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Saturday, October 01, 2022

International students speak up with language volunteers

UF students have the chance to meet, help and often befriend international students without ever leaving Gainesville.

About 200 students from all over the world come to UF each semester, according to the UF Language Learning Center website. Students who sign up for conversation partners are matched with English-speaking volunteers. Together, they participate in the English Language Institute’s Conversation Partner Program.

The partners meet up for about an hour a week, or they can make up their own schedules. They spend at least half the time speaking in English.

“It’s really up to the students how much they want to get exposure to English outside of the classroom,” said Amy Bradley, a 22-year-old language assistant at ELI and linguistics graduate student.

Students of any major can volunteer, she said.

Most of the international students have never been outside of their own countries before, so it can be hard for them to adjust to the new environment and language.

Carolina Diaz, an adjunct lecturer at the institute, said some international students tend to congregate with people from their own countries with the same language.

“They don’t progress as fast as students who get out there every day, and they make friends who speak English,” Bradley said.

Nataliya Ostarova, 21, who came to UF from Russia about two months ago, said it was sometimes hard for her to ask people to repeat their sentences when she didn’t understand what they said. But her conversation partner makes her feel comfortable to ask any question, she said.

Being exposed to different cultures is also valuable for the volunteers, Diaz said.

“What’s underplayed sometimes is the benefit that the native speaker can get from this partnership,” she said.

Ryan Smitz, a 21-year-old conversation volunteer and Spanish and linguistics junior, said he had a Brazilian conversation partner last semester named Rodrigo Ramalho Diniz. Even though Diniz went back to Brazil, the two still maintain their friendship.

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“I know what it is [like] to struggle through that process and to make all those mistakes,” he said. “But I also know . . . how helpful it can be to have somebody there who is completely nonjudgmental and relatable.”

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