Photo courtesy Alfredo Silva
Imagine moving to a new country, attending a different university while trying to adapt to an unknown lifestyle. It sounds pretty intimidating, but UTSA’s English as a Second Language Services (ESL Services) has found a way to help these students at UTSA with The Conversation Partners Program (CPP).
ESL Services is an instructional program for students whose dominant language isn’t English, offering different English for International Students (EIS) classes along with other programs like The Intensive English Program (IEP), the International Teaching Assistants (ITA) and — of course — CPP.
CPP pairs international students with native English speaking students in order to help them better adjust to the San Antonio community. The formal partnership is semester-long arrangement in which the partners meet at least once a week at a location or event of their choice (ie. seeing a movie, studying at the library, visiting La Cantera).
During the event, the partners are free to talk and simply enjoy each other’s company. As a result, the program not only helps international students improve on their English speaking skills, but also gives native students to connect on an intercultural and global level.
UTSA senior Alfredo Silva is one of the students from the CPP that found this connection. He joined the program his sophomore year after seeing an ad on campus.
“I told myself ‘If I were in a foreign country, I would more than appreciate it if a local student wanted to help me learn the language on their own time,” Silva says.
From there, Silva met Shicheng Zhou — an international student from China. By coincidence, Alfredo had been planning on going to China the following summer. Upon explaining this to Zhou, the two struck a deal: if Silva taught Zhou English, then Zhou would teach him Chinese.
Rather than the required once per week meeting for the program, Silva and Zhou decided to go beyond the norm, seeing each other almost everyday. This was the unusual start to a unique friendship.
“Zhou learned so much English, he began to start asking me to teach him Spanish,” Silva says.
Between teaching each other about their languages and cultures in addition to seeing each other on a daily basis, the two became best friends.
Fast-forward two years later to August 1, 2015, and Zhou stands proudly as a groomsmen at Silva’s wedding. Side by side with Silva’s closest friends and family to watch his best friend get married, you’d think Zhou would have known Silva his whole life.
“I am extremely grateful that I was given the opportunity to make a new friend , who eventually became one of my best friends,” Silva says.
The program has truly given more than the two ever thought it would. As a result, Silva has even encouraged many of his friends to try the program as well.
Considering the program is free, an easy way to learn about a different culture in your own backyard and the possibility of new friendships, why not try it out?
For more information on the program and how to get involved, visit http://education.utsa.edu/bicultural-bilingual_studies/ESL_Services/.