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Students connect over language at conversation tables

Members of the international program left to right: Teter Kapan, Lily Fernandez Mulins, Paco Hadley, William Velez and Anna Alexander. 
Photo by Kunnearath Sok

Chemeketa’s conversation tables in Bldg. 2 are a weekly opportunity for students to practice foreign languages and enrich their understanding of other cultures.

People can come to the conversation tables if they want to practice new languages they are learning or hear about different parts of the world and their way of life. 

In a diverse community, cultural and speech barriers can be challenging to overcome. “The goal of this project is really to connect people and to break down barriers,” said Anna Alexander, a Chemeketa professor and main organizer of the program.

It is becoming more difficult to interact face-to-face and experience those meaningful interactions, said Alexander. “Human connection is really important…It is becoming less common to meet people in person and to be able to do that with somebody, not just who lives here, but somebody who’s from another part of the world, is pretty cool.”

Conversation tables are “both a class, a social experiment and a gathering of people,” said Alexander.

Ki’iaka Kahuhu, a Chemeketa student, has been participating at the Japanese conversation table since fall of 2018. 

“On my mother’s side, I’m part Japanese, and I wanted to dive more into that culture” says Kahuhu, “[I] wanted to see not so much the logistics aspect of it, but the cultural and internal aspect of it.”

Chemeketa students receive college credit for leading the conversation tables. They work together to organize activities, materials and strategies that would be useful tools to engage with and learn. It’s “idea swapping, mostly,” as Alexander puts it.

At the Japanese conversation tables they “try to incorporate a lot of western ideals” says, Kahuhu. The conversation tables incorporate hands-on learning experiences like “hand tossing games that coincide with Japanese letters and pronunciation” and make food and bring snacks that tie in with their cultural lessons for the day.

These student leaders are “kind of like teachers for the hour,” said Alexander. “They’re there to talk about their language, but also their culture.”

The team tries to seek out languages that people desire to practice, but they’re more focused on languages that are already taught in classes offered at Chemeketa. Japanese, Spanish, Russian, English and French are all “pretty popular,” but the table also offers Korean, Vietnamese and Zimbabwean Ndebele, among others, says Alexander. 

“Students who take the Japanese course can also use the culture conversation tables in a way to study and keep their minds active with the language,” Kahuhu said. “If you don’t speak it and practice it, you will eventually forget it.”

The languages available at the conversation tables change every term depending on student involvement. In the future, Alexander hopes that conversation tables can include a wider variety of languages to be more accessible to students.

Visiting the conversation table is also an opportunity to earn International program (IP) bucks. An IP buck can be earned every thirty minutes someone participates with the conversation tables, which can be collected and used to buy coffee cards or movie tickets at the International program store.

Beyond earning IP bucks, Alexander encourages students to visit the tables as an opportunity to grow. “Learning about each other as humans, I think, is very beneficial and helps to bring the world together.”

The conversation tables meet every week in Bldg. 2, Monday through Thursday in the afternoon. For more details, contact the International program in Bldg. 2, Rm. 174.

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