An organization at Kansas University bridges the gap between cultures.
Some students at Kansas University have found a new way to expand their friendships with their international counterparts while improving their own lives.
KU senior Jenea Hooge is one of them. Once a week, Hooge visits Anjean Chiang, KU international student from Taiwan, at Chiang's home. The women established their friendship about six months ago through a student-organized program, Conversation Partners.
In the beginning, Hooge wanted to help Chiang improve her English and adjust to life in Lawrence.
But Hooge says she has been surprised to discover the program actually helps her more than it helps Chiang. Hooge says Chiang teaches her Chinese and provides lots of first-hand information about Asian culture.
This summer, Hooge plans to visit Taiwan. She is enthusiastic about going and says the little bit of Chinese she has learned and her increased understanding of Asian culture will make her feel more comfortable on her trip.
"I felt kind of safe to go there since I knew some of the Chinese and their culture," Hooge said.
Conversation Partners was founded in 1996 as a cooperative venture by several Christian student groups.
The purpose of this program is to welcome, serve and befriend international students.
Most important, it provides practical help with English conversation and also the opportunity for friendship. Chiang said the program is very helpful to her.
"I got a very nice partner," Chiang said. "She helps me a lot with my speaking and writing English."
Conversation Partners co-director Len Andyshak said he got the idea for the group after a trip overseas. He felt there was a need to help students who travel to school in the United States.
"They (international students) really need someone to help them. They have so much trouble living here, especially doing everything in English," Andyshak said.
When he took this idea to KU campus Christian groups, including Alpha Chi, Campus Crusade, Intervarsity, Ichthus and Navigators, the response was positive and he went right to work on the project.
Besides spreading the idea of Conversation Partners program to Christian groups, Andyshak sets up an information table once a week in the Kansas Union to get the word out to more international students.
In fall 1996, only 15 to 20 students joined this program. Then in the second year, the number increased to around 60.
Currently, about 90 American students are meeting one-on-one with international students.
"Actually, it's primarily grown by word of mouth," said Andyshak, KU campus minister.
This semester, KU has 1,481 international students enrolled, according to KU International Student Services Office.
KU international student Yi-Pei Yeh, who also came from Taiwan, joined Conversation Partners a year ago. She says she made a good friend and has fun when she and her partner meet.
"Sometimes, my partner would take me to her family activities when her family came here to visit her," said Yeh. "They treated me like one of the family."
Wichita sophomore Julie
See Conversation, page 13A
Buchanan got a new partner this semester. Buchanan says she had the same experience in high school.
"I think it's really a neat way to help international students with their language, and to introduce them to stuff in America,'' she said. `` ... It's kind of gaining knowledge and sharing stuff."
Sometimes, the numbers of American and international students don't match. Last semester, some international students' names were put on a waiting list until a partner was found for them. But this semester, the waiting list contains the names of Americans.
Andyshak said the biggest frustration is when students decide they don't want to continue in the program.
"I'm disappointed with Americans when they sign up to do this, and then quit,'' he said. ``International students really depend on them."
Andyshak said this program benefits both American and international students. He says international students get practical help and a further sense of belonging in the United States and at KU, and the Americans broaden their world view and gain a new connection with the KU community. Andyshak adds that the awareness of helping someone is also extremely rewarding.
For more information, call Len Andyshak, 749-5994.