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Students from the Conversations Partners program chat in the ELS Center in Dailey Hall.

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  • 2017-09-06
  • Val Dimino

Multicultural Dialogues Lead to Deeper Understanding

International and American students are broadening each other’s world views.

When Delta College Director Tim Stoller brought his students to the English Language Services (ELS) center in Dailey Hall two years ago, he didn’t realize he was about to create a popular, recurring class.

That visit to ELS’s Conversation Partners program, connecting English learners with native English speakers, inspired Stoller and Andrea Newman, who was then an international student advisor, to create Multicultural Encounters, a course now offered each spring.

The Delta students meet weekly with their conversation partners, a mix of ELS and international students; read about cross-cultural issues; and keep journals about their experiences. In the first two semesters, a total of 24 Delta students have taken part. Several have already expressed interest for spring 2018.

The participants work past language barriers and find commonalities when talking about their families, hometowns, favorite recipes and traditions, and current issues in their native countries.

“The assumption that ‘because you don’t understand me, we have nothing in common’ — that strips away pretty quickly,” said Newman, now interim associate director for Delta.

Matthew Wheelock ’17 and ELS graduate Reem Alqahtani, now pursuing a master’s degree in forensic accounting, worked together throughout the spring 2016 semester and formed a lasting bond.

Wheelock had studied abroad in Vietnam the winter prior, helping students learn English to attain well-paying jobs. He found the class to be the perfect fit in continuing that newfound passion. He and Alqahtani were initially paired up because they were both studying business, but they soon found deeper connections.

“I was especially intrigued by the society in which Reem grew up in Saudi Arabia. Since my career will likely lead me to the Middle East at some point, I was a sponge to all of the stories Reem would tell of her country,” said Wheelock, who is now a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. They often met outside of class as well, for lunch and study sessions.

Similar cross-cultural bonds have been taking shape in other areas of campus.

This past spring, 14 students from Epitech, the largest information technology–focused institution in France, spent the semester at Brockport. Epitech has sent a growing number of students here over the last four years. Twenty-one are expected next spring.

In a course with Professor of Computing Sciences Sandeep Mitra last semester, French and American students worked together in groups on software development projects. They were required to program the user interfaces in both English and French.

Eli Madison, a computer science major who is now a senior and president of the Brockport Student Government, says the level of knowledge the French students brought with them was a great benefit — though it created some struggles initially.

“I was quite intimidated,” said Madison, who was assigned as team leader, “and I was nervous to try to get us all to work together.”

Students from ECE-Paris working with Sandeep Mitra
ECE-Paris students Côme L'Ollivier (L) and Clément de Bailliencourt (R) work with Professor of Computing Sciences Sandeep Mitra.

Once the work got underway, though, the French students’ knowledge helped the group’s efficiency and troubleshooting. Their strong teamwork was aided by the connections they fostered outside of the classroom, sharing meals and conversations.

“I found it so valuable to have a personal relationship with the members of my group,” said Madison, “and they, being in a new environment, seemed happy to establish new relationships themselves.”

Two students from another French institution, ECE-Paris, are studying with Mitra this semester. They are among 102 international students currently studying at Brockport, which includes short-term exchange students as well as full-time, degree-seeking students. Twenty-one of those students came to Brockport for the ELS program and then enrolled at the College.

Newman emphasizes the impact these interactions have on Brockport students who may not have the chance to study abroad.

“It gives them an opportunity to step outside of the American mindset, right here on our campus,” she said.

Mitra agrees: “We are bringing the world here to Brockport.”

Conversation Partners students


Last Updated 5/26/21

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