March 10, 2019

Conversation Buddies Make a World of Difference

Connecting Hokkaido University of Education (HUE) students with University of Calgary students
Students from Hokkaido University of Education (HUE) with their Conversation Buddies at the 2019 TAB Farewell Celebration
Students from Hokkaido University of Education (HUE) with their Conversation Buddies at the 2019 TAB

Hokkaido University of Education (HUE) and the University of Calgary have a long history of collaborating to build student capacity and strengthen relationships between our programs. As part of Teaching Across Borders, HUE has been sending pre-service teachers to Calgary since 1990, giving students the opportunity to experience life, culture, and schools in a Canadian context.

For the past 4 years, the Werklund School of Education and the School of Languages, Linguistics, Literatures, and Cultures (SLLLC) have worked together to connect HUE students to Conversation Buddies – students from the University of Calgary studying Japanese, language and culutre. Conversation Buddies meet with the HUE students throughout their time in Calgary, attend social and cultural events with them, and have conversations in English and Japanese about life in each country.

Dr. Umit Boz, Acting Director for Teaching Across Borders, says that, “in addition to the reciprocal opportunity for second/foreign language practice, Conversation Buddies help to facilitate students’ intercultural capacities as well as their appreciation of and participation in interconnected and interculturally sensitive and diverse communities. This program challenges students to confront different cultural assumptions and communication styles and helps them build lifelong connections that might benefit students throughout their personal and professional endeavors.”

Yoko Kodama, a Senior Instructor with SLLLC’s Japanese language program, shared that “this grassroots collaboration enhances the University’s Eyes High Strategy and strengthens our students’ cultural capacity.” As the Eyes High Strategy explains, “We value a culture that encourages us to listen to one another, enriches our understanding of other perspectives and voices, inspires us to engage purposefully, and welcomes open dialogue and debate.”

Kodama adds that having Conversation Buddies provides a synergistic effect: while the students from HUE get the opportunity to learn about life, culture, and education in Canada, the students from SLLLC learn about Japanese culture, their Buddy, and can explore how this opportunity may shape their future.

“I was able to apply and practice my language skills in a relevant environment, and make great international relationships,” explained Jaydon Kutryk, who has served as a Conversation Buddy since 2018. “My conversation partner Tomoki and I got along really well and are great friends now. He and I both shared a passion for food and so we immediately bonded over that.”

Having regular opportunities to connect made it easier for the students to build deeper relationships. As May Tsou, a student in the Faculty of Kinesiology, explained, “Communication was really emphasized in our interactions. When there was a language barrier, both sides had to work towards reaching an understanding together, and finding that moment where things ‘clicked’ came with an amazing feeling. It really helped us grow closer.”

Connecting with a Conversation Buddy gave Bansari Patel “a good way for me to practice my Japanese with a native speaker and impart my own knowledge of English, as well as to make a new friend.” For Conversation Buddy Michelle Lee, the program is part of her larger goal of completing a minor in Japanese, “to be able to connect and build relationships with a diverse group of people.”

Their relationships had unexpected benefits, too. As Linguistics and Language major Charlette Breidfjord reflected, “It also allowed me to be a bit of a tourist in my own city. While trying to think of things to do with our conversation partners, we were able to find a lot of different activities and places that a lot of us from here in Calgary had never had the opportunity to try for the first time as well.”

The program gives students an opportunity to share what they’ve learned in lasting ways. HUE student Yu Mikami described, “Since we talked about education, I will share what I learned with students in our university and discuss differences so that I can get new thoughts from them.”

Indeed, even though the program only lasts 4 weeks, many of the students continue to connect with each other. “We had a really good time together”, Yu continued. “We only spent one month together but we became real friends and we still keep in touch.” Fellow HUE student Moeka Nakajima agreed, saying, “The experiences I had there (in Canada) are my treasures, and I believe they will help me in many forms.”