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Speaking between two cultures: An interview

Conversation Partners in conversation about language, learning, and SFU.
Published by Julia Lane

The SLC Conversation Partners Program pairs EAL students with volunteer peers. Conversation partners then meet on a weekly basis throughout the semester.

In this blog post, SLC Peer Bessie W. interviewed two of her conversation partners, Bin and Dan, to hear their unique perspectives on the program and their experiences at SFU. 

Bin is an Economics student who arrived in Canada three years ago from the Guangdong province of China.  

Dan is an Interactive Arts and Technology student from the SiChuan province of China.     


What motivated you to participate in the SLC Conversation Partners Program?  

Dan: For international students, language is the first challenge, especially for first year students. There is no other way for us to know the cultural differences and having a conversational partner will help us to understand. A lot of the English we learned in high school is not applicable to what we actually say in an English-speaking country. 

Bin: I was planning to sign up for co-op next semester and wanted someone to practice my speaking skills with because there will be lots of situations where I will need to speak my opinions, such as during interviews. 


What is your biggest takeaway from the program so far? What did you enjoy the most? 

Dan: Before attending this program, I was not comfortable speaking in discussions and teamwork and I was fearful that they wouldn’t take my opinions seriously. Now, I have the courage to speak out and express myself, especially among English speakers.

Bin: I was provided with a great opportunity to practice and improve my English speaking skills. My peer was like a mentor to me because she was patient with me, and it was an open space where I could ask questions. We even talked about the past election that occurred! 


Where do you see yourself in five years? Staying in Canada or elsewhere?

Dan: I hope to graduate and find a job here. My goal is to make a living by myself, with no financial support from my parents. My own mindset has changed a lot after living in Canada, so I might not follow the culture back in China. For example, people doing business in China often talk indirectly when giving feedback or criticism, but I prefer people to be direct.

Bin: For myself, I would ideally like to work for 2-3 years after graduation and then move back to China. Family is important to me and that is a motivational factor for me. It is where I feel the most at home, where I belong. 


What are some of the struggles of living as an EAL student at SFU/ in Canada? 

Dan: During my first year as a Fraser International College student, I couldn’t understand the academic language from the professors. I would question their processes because of the cultural difference. 

Bin: Academically, listening is hard because we end up falling more behind and have to make up with extra study time in order to fully understand the material. Participation is a big deal in universities in Canada, so we must speak up in order to earn marks, but sometimes we might be judged or critiqued from our lack of English. 


What are some things that you would like non-EAL students to know? 

Dan: This program is not just for learning and improving the English language, but through language we can learn a lot of people’s ideologies and their thoughts, and how they engage in their ideas. We both learn from each others’ perspectives. 

Bin: Learning a language is a continuous process, it takes time and as much as you learn it, you also need to use it. The most important thing is that you need to find a real interest so that you can practice. Maybe that is watching a TV show or reading a book in that language. 


Thank you both for sharing your thoughts and experiences! 


-- Bessie W. has been an EAL Peer at the Student Learning Commons since 2015. She enjoys learning about various cultures and languages around the world. She is a Communications student with an interest in writing and social media marketing.