Photographer: Juli HolbertOhio University students and faculty participate in the Feb. 19 International Conversation Hour inside Jefferson Hall.
Ohio University’s weekly International Conversation Hour is a hub for student, staff, faculty and community diversity. Hosted by the Ohio Program of Intensive English (OPIE), dozens of University community members from different backgrounds enjoy the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with one another for one hour a week.
Often referred to as an “English as a Second Language” or “ESL” program, OPIE aims to help international students learn English and to prepare them to live, study and work in the United States. The first University-governed intensive English program in Ohio, OPIE celebrated its 50th anniversary at Ohio University in 2017.
OPIE was founded at Ohio University in 1967 with 21 students enrolled in the program. Over the course of its 50-year history, the program has hosted thousands of students and professionals, including Fulbright scholars, pursuing their academic and career goals in the United States. The program's success, including its recent five-year initial accreditation, is due in part to cultural enrichment opportunities, like its International Conversation Hour event, that allow students to diversify their educational experiences at Ohio University.
OPIE's International Conversation Hour helps connect Ohio University’s domestic and international students, as well as faculty and other community members, by creating a space for people to meet and exchange ideas through conversation. The event began in 2013 with a goal of creating a friendly and relaxed space for Americans and international students to talk with one another, according to Andrea Johannes, an associate lecturer and assistant director of student services for OPIE.
Part of Johannes’ position in OPIE is to promote and facilitate the International Conversation Hour program. Her passion for the program stems from her involvement in the program’s creation as well as how the program connects to the overall mission of Ohio University.
“The more we can encourage people from different cultures to meet and exchange ideas, the better,” she said. “This broadens students' perspectives and helps them receive a global education.”
The weekly conversation hour is led by coordinators Samba Bah, a graduate student from The Gambia studying international development studies, and Ella Datsenko, an associate lecturer in OPIE. Conversation participants attend the hour-long early evening event in Jefferson Hall 160, where the coordinators provide conversation topics sheets to help “break the ice,” according to Johannes. Topics can include everything from American holidays to dating culture and the weather, though the conversations typically veer away from the provided topics and continue naturally among participants.
Johannes said she believes the International Conversation Hour events provide Americans a unique opportunity to share cultural experiences with a diverse group of people while also broadening their global knowledge.
“I think people of all backgrounds should attend the conversation hours because this is a unique opportunity to travel without actually leaving the U.S.,” she said.
Students who attend the event agree with Johannes.
Mohammed Alamri, a 24-year-old student from Saudi Arabia studying industrial and systems engineering at OHIO, said he attends the International Conversation Hour events in order to meet new people and practice English at the same time. He added that he hopes to learn other languages, and has had many conversation partners who speak languages besides English.
Alamri described the conversation hours as a "win-win situation" for domestic and international students because of the cultural exchanges between both groups. The International Conversation Hour helped Alamri adjust to life in Athens when he moved here his sophomore year.
“I made friends from this program, which helped me to settle at the new environment,” he said.
Laura Hakim, a 20-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, pursuing a degree in applied nutrition, said that attending International Conversation Hour events has helped her with communicating in English as well. As a native-English speaker, she said that it’s important to her to be able to communicate with people from many different cultural backgrounds, and that she’s learned to rephrase and rethink the way she speaks to communicate more effectively with non-native speakers because of her participation in International Conversation Hour.
Hakim said she appreciates the unique opportunity that International Conversation Hour brings, and makes it her goal to provide a kind and friendly environment to those from different countries.
“Everyone's cultures make them the way that they are,” she said. “Everyone comes from a different background, and I think it is cool and important for people to connect through their cultures.”
Omar Abdoulaye Balarabe, a Fulbright graduate student from Benin studying African studies, utilizes International Conversation Hour to make new friends on campus and learn about people from other cultures. He said that the events help to promote a “sense of harmony” among people from different backgrounds, which helps ease international students into the Athens community.
“After all,” he said, “Athens should feel as a home away from home.”
International Conversation Hour will take place from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays, March 6 and 20 and April 3 and 10, in Jefferson Hall 160. All are welcome to come and participate.
To learn more about OPIE and the International Conversation Hour program, click here.
Photographer: Juli HolbertOhio University students share a laugh during a recent International Conversation Hour discussion.