“The experience with the Conversation Partner program helps create an environment of belonging, where students feel welcomed and valued for their cultural background,” said Morrison.
Conversation Partners is not only beneficial to international students, but volunteers can also gain a lot of experience from the program. Tessa Braaten, a second year student studying Child and Youth Studies and Applied Linguistics, joined Conversation Partners this year for the first time.
“I have wanted to get to know international students and thought this was a perfect opportunity. I have been trying to learn Mandarin as well so it was so cool that I was partnered with someone from China,” said Braaten.
“She has really enjoyed getting to know her conversation partner, and have taken their relationship beyond simply meeting one hour a week, enjoying outings and activities together such as skating and baking. It is very easy to make a good friend,” said Braaten. “I love how I’ve been able to learn so much about my partner and her culture.”
Conversation Partners is one way to get to know your Brock community a bit better, and learn some skills of your own at the same time. For example, Braaten discussed how she had been able to practice explaining terms and concepts to someone with a language barrier, a skill very related to her studies in Applied Linguistics.
If you would like to get involved with Conversation Partners, they are currently looking for volunteers for the spring and summer.
Volunteer forms can be found online at: brocku.ca/international/current/international-services/english-conversation-partners/. Brock International also holds Conversation Cafés on Mondays in IC104, where you can come to inquire about the program. The next Café is planned for March 26 from 2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.