The Conversation Partner Program gives international students the opportunity to easily meet and interact with American students while studying at SPSCC.
The program, currently run by Brandon Pearson of the International Student Department, involves an exchange of questions between an American student and an international student.
According to Pearson, international students participating in English-intensive programs at SPSCC are often assigned to the program and given specific questions to ask their partners. Some partners develop their own conversation topics ranging from school, their home lives or to fun things to do in Washington, said Pearson.
Other than the initial pairing of students, the program is independently organized, said Pearson. The first couple meetings are required to be on campus to ensure the safety of both parties. The following weekly interaction times and locations are decided by the partners.
In the past, students have even used their meetings to go out or cook together, said Pearson.
The main goal of the program is to eliminate the isolation that international students experience while at the college. Because many of their courses are for international students exclusively, they often find it difficult to meet and build relationships with American students, said Pearson.
Though the program is usually inactive during the summer, this year many students participated through June, July and August to welcome a new group of students from Saudi Arabia.
Generally the highest level of participation, 30 to 40 students, is during the fall quarter, when the largest number of international students enroll at SPSCC.
Most American partners return each quarter to either continue meeting with their original partner or a new one and even occasionally take on additional partners. Many students develop lasting relationships through the program, said Pearson.
Occasionally, participants request a partner change due to scheduling conflicts or clashing personalities, said Pearson.
The main challenge Pearson said he has found has been American students using the program as only a cultural resource to complete coursework. Their interest, rather than to build relationships with their partners, was sometimes just to get the information they needed for their projects.
In the past, to fulfill assignments, some American students joined the program, and upon completing their assignment, dropped out unexpectedly and without notifying their conversation partner, said Pearson.
To combat this problem, Pearson brought the problem to the attention of the professors who were assigning the projects. The professors were all cooperative and began addressing the issue when creating the different assignments. Since then, the problem has disappeared, said Pearson.
For coming years, Pearson intends to organize new types of gatherings for the entire group of conversation partners, such as time for coffee. The problem will be finding a time that fits in everyone’s schedules, he said.