Hyunjung Jeon started out as a graphic design student.
But as she traveled across Cambodia and Australia, she developed a fascination toward the diversity of culture within her nook of the world. So when she transferred from Seokyeong University in South Korea, she decided that the change in location warranted the pursuit of her actual interest: international relations.
As soon as Jeon, an Ohio University senior studying global studies — war and peace, found out about the global conversation partners program, she was immediately attracted to the prospect of expanding her Bobcat family. She hurriedly typed out her name and interests on the stating her love for the crafts, and optimistically clicked “enter” on the keyboard.
The Ohio Program of Intensive English under the department of linguistics is responsible for the global conversation partners program. The program has been in place for more than 40 years and has been crucial in OPIE instruction.
Andrea Johannes, an associate lecturer and assistant director of student services for OPIE, said the program began as a way for international students to practice english with American students. But she believes it has grown to be more than just an exchange of pleasantries. The motivations behind the program are rooted in the exchange of ideas among local and international students.
“You can travel to another country without getting on an airplane,” Johannes said. “Just going to the conversation hour will transport you to all these different countries.”
The international conversation hour, which is an offshoot of the partners program, is the meeting grounds for the students. Usually on Tuesdays at 6 p.m., the participants set foot into a room at Jefferson Hall. The coordinators assign incoming students to the different tables. With white plates decked with chocolate chip cookies from the snacks table, each student take their place and the hour of cultural exchange begins.
While the conversation hour is distinct from the partners program, the students meet their partners at the event. The pairs are introduced to each other and allotted seats to mingle with other attendees.
Johannes said the idea behind the conversation hour was to take the global conversation partners program and make it less obligatory. Students can either join the partners program and have a fixed companion, or they could simply enjoy an hour of conversation each week.
Samba Bah, a graduate student from Gambia studying international development studies, believes the high turnouts prove the program’s success. In every meeting, the room is usually packed by 6:15 p.m. with more than 30 students. The wide array of nationalities cater a variety of accented voices to onlookers as each student introduce themselves and their hobbies to each other.
While acute deliberation goes into the matching process, there are several occasions when the partnership falls apart. Matthew Zendejas, a graduate student studying linguistics and coordinator for the global conversation partners program, said it’s usually when one of the partners don’t respond to the other or because of time constraints. But the coordinators constantly monitor such situations, and they help the student to find another partner.
“It’s sometimes difficult for students to maintain (the partnership),” Jeon said. “The timetables are difficult to match.”
However, the incompatibility in her first match did not deter Jeon from her fascination toward different cultures.
Grasping the mores of another country can be intimidating, Musa Dampha, a Gambian graduate student studying African studies, said. Programs like the global conversation partners gives international students an opportunity to find answers to their curiosity on local culture.
“We are not islands,” Dampha said. “If you just restrict yourself to your society, you can’t go on in this 21st century.”