Discover more about the programs Renison International Office offers through the words and experiences of students who have participated in them!
Interested in sharing your experience? Contact RIO.
An interview with Emma Johnston, conversation partner volunteer
Why did you choose to participate in the Conversation Partner Program (CPP)?
I initially chose to participate in the program so I could make a connection with someone outside of my normal social circle. I am passionate about travel and learning about other cultures, and I was thrilled at the idea of making a friend from somewhere else in the world, particularly somewhere I hadn’t been before. I am also a Kitchener-Waterloo native, and an English major here at UWaterloo, so I knew I could be a kind and helpful resource to someone trying to learn English and adapt to Canadian culture.
What was your overall experience?
My experience with the program was one of the most memorable so far in my academic career. I am happy to say that I have made a friend for life! I met Luna in May of 2019, and we got together every week for three months until the program ended in July. We participated in a campus scavenger hunt together, ate at some local restaurants and cafes, went to the movies, and visited local hotspots like RIM Park, the Grand River Trail, and THEMUSEUM in downtown Kitchener. She asked me questions about the conversational aspects of language and was overjoyed to learn facts about the community - like where you can ice skate in the winter, the foods they sell at the seasonal markets. In return for giving her more insight into my hometown, Luna often told me about her life in South Korea, which I was very pleased to hear about. We talked about our schools, our lives and our interests. It was so wonderful for me to realize that although we led different lives in different places, we were able to connect on just about everything!
How did CPP make an impact in your life?
Being with my conversation partner, I found I had a new appreciation for my everyday life. I feel as students, it is easy to fall into a very monotonous routine. Stick to the same circles, and stay along your chartered path is sometimes the message received. Joining this program really took me away from my routine of life in the most wonderful way. I was shown how the world works beyond myself, and it still felt very personal somehow. I recall one week, Luna and I travelled to downtown Cambridge. Luna had seen Kitchener and Waterloo, but wanted to check out the third of the tri-cities. I have been to Cambridge on many occasions, and kind of had an indifferent, if not wary, relationship with it. However, the moment we stepped foot in the city, my perspective changed. I heard Luna marvel about the architecture I merely glanced over and express delight in seeing the Grand River run through the city.
It was as if I was seeing everything with fresh eyes. I have carried that ability to look at things beyond surface level ever since that day. I am grateful for the insight and genuine wonder she was able to provide me during our time together.
What is your favourite memory from your time participating in CPP?
Although sad, I think my favourite memory from our time together was our last day. We had some really great moments, but that one has stuck with me in particular. We took the ION back to Renison from THEMUSEUM and just sat watching the streets pass by and enjoying each other’s company. We both gave each other handwritten cards and exchanged hugs and thank yous. It was sad, but there was also a sort of peaceful content in knowing we had formed a great relationship that would carry on. We were able to reflect on our growth together, share in the joy of our memories, and I found that really meaningful.
Are you still in touch with your conversation partner?
I am still in touch with my conversation partner. We send each other life updates every now and then. I just recently sent her some photos of the fall leaves changing colour. Before she left, she had told me she wanted to see what fall looked like in Canada. Once again, she has made me appreciate my surroundings – without even being here! We always tell each other to “be happy”. I hope to visit her in South Korea one day. She told me she would show me around Seoul the same way I showed her around KW.
What does the conversation partner program mean to you?
The program to me is all about forming friendships, understanding each other, and truly just appreciating the joy of human connection. One thing I considered as part of the program (and re-joining it again this fall) is the fact that both partners have so much in common before they even meet each other. By joining the conversation partner program, students already have an appreciation for each other. They are committed to spending time getting to know each other, and are open to learning and communicating. I think that is so important for any relationship.
Do you think it is important that students participate in the conversation partner program? Why?
I think it would be really valuable for anyone to participate in the conversation partner program at Renison. We live in an increasingly interconnected world, and the University of Waterloo undoubtedly has a global presence. I would say it is the responsibility of the modern student to be invested in their world, and I believe this program allows for that in a type of international experience that is hard to replicate.
The program offers two students a learning that goes beyond the classroom, rather, it is an intimate brush with humanity – a sharing of laughs, cultures, and memories.
The program allows people of different cultures to take time to value, respect, and show kindness to one another, something I think the world always needs more of. I am so grateful to continue to be a part of this program, it has made me closer to the world than I ever could have been on my own.
By Nathanael de Boer, conversation partner volunteer
Meeting with Danh, my conversation partner, over the last few months has been a truly awesome experience. I was initially quite nervous to meet him.
I was worried the language barrier would be too significant or that we wouldn’t have anything in common. But after meeting Danh, my fears were quickly quelled; we navigated the language barrier quite well, and while we ultimately didn’t have that much in common, I honestly think that’s what made my talks with him so interesting.
One similarity we did find however is a shared love of food.
