Through participation in the English Conversation Program (ECP) hosted by the Student Engagement team, college volunteers have donated more than 2,000 hours of time over the last five years to help support Conestoga's international student community.
The ECP matches a fluent English-speaking Conestoga student, graduate, employee or retiree with an international student and then the pair meet weekly for casual conversation. The program helps English language learners improve conversational English, connect to others in the college community and become more familiar with Conestoga and life in Canada, while volunteers benefit from increased cultural awareness, improved communication skills and the opportunity to meet a community member from another part of the world.
“Talking to a native speaker outside the classroom allows me to improve my English,” said ECE student Ayse Guler. “A conversation partner also provides me with the opportunity to practice talking about different topics in a low-pressure environment … I need to practice English because I want to use this language everywhere fluently and confidently. It also makes me feel more Canadian.”
The program launched in 2012 and initially matched 18 international students with a conversation partner. Since fall 2017, more than 375 students have been paired. The program has seen a steady increase in English language volunteers since fall 2020 -- likely a result of the pandemic as we looked for more opportunities to connect with others -- but the increase has also been due to expansion of the volunteer pool. Between fall 2017 and fall 2021, nearly 100 employees have volunteered, and more than 50 college alumni and retirees have supported the program over the last two years to create meaningful connections for Conestoga’s international students.
“I am so glad and thankful for being part of the ECP program. I had the opportunity to make a friend, practice my English during the pandemic, and learn more about Canadian and Asian culture,” said Biotechnology Technician student Yameh Bitar. “I felt welcomed in this new country, even in an online environment, because of my ECP.”
ECP volunteer recruitment is underway for the spring term. For more information, contact Holly Shoemaker before May 29.
Conestoga’s Student Engagement team meets the needs of students through innovative programming designed to achieve goals with learning outcomes-based initiatives, including the Co-curricular Record, Orientation, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, the Leadership Workshop Series and various student volunteer and committee opportunities.