Virtual Conversations 

by Erin Zagursky |  May 10, 2012

The new Virtual Conversation Partner Program pairs American students with incoming international students. The pairs of students will converse over Skype during the summer so that the international students can not only practice their English language skills but also get an introduction to William & Mary from students already on campus.

Jingzhu ZhangJingzhu Zhang

Zhang said that she first considered using blogs for the program.

“But later on, I realized that there is a big disadvantage of using blogs,” she said. “Even though you can practice reading and writing, it doesn’t really facilitate listening comprehension and spoken English. The spoken English part if a major obstacle for international students.”

Though Zhang originally estimated that about 20 American students and 20 international students would participate in the program, she has received an overwhelming amount of interest and now expects a total of about 200 participants, she said.

Zhang held an orientation for the American participants on April 3. The event included sessions on strategies for being a language partner, potential issues and a question-and-answer session with former conversation partners.

“(American students) know exactly why they want to participate,” Zhang said. “They want to help international students adjust to the new life, but also they realize they can benefit, as well. Being able to talk to someone who is from another country about cultural differences is simply wonderful.”

For Zhang, whose research focuses on barriers to international students in the United States and intercultural communication, the program is a dream fulfilled.

“I always wanted to do something with international students because I was one of them when I first came here a long time ago,” she said.

Read the full story on all three projects funded by the IDEA grants: 

IDEA grants support diversity efforts at W&M