Mix and mingle

ILS to launch program to promote cross-cultural awareness and intercommunication


Madison Ling, Campus Life Editor

Looking for a unique opportunity to meet new people? Then prepare to say your mother tongue’s equivalent of “hello,” because the English Second Language (ESL) program and International Learning Support (ILS) services are preparing to launch the “Conversation Partners Program.” This program is aimed at stirring up Schoolcraft College’s melting pot and providing a innovative way to make international students feel more engaged on the campus and practice their English conversation skills. What better way to do this than to pair them up with a friendly, domestic student looking to expand their horizons.

Program origins

According to ILS Academic Success Coach, and founder of the Conversation Partners program, Annika Sholander, many other colleges have a resource like the Conversation Partners Program including her alma mater, Central Michigan University.

This is one of the main sources of inspiration for the project along with a common desire in the department to foster learning beyond the staged environment offered in ESL courses. Once the idea was hatched, Sholander began to gage campus-wide interest from ESL students, the general student body and faculty. In addition to continuous encouragement from colleagues, she found that even faculty members displayed a desire to become more engaged with students and their educational experience at the college. With that in mind, she began forging a path toward an even more inclusive and welcoming community than ever before.

Benefits of getting involved

“The benefits of participating are intertwined with the goals for this program. This includes providing an opportunity for English students to practice speaking in a comfortable environment and a chance to connect with diverse individuals on our campus,” states Sholander.

In addition, Sholander cites the up-and-coming project as a safe way for ESL students to practice the language in a more natural environment and safely during COVID-19. The ESL representative explained that it can be hard for non-native speakers to interact with born speakers that might mumble in their speech or have an unfamiliar accent among other factors that can make comprehension more challenging.

Some benefits for native speakers include a chance to develop cultural awareness, identify language barriers and how to overcome them. It is also good a way to grow as a leader and to get to know another person while enhancing one’s resume as they complete their schooling and engage in something they love – learning about new language and cultures.

Becoming involved

“There are no requirements to become involved in this program other than having a desire and passion to connect with other cultures and aid in others’ learning,” Sholander informed.

Those that are interested in becoming a partner will be paired to an ESL student based on both individuals’ availability. Both sides must fill out Google form to provide personal information and ideal times to meet with their prospective friend. This form will then be reviewed by Sholander and compared to the schedule of interested ESL students to achieve the best fit possible.

Both parties must also complete a background check form before meetings can commence. Once applications are finalized, Sholander will email the pair to let them know they can arrange a meeting at their own discretion, whether this be via FaceTime, Zoom, on campus or in any public setting that is appropriate and socially distanced.

“As much as we would like to provide the opportunity for students to cite preferences based on age, gender and other factors, we simply don’t have the numbers yet. We are hopeful that this will change as we grow. However, I want to stress that this is solely a conversation-based experience. We do not expect partners to be tutors to the ESL students,” she emphasized.

Native speakers must also be aware that there is an extra step in the starting process. Specifically, they will be required to attend a one-on-one orientation meeting with Sholander that will be roughly 15 to 30 minutes long. The duration will vary depending on how long it takes to discuss the program’s expectations, address any questions and to complete brief conversational training, which will address how to identify misunderstanding, such as excessive nodding or awkward silence, how they can assist and to provide education regarding language barriers and the tools that can be used to overcome them.

“The hope is to avoid dependence on moderators, but I will be available to give advice and suggest topics to both parties if they’re struggling. We really want to see this become a yearly norm and great learning experience for all” Sholander concluded.

Grab that spoon and help us start cooking up a more diverse community by joining the Conversation Partners Program now.

To submit a Google form, domestic students, faculty and staff should use this link while ESL students should fill out this form to indicate an interest in practicing their English.

For more information about this program, please contact Annika Sholander at [email protected] or 734-462-5326.