Story by Abby Siegel, Contributing writer
The English as a Second Language conversation partner program has proven to provide more than just an avenue for international students to practice English.
Brianna Taylor, junior from Marion, Illinois, and Hyejin Cho, freshman from Gwangju, South Korea, have developed a strong friendship through the partnership provided by the ESL conversation partner program.
Their friendship began in September when they were paired together. They said they do not think they would have met each other if it weren’t for the program.
“First I was very nervous,” Cho said. “It was my first time with American people. When I saw her first she looked very kind. I was very satisfied.”
They meet at least once a week, and will continue to until Cho returns to South Korea in December. They said they enjoy eating together – specifically ice cream.
Taylor said she believes “ice cream brings people together across borders.”
They also went to a corn maze and the Baptist Campus Ministry’s weekly worship night. They said they plan to have a Christmas party with other international students to eat cookies and wear ugly sweaters, allowing Cho to learn more about American traditions that aren’t learned from a textbook.
“Basically if there is anything she wants to do, we do it,” Taylor said.
Taylor was unable to determine her favorite memory with Cho because she said all the memories they have made have been great.
Now there are 146 international students matched in the program with many American students having more than one partner. Countries involved in the program include South Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia.
Marcus Bell, ESL instructor, said that the program is always looking for more American students to partner.
The volunteer-based program occurs during the fall and spring semesters and is open to all Murray State students, faculty and staff. Many ESL students stay for one semester and new matches are made each semester.
Taylor said she decided to apply to be a conversation partner because of previous interactions she had with international students in a class project that required teaching a grammar lesson with four other international students.
“Ever since then I have been interested in learning more about culture,” she said.
Taylor is an English Education major and said she believes this program will influence her future impact as a teacher. She said this program has “opened the door to teaching abroad” – something she had never thought about before she engaged with students of other cultures.
“I will have English language learning students, most likely, and I wanted to learn what level of language I might be working with and the process of acquiring a second language what that looks like,” she said.
Cho said she came to America to enjoy culture with American students.
“I think various experience is more important than study,” she said. “Bri gave me many experiences.”
Bell said that the program allows ESL students to “maximize” their experience.
“It makes each one of their experiences different and special,” he said.
“Riding a horse, for example; they have to find someone who can give them that experience,” he said.
Students interested in study abroad, culture, language or volunteering are encouraged to apply. The program is self-managed and requires partners to decide what they want to do together and when they want to do it.
“Many students just like to help, and this is a great way to help someone achieve their goal,” Bell said.
Taylor emphasized the value of interacting with international students and being a source for them to enrich their experience at Murray State.
“I think absolutely every student should do the program or at least in everyday life be open to speaking with students from other cultures because it’s a valuable skill to be able to communicate with people that aren’t from your country,” she said.
Taylor gave a word of advice for anybody that has a conversation partner or is considering applying to the program.
“I think if you are going to do it, patience is very important on both sides,” she said.
She said you must be open and receptive to each other’s cultures because both students in the partnership are learning from each other.
Those wishing to participate in the ESL conversation program can print out the application form on the Murray State website under the conversation partners tab. The application should be returned to Marcus Bell, Woods Hall, Room 113.