News & Events

Tier One Scholars Serve as English Language and Culture Guides

By Allison Monroe
August 22, 2013

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Abby Comeaux

Cross-Cultural Training: A Multitude of Benefits

Making the transition from one’s native country to the United States can be intimidating, challenging, and overwhelming for international students; especially when the transition is to the 4th largest city in America to enroll at the University of Houston, where some 40,000 students currently attend. Through a partnership between the UH Language and Culture Center (LCC) and the UH Fulbright advising office, the Conversation Club was developed.

The Conversation Club is an interactive, peer-led program designed to help alleviate the anxiety that can come with adapting to new cultures. The purpose of the Conversation Club is to provide English-as-a-Second-Language students with an outlet to practice their English conversation skills while sharing their culture, and learning about American Culture.

Although the Conversation Club was intended to assist international students, the program has proven to be extraordinarily beneficial for the guides as well.

“It’s been amazing to witness the blossoming of a program that provides UH students with an avenue to help LCC students adapt to American university life while learning about cultures as varied as Angola, China, Ecuador, and Saudi Arabia,” said Veronique Tran, co-founder of the Conversation Club and advisor for Tier One Scholars and Fulbright Programs.

This summer, Tier One Scholars Abigail Comeaux, Merlin Jacob, and Julia Lin, along with other UH students had the opportunity to gain cross-cultural training by participating in the program as Conversation Club guides. Through the Conversation Club, they were able to gain the cross-cultural training that plays such a vital role in preparing students to study abroad or apply for international fellowship grants, as well pursue international careers or compete in today’s global economy.

“I’m planning on obtaining my Masters in counseling and eventually becoming a licensed family and marriage counselor. I was interested in the international cultural exposure and the experience that would assist me in applying for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship,” explains psychology senior, Abigail Comeaux.

For 6 weeks, the guides facilitated group discussions with international students from a number of nationalities. Their conversations revolved around various topics including relationships, slang and language learning, government and patriotism, university life, and popular culture. The Conversation Club gives international students a chance to discuss important subjects that are not covered in a typical classroom setting.

“I enjoy sharing the language that I grew up with and it is a way for me to give back to the University. I wanted to help [the LCC students] improve their English, but more importantly, help them enjoy learning it,” chemical engineering sophomore, Julia Lin said.

Julia Lin

One of the many benefits that come along with being a Tier One Scholar is a stipend to support study abroad. All three scholars already have plans for where they would like to embark on their next cross-cultural learning experience using their study abroad stipends. Abby is finishing up her Spanish immersion study abroad in Mexico where she is living with a host family while taking Spanish classes this summer.

“I have not used my Tier One study abroad stipend yet, but there is a planned medical trip to Haiti next summer, and I’m hoping that happens. I would love to use my study abroad funds for that,” explains biology junior Merlin Jacob.

Tier One Scholars reap the benefits of becoming a Conversation Club guide long after their time with the program is over. Developing cross-cultural awareness and understanding of pedagogy, gaining teaching experience that stands out on a resume, and receiving personalized guidance with international fellowship applications are just a few ways being a Conversation Club guide can have a positive impact on Tier One Scholars during their college career and later on in the workforce. The Scholars encourage other UH students to take advantage of the benefits of being on a diverse campus learning about other cultures and gaining new friendships.

“I think no matter what career path someone is on, if you plan to work with people at all, a global perspective and cultural appreciation are invaluable attributes to have. The Conversation Club gives a unique opportunity to experience other cultures first-hand without ever leaving Houston,” Abigail says.

Merlin Jacob