Conversation Partners Program Guide

Welcome to the IASA Conversation Partner Program at Ole Miss. We are glad to have you part of our program and look forward to working with you this semester!
The Conversation Partner Program at the University of Mississippi, coordinated by the International & American Student Alliance (IASA), is a volunteer program that pairs current Ole Miss international and domestic students with incoming international students. This program strives to build bridges between partners through conversation, cultural exchange, and friendship.
One thing that many international students have expressed is the challenge of becoming friends with regular Ole Miss students. Conversely, many Ole Miss students expressed the desire to work or study internationally and wanted an opportunity to get to know more international students studying here in Oxford. The Conversation Partners Program was designed to bridge this gap and to encourage students to connect with one another, forming cross-cultural connections and engagement.

During the program’s first semester of operation, fall 2015, we had approximately 50 international students participating. For the coming fall semester, we are expecting around 400 international students to request and receive a partner, which shows a definite interest and effectiveness of our program. In just a short time, we have been able to achieve so much and with your help, we’re sure that its quality will only increase!
 
This guide is meant to give you more information on the program, your role, our expectations, reaching out to your partner, and general tips/advice. If at any time you have any additional questions or concerns about the program, please feel free to contact us!

Program Expectations

Your Role

As a Conversation Partner, your role is to help your partner adjust to life in America, specifically through social and emotional support. You're basically a peer mentor or buddy for them. Ways that you could help your partner include meeting with them regularly, taking them to the grocery store, being there for them when they have questions, etc.

If they ask a question or have conerns about something concerning their academics, medical inssurance, or international student status, they should direct those to their respective International Student Advisor. If they don't know who this is or ask any questions that you don't know the answer to, contact us and we'll be happy to help!

For the duration of the program in the semester you signed-up for, you are expected to…

  • Maintain your commitment to be a Conversation Partner for the duration of the semester that you signed-up for (except in the case of an emergency or extreme circumstances, in which case, should be brought to the immediate attention of the program coordinator).
  • Meet for a minimum of one hour, once a week as schedules permit. If for some reason you all are unable to meet, it’s fine as long as you are putting forth and effort and maintaining good communication.
  • Attend IASA/Conversation Partner Meetings (usually about once a month), as able to.
  • Understand the purpose of the program and work to create a productive and mutually beneficial partnership experience.
  • Provide feedback about the experience throughout the semester as requested by the program director. We will be sending several check-in and assessments throughout the semester to find out how everything is going, suggestions you have for the program, etc. It is important to fill these out because it can help to improve the quality of the program now and in the future.
  • Maintain an active presence within IASA events/activities. We will be organizing numerous events/activities over the course of the semester, from Welcome Week events, Home Football Game Tailgating, Labor Day Cookout at Sardis Lake, Pumpkin Carving Contest, and much more. There are great opportunities for you and your partner to interact and to experience local culture together, as well as for you to meet other internationals and to become a bigger part of the international community.
  • Contact the program director if any problems arise during the semester. Good communication is key here.

Partner Pairing & First Steps

Tips for First Meeting

Pairings will be completed approximately as early as a month before the start of the semester and as late as the end of the first week of the semester. While some incoming international students do find out about and sign-up for the program before they even arrive at Ole Miss, most do not sign-up until their orientation week. We will maintain contact with you about the expected timeline of pairings and how the process is going. Please be patient with us as we work to pair around 400 new international students with you all based on cultural and personal interests, as it is quite an in-depth process to say the least.

While we do try our best to pair you based on the preferences you provided on your application, we unfortunately cannot guarantee it, as the number of students requesting a certain culture exceeds the number of internationals from that culture. In this case, we will try to find the closest match to those preferences. For example, if you requested someone from a Spanish speaking country and we are unable to fulfill that request, you might be paired with someone from say, Brazil, which wouldn’t be a perfect match, but would be the closest that we could do. If for some reason you recognize an immediate or potential problem/concern with your pairing, please let us know as soon as possible so that we can try to rectify the situation.

Your first step is to reach out to them by sending an email (or using a different mode of communication like Facebook or Kakao if provided), and please do so as soon as possible! Regardless of how you send your first message, just say that you are their Conversation Partner, give a short introduction of yourself, and find out when they will arrive and try to plan an initial meeting with them. After your initial meeting with your partner, try to meet about once a week with your partner throughout the course of the semester. Of course if there is a week or two here and there where you or your partner aren't able to meet, it's not a big deal. The biggest thing is that you are putting forth the effort to help and be there for them. I know that sometimes despite what's written on paper, personalities don't match or partners just don't have as much in common as they had hoped for.

