Staying International without Travel – Renison’s Conversation Partner Program

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Image of two students connecting over video chat for the conversation partner program.

The Conversation Partner Program (CPP) is a mainstay of the Renison landscape, with approximately 650 students signing up each year to participate. The CPP began at Renison during the Fall of 2014, and connects students from Renison’s international partners and the English Language Institute (ELI) with students from across Renison and the University of Waterloo. The program fills the need for students to practice language skills outside of the classroom, and is an important element of Renison and Waterloo’s internationalization goals. After a relatively small start of 67 partners, the program typically sees about 150 pairs of students over the course of a year (about 300 students).

As with most things, CPP pivoted as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with partners speaking online instead of in person. The biggest benefit is the flexibility for students around the world. Unlike the in-person program, having conversations online means that students are able to participate from anywhere in the world! Though the format has changed, interest in the program is strong. Over the last year, students have connected from Mexico, India, China, Japan, Korea, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan – among others.

Screenshot of two students connecting over video for the conversation partner program.

Students are paired with each other based on personal and language interests, as well as personal experiences. Before COVID, each student was interviewed and matched individually. This year, understandably, the process moved online and students were matched using responses from an online form. After being matched, participants receive a check in email a couple of weeks into the term to see how things are going. Adjustments and any re-matching usually happens at this time, as well as problem-solving related to things like scheduling. One of the challenges with having participants from around the world is varying time zones, which can make finding a convenient time to connect difficult.

One of the great things about the CPP is how it engages partner institutions. These institutions, located around the world, are connected with Renison and most send students to study in the English Language Institute (ELI). Partner institutions are provided with a number of spaces in the CPP and then they recruit students who can be matched.

The CPP is closing in on a decade of pairing students for conversation and cross-cultural experiences. The plan is to engage students to be CPP ambassadors, and continue to ensure students have a positive experience!

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