By Anna Kubiak
April 30, 2021
To be an international student in America, a student must leave behind their home to travel to a new country and pursue an education in a different language.
Before COVID-19, these students had the chance to engage with classmates during class and through a program called Conversation Buddies, a jovial gathering led by Associate Professor Kate Klaiber to promote interaction and conversation among international students. Unfortunately, quarantine restrictions left them isolated. It was a need that GCC recognized and began to adapt to fill.
The new program, called ‘Talk Time,’ is designed to provide international students with a virtual community to encourage interaction and a comprehensive exploration of the English language. Hosted on Tuesdays and Thursdays by professional writing tutor KT LaPorta, the meetings, while geared towards non-English speakers, are open to everyone and signup can be found on TutorTrac under ESL practice.
“During COVID, you don’t get a chance to make those friendships and have those opportunities,” said LaPorta as she explained the origin of her program. “We recognized the need of this population of students, who weren’t getting the opportunity to talk.”
According to Jenny Weatherall, the advisor of the International Student Organization Club, all international students are expected to meet a certain level of English proficiency to attend GCC, maintaining that “Talk Time” programs are essential not only to give students a chance to practice talking, but also to make it fun. This is especially important given the inability for on-campus events to take place.
“It’s not just about international students learning English. It’s about the native speakers learning about them,” LaPorta said as she explained the significance of the ‘Talk Time’ program. It’s an opportunity she feels works to help participants understand each other’s cultures better and moves forward to a place where the problems faced by one community are seen and respected by other communities.
After her introduction to the Conversation Buddies in 2019, LaPorta realized a passion of hers to interact with international students and provide them the services they need, which allows them to feel more comfortable interacting with the school. With GCC’s support, LaPorta has created what she calls “a really low pressure atmosphere” where non-English speakers can gather to discuss anything from school, to food, to American holidays.
“It’s made me realize just how difficult English is,” said LaPorta as she explained how she incorporates pronunciation, grammar, tense, and American phrases into her meetings. It’s their bravery that makes LaPorta love her job so much, paired with the impact she is able to have on the lives of her students, she continues to go above and beyond for her community. She says one of her favorite things about her role in this opportunity is “just seeing how much they can improve their English so quickly.”
Another COVID spin off of Conversation Buddies is run by Associate Professor Kate Klaiber, who is working to utilize the platform Discord for her sessions. Currently, her program mostly consists of students in her English classes, who can receive credit, and is a self-labeled “experiment.”
“Everyday communication is a crucially important skill,” said Klaiber, a veteran in the affairs of international students. She continuously strives for solutions. While her Discord meetings are still a work in progress, Klaiber said, “I hope my students can bond together.”
As a return to normal becomes more feasible, both LaPorta and Klaiber are looking forward to a time when Conversation Buddies can become a safe possibility again. Until then they are dedicated to maintaining and growing their programs and continuing to find ways to improve their connection with their students.
“I see this, I see you,” LaPorta said as she explained what it meant to her to continue contributing to GCC’s international students. From supporting to empowering, “Talk Time” is a time to acknowledge the challenges faced by international students and welcome them into a community dedicated to providing the services and friendships that make all the difference to students studying abroad.