TSU international students search for English-speaking language partners

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 13, 2000

Features Editor

April 12, 2000 10 PM

The 204 international students enrolled at Troy State University want to earn a degree and improve their English skills but, most of all, they want an American friend.

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And who would know that better than John Kongsvik, director of the American English Group at TSU.

Most of the international students come from countries where the family, even the extended family, is a close-knit unit and they are surrounded by this family unit all of the time.

"Then they come here and ‘boom’ all of that family security is gone," Kongsvik said. "They desperately want to meet and have an American friend. And, they are looking for a surrogate family."

The international students come from "all corners of the earth" and, because of their diverse cultures, they have an "amazing wealth of stories to tell."

"These students are all extremely intelligent," Kongsvik said. "They have to be bright to obtain a visa to study in the United States. They are knowledgeable in their fields and they are hard working. The only thing standing in their way is the language."

TSU offers ESL (English as a second language) classes and has a high-tech computer lab to assist the students in the mastery of the language. However, Kongsvik’s best advice to the international students is to "speak English as much as you can."

To provide opportunities for the international students to improve their intercultural communication skills, the American English Group has developed two programs – the Conversation Club and Passports.

The Conversation Club is a place where American and international students come together and talk and share. The club meets in Pace Hall 119 every Wednesday from 3:30 until 4:30 p.m.

"This provides a unique learning environment for our U.S. American students," Kongsvik said.

The second program, Passports, is an outreach program which seeks to connect the international students with American students and the Pike County community through a tutorial program.

"We have students who are desperately looking for conversation partners," Kongsvik said. "We are looking for those who will spend a short time each week with a student helping him or her to learn the language through conversation. The beauty of the program is that a person can spend as much time with the student as they want. Someone might want to spend three hours a week with an Asian student. Another might want to spend an hour on the weekend with a student from South America."

Kongsvik said the Passports program is an opportunity for the international students but it is also an opportunity for the people of Pike County.

"There is so much to be learned from these students," he said. "They can bring so much of their culture to the people of Pike County. By working together, we can bridge the gap between the international student body and the United States culture. The town of Troy can benefit from the wealth of knowledge of students from all around the world. It’s mind-boggling how much each could benefit from the other if given the opportunity. The more experiences we have with these students, the more our eyes are opened to the rest of the world."

Kongsvik said conversation partners and tutors are needed to come on campus and be a friend to these students or to invite them to visit with them in their homes.

For more information about Passports or to become a conversation partner with an international student contact John Kongsvik at 670-3335.