Conversation partners strike up chats with foreign exchange students

It starts slowly with a couple of students shyly hesitating to come through the doors. Minutes later everyone shuffles to their seats, breaks up into groups and the conversations begin.

The Conversation Partner Program hosted by the English Language Institute allows foreign exchange students the chance to meet with volunteers and practice both verbal and auditory English language skills.

Foreign exchange students talk with permanent students in an effort to improve English language skills. (Eileen Qiu | The Poly Post)

One student benefiting from the program is Minami Kimoto, a second-year foreign exchange student from Kobe Women’s University in Japan. Her school offers students the opportunity to study abroad for seven months, as part of its Global-Local Study program.

Kimoto wanted to study English at Cal Poly Pomona and learn more languages to someday become a language teacher back in Japan. Coming from an all-women’s campus, she said it’s very different in the United States and at Cal Poly, but she likes it here more.

Program assistant Brock Brenneman usually directs these meetings and said the program allows students a safe place to practice English without pressure from a professor or having to speak in front of a class.

“It’s an extracurricular opportunity for students to be in a place to say things wrong and have it be OK,” Brenneman said.

Meron Amahayes is a fourth-year industrial engineering major and student assistant who runs group conversations. She said most students come from parts of Asia and the Middle East.

Brenneman said Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have a cultural mission that allows students to earn pay for studying abroad and bringing back what they learn to their home countries.

Amahayes said she joined the program as a volunteer because the staff was searching for engineering students to help Korean foreign exchange students with their studies.

Other volunteers like third-year child development major Kathleen Salcepuedes and third-year agribusiness major Aaron Esqueda started volunteering through Campus Crusade (CRU), a Christian organization on campus.

Students and volunteers are divided into small groups and given a sheet of possible topics and questions to ask in order to get the conversations started.

One topic was memory and questions revolved around what someone’s earliest memory was, or whether or not some memories should be forgotten.

Brenneman said the topics can’t be light and happy all the time.

The conversations usually end with the students listening to songs a couple of times and writing down as many words or phrases as they can pick up, or ones they have difficulty understanding. Brenneman said he usually likes to stick to more somber songs.

“The sad songs are usually slower and it’s easier to pick apart the meaning behind them,” he said.

Conversations are held every Tuesday and Wednesday in Room 1 of the portable classrooms near the Bronco Recreation and Intramural Complex  from 12:30-1:30 p.m. and all students are free to volunteer.

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