Imagine that you are thousands of miles away from home, studying at a new school in a new country. On top of that, imagine that you are required to learn a new language and adjust to a new culture just to get through everyday life.
For many international Redbirds, that scenario is a reality. Supakit Puangpanomrut is one of those students.
“I felt nervous when I first got here,” said Puangpanomrut, an MBA student from Thailand.
Luckily for Puangpanomrut, Illinois State offers a valuable service to him and other international students. Formed in fall 2018, INTO Illinois State’s Language Partners program immerses new international students into life at the University by pairing them with student volunteers from the United States. The current program is partly inspired by a previous language program on campus.
“The goal of the program is to make sure that the international students get connected to the rest of the ISU community as soon as possible,” said Wouter Van Alebeek, INTO Illinois State’s assistant director of student experience. “We want to make sure that they have somebody that they can talk to about how to navigate ISU, the culture, and the new location.”
The Language Partners program currently matches 118 international students from 18 countries with 113 U.S. students. The volunteers assist their international student partners in improving their English skills, finding their way around campus, adjusting to American culture, and becoming involved in social life at Illinois State.
Puangpanomrut’s partner is Ydalia Newsom, a business administration major from Chicago. As partners, Newsom and Puangpanomrut often spend time at Milner Library to study together and become acquainted.
“I feel like when we first started meeting, it was more of a ‘We have to do this’ kind of thing,” said Newsom. “Now, we’ve gotten much closer, and I can see the impact I’ve had on him. I’ve been able to see him adjust.”
Puangpanomrut is thankful for the program, admitting that he was never confident speaking English before arriving at Illinois State this semester.
“This program has helped me a lot,” said Puangpanomrut. “I get to improve my English skills and communicate with native speakers.”
INTO Illinois State intern Kasia Tomaszynska said Newsom and Puangpanomrut’s successful partnership exemplifies the goal of the program.
“This program is a way to bridge multiple cultures,” said Tomaszynska, a graduate student studying student affairs at Illinois State. “It’s rewarding when you see that things are going well and that something is developing between not just language partners, but something more.”
Tomaszynska and Van Alebeek have already seen the positive difference that the program has on the lives of both international and domestic students.
“The volunteers are really, really valuable for the international students,” said Van Alebeek. “I know that there’s a lot of services available here, but employees will never be the same as friends that can give you a quick answer on something. Having a friend that is more of a peer than an employee really helps the international students.”
Reflecting on her volunteer experience, Newsom wholeheartedly advocates for the program.
“I would definitely encourage more students to volunteer in the program,” said Newsom. “Once you start to connect with your partner and see the impact that it has on them, it’s worth it.”
If you are interested in joining or volunteering for the Language Partners program, contact into-isu@IllinoisState.edu.