New Avenues for Friendship through Conversation Partners

Conversation partners Mina Hirabayashi and Lisbeth Valdez catch up on what they did over the weekend. (Photo by Patrick Dodson) 

ALBANY, N.Y. (Sept. 3, 2019) – Improving her English skills opened up new avenues of friendship for Mina Hirabayashi, a Japanese student who studied English in UAlbany’s Intensive English Language Program (IELP) and many other ESL students from over 25 countries.

In addition to 20 hours of English classes each week, Hirabayashi met weekly with her conversation partner, Lisbeth Valdez of Utica. Hirabayashi had the chance to chat in English about American movies she likes (Toy Story 4 and Titanic), American food (she likes macaroni and cheese and hotdogs) and what she did on a recent weekend (visit New York City).

“We bonded over little things,” she said.

Students can gain academic credit for being a conversation partner through the Community and Public Service Program. Valdez, a master’s student at Rockefeller College who got her bachelor’s degree here in May, donated her time over the summer. More than 100 students were matched up for Conversation Partners last year.

Associate Vice Provost for International Education Mark Rentz said 22 students meet weekly with international students as conversation partners and receive community service credit. Students like Hirabayashi get a chance to practice English and learn about American culture. And students like Valdez get the chance to make friends from around the world. Part of the Center for International Education and Global Strategy (CIEGS), the IELP supports UAlbany’s strategic priority to increase the internationalization of the campus.

Valdez has been working with international students since she was in 5th grade and tutored a student who was a refugee from Burma.

Now entering the master’s program in International Affairs at Rockefeller College, she worked for CIEGS this summer and jumped at the chance to meet with an international student.

“I had free time and I am really interested in the international community,” she said. Her long-term goal is to become a lawyer.

For Hirabayashi, IELP offered her a classroom setting where she met other students not only from her home country, but from China, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Italy, Haiti, Colombia and Turkey.

One reason Hirabayashi chose UAlbany is because IELP offers home stays with host families.

“Albany is nice and it is so clean,” she said. “There are so many international students from various countries here and you can go to New York City on the weekend.”

A sophomore from Asia University in Tokyo, Hirabayashi made the most of her four months in America and visited California before returning to Tokyo in early August.

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