A “mutually beneficial cross-cultural exchange” is how Adrienne Nussbaum, assistant dean and director of the Office of  International Students and Scholars, describes the Conversation Partners Program at Boston College.

The program, which began 10 years ago, pairs an international graduate student with an English-speaking member of the BC community. There are rewards for both, explained Nussbaum: International students are able to improve their conversational English – from understanding slang to preparing for interviews or presentations – in a comfortable setting without the fear of judgment or pressure, says Nussbaum, while their partner – typically an English-speaking American – is exposed to a new culture.

“It’s really nice for international students to form a relationship with someone in the BC community,” said Nussbaum.  “This program is helping internationalize BC’s campus and helping international students to integrate.”

With close to 100 pairs participating last year, said Nussbaum, the program continues to grow as BC’s international graduate student population increases.

“I have been able to see my partner regularly for two semesters so we have developed a very good friendship,” said School of Theology and Ministry student Takeshi Miyauchi, who was paired with Carroll School of Management Lecturer Drew Hession-Kunz.  “Thanks to this program, I got an excellent friend. 

“Since this program offers me an opportunity to communicate in English in a calm environment, I can practice and enjoy a conversation in English without distractions and concerns. My partner has also helped me to understand American culture, with which I often struggle.”

Said Hession-Kunz, “Carving out time is always hard.  Every minute of our lives is already over-committed. However, it is important to make time for important things, and this program is important in several ways: It helps a grad student who is far from home acclimate to BC, it bridges cultural walls that keep people apart, and it helps the partner by opening new vistas into the world of another human being.  

“In my case, I also made a great friend, which is enough reason to be in the program by itself. As a grad student, Takeshi is actively in the process of learning and growing, and is a fascinating, interesting person besides.”

Like Miyauchi, Younghee Park, a graduate student in the Lynch School of Education, has found the Conversation Partners Program to be rewarding – as has the relationship with her partner, Jessica Hand, information technology and program operations manager for the Woods College of Advancing Studies Master of Healthcare Administration program.

“The best thing I got through the program was making an American friend, Jess, who can help me to know American culture better,” said Park. “We still meet regularly on our own.”

While registration is closed for this semester, Nussbaum said, those who are interested in participating should check back for the winter/spring.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” said Nussbaum.  “And I encourage people to participate in the future.”

–Siobhan Sullivan / University Communications