However, if at any time you sense there to be any sort of noticeable conflict between you and your partner or if y'all just aren't able to connect, please let me know so that I am aware of what's going on. In some previous cases, I have had to switch partners during the semester and can do that if I see that it's in the best interest of one or both partners. Also, if you never hear back from your partner or y'all are unable to find mutual times to meet, please communicate that with me as well.

There are many ways to engage with your language partner through conversation! Consider the following at your first meeting to ensure you both feel comfortable and prepared:

  • Meet your partner on campus at a mutually agreed upon location so that you are both comfortable. Some ideal locations could be at the Starbucks on campus, Rebel Market, or the Student Union.
  • Learn how to properly pronounce each other’s names. Teach your partner how to spell and say your name, and then ask them to help you with their name. Don’t be afraid to ask your partner to repeat their names a few times, as you want to be sure you are saying it correctly.
  • Discuss your goals for the program. It is important that you and your partner have the same understanding to create a mutually beneficial partnership.
  • Bring other materials! Travel guides, pictures, maps, books, or other belongings may help you explain your country and/or cultural heritage, and give you something to share.
  • Discuss the best method(s) of contacting each other (text, phone, social media, etc.) in case you have to cancel or reschedule a meeting.
  • Remember to be friendly and flexible, and to invest time in order to develop the relationship.

Tips for Conversation

Always have a way to write. If you do not understand something your partner has said, have your partner write it down. Also record new vocabulary words and phrases!

Speak Clearly & Slowly, NOT Just Loudly! Ask your partner if you are speaking too fast. Annunciate and speak clearly, but there is no need to raise your voice!

Be Aware of Slang and Idioms. If you use a phrase that cannot be translated literally into your partner’s language, write it down and ask your partner if they know it. Do not rely too heavily on slang or colloquialisms.

Be Culturally Sensitive. If you do not know if your question is appropriate, you may say, “Is it okay if I ask…?” You may find that your partner has different expectations for how men and women should interact, for the amount of personal space between the two of you, or for what topics are considered appropriate. This is an opportunity to open up discussion about the differences and similarities in norms and values of your respective cultures. One topic that you should especially be careful about bringing up is religion. This is of course a topic that with your partner’s approval, you can discuss, but be aware of the difference between talking about different religious beliefs and “pushing one down their throats.”

Show Interest. Express interest by using appropriate body language (leaning forward, maintaining eye contact, etc.) and listening actively. Invite your partner to participate by asking, “What do you think?”

Don’t Overcorrect. Let your partner know if they made a grammatical mistake by echoing the phrase in its correct form. Always remember, comprehension over perfection! However, overcorrecting can hinder the development of fluency and your partner’s confidence, so try to only correct errors that block communication.

Don’t Interrupt! Don’t finish your partner’s sentences. Let them learn and grow by practicing.

Keep It a Two-Way Conversation. Ask clarifying statements, use open-ended questions, and ask for details about topics of interest.

Probation/Dismissal

Program Coordinator Info
Kelly Slater
kdslater@go.olemiss.edu
(228) 623-7029
We hope that during the program you will never have to refer to this section of the guide again, but it is of the utmost importance to bring this to your attention nonetheless. We explained what Your Role is in a previous section. Consistent failure to act in a way that is appropriate for an Conversation Partner or to complete the expectations )will either put you on probation or dismiss you from the program.

For any of the following infractions, you may be placed on probation for the rest of the semester and/or the following semester should you choose to reapply until improvement has been noted:

  • Not reaching-out to your partner in a timely manner
  • Bad reviews from your partner
  • Minor misdemeanors (e.g. not fulfilling program requirements)

When serious misdemeanors are reported to the Program Coordinator, they will launch an investigation into the incident. Those parties involved will be put on immediate probation and called in to meet with the Program Coordinator.  We will be thorough and fair in the assessment of the incident.  Depending on the severity of the misdemeanor, other university departments, such as Student Conduct, may be contacted. Should the parties involved be found at fault of a serious misdemeanor, they will be immediately dismissed from the Conversation Partner Program, and such other departments will determine if further action needs to be taken.
 
We take these matters very seriously. While I'm not discouraging you from taking your partner to a party or the square, be mindful of any situation that may be illegal or not have your partner's consent. We want to make sure our students are protected and guided to make good decisions. Please aspire to be a good role model and use your common sense.