A typical meeting for Danh and I consisted of sharing a conversation and a meal. We started off just meeting in the Renison Cafeteria, but as time passed our conversations grew in length and the locations of our meetings changed. We expanded ever outward, taking on SLC, then Waterloo, and then heading all the way to Kitchener to try a Vietnamese place Danh had heard was good. Most recently, we had a last-minute meet-up in SLC where we ended up sitting and talking for over three hours. Throughout our discussions I introduced Danh to Timbits and homonyms, and he introduced me to Bún bò Huế and real estate investment.
After initial polite conversation, I started helping Danh with assignments, editing things he’d written, and explaining grammar rules. Eventually we started getting into deeper topics, talking more about our personal lives and our families. At our last meeting we ended up having this really intense discussion about the privilege associated with being born in Canada, and having access to quality education, and the responsibility to create change associated with that privilege and power. While I've always been grateful for what I have, and I totally acknowledge that my place of birth and socioeconomic status are privileges that most do not have, hearing Danh’s perspective as someone who’s lived in both the developing and developed world was a real eye-opener. He talked about how most people in North America don’t realize how lucky they are to have access to the education that they do. We went on to discuss the importance of people who have positions of power being actively involved in global development, because they have the resources to create change much more quickly.
Global development has been an issue of importance to me for some time. About seven years ago my parents adopted three girls from The Philippines. I had the opportunity to visit the country and it was a truly life-changing experience. The poverty I witnessed and things I heard sparked a strong interest in issues such as human trafficking, sweat shop labour, and the link to developed world consumerist culture. My concern about these issues led me to sponsor a Filipino child through Compassion International, and I also often make these issues the focus of artwork I create in my free time.
All this aside, hearing from an educated adult who has lived that disparity first-hand had quite an impact on me. I am still thinking about how I can create change and empower others.
I hope to use my career to leverage Corporate Social Responsibility, and advocate for sustainable business practices and investment within developing countries.
Engaging with a culture with which I am unfamiliar allowed me to gain access to an understanding of the difference between a Bachelor’s degree in North America and a Bachelor’s degree in Vietnam. Danh came to Canada to pursue a Masters degree. His hope is that this degree will allow him to pursue a career path that will give him the social currency, networking opportunities and connections that will give his infant son the opportunity to someday study in North America as well. Unfortunately, Danh has had great difficulty getting accepted to the University of Waterloo Engineering program of his choice because while he has many years of experience working as a mechanical engineer in Vietnam, the mechanical engineering degree he earned in Vietnam is not considered equivalent to a mechanical engineering degree earned in Canada. I hope I can use my future role within the business world to encourage global development, and lessen the socioeconomic gaps between countries, because I feel country of birth should not affect access to opportunity.
The time I spent with Danh taught me the value of reaching outside your comfort zone and connecting with people.
Throughout this past term Danh and I explored more than just food. We dove deep into our personal, familial, and societal differences, exploring our pasts and our values. and I believe we both gained insight and perspective on how vast and varied this world is, and how we share responsibility for making it a better place.
"Through the Conversation Partner Program, we have made friends for life."
by Renison International Office with Kaitlyn Chorowiec, Phoenix Mullan, and Michelle Kim
“We have built a little community because of our conversation partners. This may not be the same for everyone, but the experiences of sharing culture is something very profound.”
An important and invaluable experience: Japan-Canada Academic Consortium
Are you interested in developing your leadership skills while networking and meeting students from around the world? The Japan-Canada Academic Consortium (JACAC) is a great opportunity for students to do just that; working in groups, each year students come together to debate, present, and discuss that year’s forum theme. From immigration policy to crisis in the humanities to Japan-Canada relations, topics are varied and dynamic allowing for an enriching academic experience. The program runs alternating years in Canada and Japan.
Meet Daniel Qi a 3A Civil Engineering student at the University of Waterloo who participated in JACAC 2019 at Queen’s university in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
2019 theme: “Japan-Canada Relations in an Era of Global Change”
Why did you choose to participate in JACAC?
I chose to participate in this program because it seemed like a fun way to meet new friends during reading week. One of my professors also encouraged us as engineers to play a bigger role in policymaking and this was a good program to jump into that field.
What does the JACAC program mean to you?
The JACAC program is a great opportunity for students to engage in networking and meeting like-minded people from across the country and even the world. It is an important and an invaluable experience.
How did JACAC make an impact in your life?
Participation in the forum has exposed me to students whose backgrounds greatly differ from my own. Through exchanges of ideas and just daily conversation, I was pulled out of the engineering bubble, which surrounds me. Everyone took a different path, faced their own challenges, and worked hard to partake in this forum. Everyone has a story from their past and a goal for their future and it is important for future policy makers to understand these different perspectives.
What did you learn/reflection on the theme?
I think the forum helped me understand just how important policy decision on the macro level could be for us as citizens of our respective countries. In today’s turbulent political environment, it is important for us to fight for the values we believe in especially for people in countries with similar national interests such as Canada and Japan.