Bonding over English

English Language Program students are set up with volunteer friends

Fluent English-speaking volunteers help international students at the University of Winnipeg integrate into their new environments simply by becoming their friends.

The English Language Program pairs students who are learning English with people who can help them build on their language skills and learn the nuances of the culture here.

“It’s something amazing, because if the students have any kind of questions about the culture or need tips about the city, they can come to us, but they can also go to the language partner,” Student Life coordinator of the English Language Program Carolina Goncalves says.

The pairs can choose any activities – whether that’s going for a walk, to the movies or for coffee – but need to spend a minimum of 12 hours together over the course of a semester.

“Usually, the reaction is quite positive. They become friends. That’s the most common thing that happens. After the 12 hours, they meet again to go for coffee, even after the program has finished,” Goncalves says.

After having a Canadian volunteer help her, Eri Tetsuha has come back to the program as a volunteer.

Although she’s excited to be back, she’s worried that whoever she’s paired with will be disappointed they got a Japanese volunteer instead of a Canadian partner. “I knew that ELP wants more volunteers,” Tetsuha says.

She feels lucky to have had one last year, as not everyone who requested a partner got one. Last year, Tetsuha’s partner taught her about Canadian culture and slang.

“She was more of a friend,” Tetsuha says. “It’s kind of difficult for me to get Canadian friends.”

Her partner was also a university student, but was working full-time. Tetsuha says this showed her a different kind of student lifestyle.Without this volunteer, Tetsuha says her first year in university would have been boring.

“I would recommend anyone who speaks English to volunteer,” Tetsuha says. 

Regulations are loose. Anyone can apply to volunteer. They just need to be prepared to commit the time, submit two references and have a criminal record check.

“Basically, we match them up according to their interests, and that’s to make sure that they will generate conversation,” Goncalves says.

Pairs are introduced to one another at a meet and greet, then left to make their own schedule.

Goncalves says everyone involved gets something out of the program. International students have someone to help guide them through their new environment, and volunteers are introduced to things they haven’t experienced before, such as food and music.

“Being part of this program is an amazing experience, not just because you’re learning about another culture, but you’ll meet other international people who are having a good experience here in Winnipeg,” Goncalves says.

She says they are always looking for more volunteers to pair with students.

Applications to volunteer for the program are at uwinnipeg.ca/elp and in the Student Life office at 1C18.

Published in Volume 71, Number 5 of The Uniter (October 6, 2016)

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