WOU: Conversation Partners

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Conversation Partners brings together domestic and international students in a semi-structured program that fosters cross-cultural and cross-linguistic understanding and friendships.

There are three options for participation--please check them out and the General Schedule below.
  • I want to participate and earn extra credit for a course.

Instructors in many departments may offer extra credit for participating in the Conversation Partners program. If your instructor does not include this on the course syllabus, feel free to ask him or her if it would be possible for you to earn extra credit for participating. We have created a series of short assignments ( see below) that instructors in any department can collect as evidence of your participation and to determine the amount of extra credit that you can earn. Instructors are welcome to modify these assignments in any way that they choose in order to tailor this project to the goals of the course. If your instructor has questions, please direct her or him to this webpage for more information about Conversation Partners.

  • I want to participate to fulfill the requirements of a course.

Instructors of certain courses may require your participation in the Conversation Partners program. This also applies to COM 271 which can be taken by arrangement--contact Dr. Emily Plec for more information. Please talk to your instructor to clarify the specific requirements (assignments) for your course.

  • I want to participate simply because it's great.

Excellent! By volunteering to participate, you receive all the benefits of the Conversation Partners program, but you are not obligated to complete any assignments.

  • You will still need to sign the informal Conversation Partners Contract and attend the First Meeting Welcome Party. We also highly recommend that you do the short research assignment about you partner's country ( see below) because this will help you understand your partner better.

General Schedule and Participation Instructions

The Conversation Partners program is coordinated by the Office of International Student Academic Support (ISAS) and offered every term according the following general schedule.

  1. Anytime before the second week of the term, participants send an email to cp@wou.edu. In the email simply tell us that you are interested in participating. We will reply with a few questions for you to answer and an informal contract for you to print, sign, and bring to the first meeting. When you send the information we ask for, we will match you with a partner and reply with your partner's contact information and the time and place for the First Meeting Welcome Party during week 3 of the term.
  2. During week 3 of the term, we will organize a First Meeting Welcome Party. This evening event will allow you to meet your partner as you take part in group discussions and activities.
  3. From week 4 to 10 of the term, you should meet with your partner at least one time per week for one hour.
  4. At the end of the term you have the option to continue with the same partner for the following term or to have us choose a new partner for you.
  5. Whether you participated in the Conversation Partners program for one, two, or three terms, in the spring you and your partner will be invited to an end-of-the-year celebration dinner and slideshow.

Communication Tips for breaking through language barriers

Communicating across cultural and linguistic barriers can be challenging. If you’re having difficulty understanding your conversation partner, consider practicing the following tips:

  • Give a word a second chance: Try saying a word more slowly or with a different pronunciation.
  • Confirm understanding: Do not simply ask, “Do you understand?”  Many times your partner will answer “yes” even when they don’t completely comprehend. If you are unsure if the message has been understood, try re-phrasing what you have just talked about.
  • Separate questions: Don’t ask back-to-back questions such as “Do you like pizza? What’s your favorite kind?” In a cross-linguistic situation only the first or second question may have been understood. Be sure to ask only one question at a time.
  • Write it down: If you are not sure that a word or phrase was understood, write it down. Many times, it helps to see the word in print.
  • Draw it: If a picture is worth 1000 words, a simple drawing is worth at least a few words. If you cannot explain the meaning of a particular word, such as ‘milk,’ try drawing the cow, udders, and the milk.
  • Say it without words: Use your hands, facial expressions, and other body language to assist you in communicating.
  • Avoid slang: Even a foreigner that has a good grasp of the English language will not have a complete knowledge of slang, idioms, and other sayings. The words may be understood but the meaning may be missed.
  • Ask for help: If there are others around to translate, do not be embarrassed to ask for help. An electronic translator or language dictionary may come in handy, too.
  • Slow down: Speak slowly and clearly and ensure your pronunciation is understandable.
  • Watch the humor: When using humor, consider first whether or not it will be understood in the other culture.
  • Be patient: This is the key to overcoming language barriers. The fact that neither of you is strong in the other’s language is no one’s fault.
  • Be supportive: Giving encouragement to those learning second languages gives them confidence, support and, in addition, a mutual comfort level is achieved.

