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Ohio State program acclimates international students to culture

Brent Hankins / Lantern reporter

When Sameer Mulla, a graduate student in computer science and engineering from Saudi Arabia, first signed up for the English Conversation Partner Program, he thought it would simply be chatting with an American student. Since being involved in the program, he has found much more than that. Other students have thought the program had little accountability and dwindling participants, but Mulla is participating in his second round.
“From the previous semester, actually, I have learned a lot about Columbus, as a city, and the culture. We went to different places and we’d talk a lot, so it’s more than just talking and chatting,” Mulla said.
Mulla’s partner for this semester is Monica Fox, a continuing education student in speech and hearing pathology. As a first-time participant she was interested in getting to know people from other cultures and learning how they speak.
“There’s a small chunk of speech pathology that does things like accent modification. I think it’s just interesting to meet (him) and see where he’s coming from culturally and to listen to how he speaks,” Fox said.
The two plan to meet regularly and go to various locations in Columbus. Mulla said he would like it if Fox would invite several of her friends to come along to some of the meetings so he can practice English conversation in a group setting. Not only is it valuable practice, but Mulla is hopeful that some of Fox’s friends will become his friends as well.
“I had a conversation partner (last semester) and I know all of her friends. And they all just became my friends also,” Mulla said. “I have a lot of American friends, so that’s really good for me.”
Besides meeting some new friends and improving his English, Mulla has another goal he hopes to accomplish by participating in this program.
“I would like to correct the stereotypes about my country, about the Middle East,” Mulla said, who has heard prejudices about Saudi Arabia and its ties to terrorist organizations.
Mulla would like to leave a good impression on Americans of himself and of Saudi Arabia.
“The main goals of the program are, first of all, to provide an opportunity for international students to improve their English, since a lot of them are not able to find a lot of opportunities to speak English outside the classroom in a more social kind of context,” said Caroline Omolesky, student immigration coordinator.
Omolesky said building friendships between students is a major goal of the program.
“We also hope that it will provide an opportunity for American and international students to mingle a little bit more than they sometimes do and to forge friendships between those groups,” Omolesky said.
While Mulla’s experience aligns with these goals, other students have not been quite as happy with the program.
Jennifer Boughton, a first-year in political science, participated in the program last semester and said her personal experience was overall negative. Her and her partner were unable to meet often due to their busy and conflicting schedules. She said some other students she knows from the program have had problems as well. Some said they would plan meetings and then their partner wouldn’t show up, or they would meet and their partner wouldn’t be receptive to conversation, Boughton said.
Part of the reason things like this happened is due to the lack of accountability in the program, Boughton said.
“There’s no accounting of your actions, they don’t ask you to fill anything out. They don’t even know if you do it or not,” Boughton said.
Omolesky said after they have been assigned a partner, there is a danger of students not actively participating in the program.
“Our office doesn’t follow through with them that way. It’s their responsibility to honor their commitment to their partner,” Omolesky said.
She said students who have issues with their partner can contact her to be matched with a new one.
There are 194 participants in the program this semester, which is down from the roughly 300 to 350 students who participated last semester, Omolesky said.

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