Language partner program connects students of different cultures

It began as an international graduate student’s dream, and now, the OSL Language Partner program on campus allows native English speakers and international students to communicate and meet. All across campus in cafés and study rooms, these partners are forming language alliances.

Initially, the OSL Language Partner program began when the Women’s Center director, Laura Hacquard, prompted an international graduate student in the program to pursue what they were passionate about, Amina Simmons, Language Partners Coordinator, said. They dreamt of a program where students who spoke English would be paired with students who didn’t, to help them acclimate to the Mizzou environment. The program has grown over the years, and now, Simmons said, they usually manage between 200 and 300 students each year.

“I think the purpose of the program has evolved over time,” Simmons said. “Currently, we like to look at language partners as a sort of cultural exchange.  … What’s amazing is that [meetings] look so different and creative depending on the pair.”

The program does a good job of building real connections, based on an initial structured meeting, Simmons said.  It facilitates a meaningful and helpful, organic partnership.

Students meet their language partner for a minimum of one hour a week, at times and places that are convenient for the duo to work on conversational English. There is no required structure for the meetings, and each partnership is different. Some students visit local eateries or markets to get a feel for the town, others watch movies together and discuss cultural differences in humor.

Currently, Daphne Yu, freshman, journalism major, is partnered with Seunghwan Lee, a doctorate student in hospitality management from South Korea. They meet twice a week. Lee said they talk about whatever topic suits them at that given time. He said he occasionally discusses class assignments or practices a presentation with Yu as well.

“In my opinion, this program is very helpful for international students,” Lee said. “Apart from English issue, I have a lot of things [that] I have learned from my partner through this program. For example, because I am a graduate student, I do not have enough chance to meet undergraduate students, but by this program, I can have a good undergraduate friend.”

The program is very informal, Simmons said. She adds that the program strives to help non-native English speakers become more comfortable speaking English and native English speakers often get to engage with, learn about, and grow to love cultures they may have never encountered before.

Exposure to differing cultures is important for college students, Yu said. She said she’s learned so much from her partner already, especially about Korean culture.

“It’s really an eye-opening experience that anyone can take part in,” Yu said. “All you have to do is be sincere, have an open mind and listen. The things you can learn from someone who grew up in a another country with different customs and cultures is really awesome and cool, and it’s not every day you get to hear personal stories from people who grew up halfway across the world from you.”

For more information on how to become a Language Partner, visit their website.

Maria Kalaitzandonakes

About the Author Maria

I’m a CoMo native with a mile-long last name. I’m a sucker for wool socks, classic Coca Cola and afternoon naps. If I had a pet, I’d dub it Pigwidgeon, or maybe Alastor. I’ve stood right in between Asia and Europe, eaten my weight in lamb meat and walked the Great Wall. I’m fluent in Greek and a little wobbly in Spanish. I’ve broken my arm and lost five pairs of glasses. And I say both with an L, as in boLth, like a true Missourian. Before I became a tiger, I was a bruin, at Columbia’s very own Rock Bridge High School. There I got my start in agriculture and journalism. I ran the student newspaper and magazine, learning that I had a love for storytelling. CAFNR is where I call home right now, as an Agricultural Economics and Science and Agricultural Journalism double-major student. Someday I may use this degree for a career in agricultural public policy or foreign agricultural services. But for now, I’m just a freshman with some pretty blurry pipe dreams.