Adapted from: http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/cross-cultural/cross-cultural-awareness.html

Suggested Assignments for students seeking extra credit

Students: Any extra credit for participation in Conversation Partners only applies to one course per term. The decision to count CP participation as extra credit is entirely up to your instructors. Please direct your instructors to this web page. Each instructor is free to accept part or all of the assignments listed below in fulfillment of whatever amount of extra credit he or she is willing to offer for your participation. Depending on the course, instructors may want to alter or add to the assignments listed below.

Instructors: We hope that the following list of assignments encourages you to promote participation in Conversation Partners by offering extra credit to students in the program. The assignments listed below are meant as a suggested template that fosters cultural awareness and understanding in the CP participants, but feel free to alter these assignments in any way to meet the educational objectives of your class. Students should only receive extra credit in one course per term for their participation; we will verify this via email before the end of the term. Students should submit any extra credit assignments directly to the instructor who is awarding extra credit for participation.

Assignment 1: A little fact-finding

Go to the CIA World Fact Book and select your partner's country from the drop-down menu on the right-hand side of the page. Click on the map of the country to enlarge it, then copy and paste the image into a Word document. Next browse the information in the major headings about each country: Introduction, Geography, People and Society, Government, etc. Focus on at least 3 headings, read the information in them, and for each one, write a 1 paragraph summary/response about what you learned. Also for each heading write at least 2 questions that you have about that aspect of the country. Save and print your document. Bring the printout with you to the First Meeting Welcome Party.

This assignment will provide you with some basic information about your partner's country; the map will allow your partner to show you specifically where he/she is from; and the topics and questions will give you something to talk about. Please note that the perspective on a country offered by the CIA World Fact Book may be different from what the citizens of that country know and understand--rather than accepting the CIA information uncritically, ask your partner about the topics you are interested in; he or she can provide you with an insider's perspective.

Assignments 2-8: At least 7 Journal Entries (1 for each meeting)

All journal entries are informal, but please write in legible paragraphs or type your entries. We suggest at least 400 words per entry as a minimum amount to signal significant reflection on the topic.

  • Journal 1: First meeting. Reflect on your first meeting with your conversation partner. What did you learn about him/her? What would you like to know about the country and culture from which your partner comes?
  • Journal 2: Cross-cultural communication. Describe and evaluate the degree to which you and your partner are able to successfully communicate. What cultural and/or linguistic barriers do you face? How have you tried to overcome these challenges? Look at the "Communication Tips" on the Conversation Partners home page--are there any techniques listed that you didn't use but might try in the future?

Topics and suggestions for at least 5 additional journal entries:

  • Bring photos of family and friends and talk about them. Tell how they have influenced you, and ask your partner about his/her family and friends. What are the similarities and differences in the roles that friends and family play in your partner's life?
  • Favorite places / ideal vacations: discuss the places and locations that are special to you or that you want to visit. Write a journal about your partner's experience with or thoughts about other places is different from or similar to your own
  • Holidays and important historical events: discuss the roles that these play in your cultures. In your journal reflect on how any differences shape culture and society.
  • Schooling and educational practices: describe your educational experience from the earliest stages and compare them to your partner's experiences. Write a journal about the similarities and/or difference and how they effect students and the larger society.
  • Communication: there are several facets of communication (politeness and behavioral expectations in different social situations and different types of people; problem solving and conflict resolution with family, friends, coworkers; communication styles with parents, other family members, friends, romantic partners; nonverbal communication such as touch, body movement, personal space, and timeliness; mass media consumption of news, government info, and popular media). Discuss these with your partner and in a journal entry write about any cultural differences of communication patterns and their significance.
  • Religious beliefs and rituals: discuss the roles that religion plays in you and your partner's countries. In your journal answer some or all of the following questions for a start. Is your partner's description different from what you expected? What did you learn about religion in your partner's country?
  • Political structure / Government: discuss the relationship between individuals and the government in your countries. Write about the differences and similarities between your partner's country and his or her involvement and your experiences in your country.

Assignment 9: Introduction to your partner and what you learned from the CP experience

As final assignment write a 1-paragraph introduction to your partner and add a second paragraph to describe what you learned from him, about her country, and by participating in the Conversation Partners program.


International Student Academic Support 503-838-9123 | or e-mail: troyerr@wou.edu
Location: APSC 414

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