Uniting Students on Campus through Languages

 Two students at Santa Monica College, Bianca Austria (left), who speaks English and Tagalog talks with Yoori Kwak (right), who speaks Korean greet each other during an orientation for the Language and Culture Exchange program in Santa Monica, California on Thursday, March 8, 2018. The program allows students wishing to practice speaking different languages to match up with others and is free for students and is operated through Canvas. (Photo by Ethan Lauren)

With over 3,500 international students from all around the world, SMC has the second largest international student population of any community college in the nation, second only to Houston Community College. The Language and Culture Exchange program shared this fact for their orientation last Thursday, March 8, emphasizing their focus on bringing cultures around the world together.

The Language and Culture Exchange program is an online resource operated through the online Canvas network, which will remain active during the Fall and Spring semesters.

The program started around six years ago and was originally created to give international students, along with the Modern Language department on campus, a way to practice new languages with native speakers. It focused on languages at first, but over the years, it has emphasized the importance of cultures as well.

Through Canvas, students can write a short biography of themselves, including the languages they speak and languages they are interested in. They can then see everybody who has posted and then message each other to meet up and talk with each other.

Matthew Stivener, who helped to start the program on campus, works as the program's coordinator. He enjoys seeing students that have not only used the service but have also made friends through it. The program's free-form structure means that he can make things run smoothly, but leaves it up to the students to engage with each other.

“We really want it to be up to the students. If they want to be really involved, they can be,” Stivener said. “It’s just a way for them to connect. It’s not that we don’t want to be involved, but I think it’s more successful when the students choose who they want to interact with.”

Lizbeth Koenig, a faculty member in the ESL department, has assisted the program along with Stivener. She helps with the orientation that is held at the beginning of each semester for those who would like to learn about in person.

“There’s just a special kind of student, the kind who is curious about other languages and other cultures, and for that kind of student, this is amazing,” Koenig said.

While a student can join at any time during the semester, these orientations are held as an introductory meeting when students can get started right away with meeting somebody.

Yuki Sakurai is a student at SMC who wants to learn English and speaks Japanese and Chinese. He attended the orientation earlier in the semester.

“It’s pretty good, it’s very helpful and maybe I’m going to find some language partners. I’m very glad to join this group,” Sakurai said.

For anybody wishing to join the program, email stivener_matthew@smc.edu for instructions on joining through Corsair Connect. The program is zero units and after the completion of the semester, it will be removed from your transcript entirely, so it will not affect your grades.