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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Local students make “PAL”s around the world

How would you explain to someone who has not lived in the United States for very long what “to cost an arm and a leg” means? It’s questions like these that come up in meetings arranged by the Partners in Acquired Learning (PAL) Program.

PAL, a program of the linguistics department, works to match up international students with non-international students for a mutually beneficial language-learning experience, where the non-international student acts as a hub of American knowledge and a connoisseur of the English language. The program was started by Gwendolyn Schwabe, senior lecturer in the English department and founder of the English as a Second Language (ESL) program at UC Davis, in the early 1970s.

Students participating in PAL meet with their international partner once a week for one hour, during which time they discuss subjects like history and popular culture, learn more about each others’ home countries, go out to eat and even bake muffins. Students even have the ability to earn course credit if they meet with two or more PAL partners a week, keep a brief log of their meetings and complete a one-page write up at the end of the quarter.

The benefits for an international student learning English are numerous: getting to converse with a native speaker, having access to a resource of American culture and meeting a partner with whom one can explore the area.

“If you’re an international student it’s important to get out of your comfort zone,” said senior international relations major Vanessa Orey, who has studied abroad herself. “I grew up around Americans my whole life, so it’s fun to be with people who are just seeing things for the first time.”

PAL coordinator Julia Menard-Warwick said because the network that the international students come to the United States with generally consists of people from their native country, the PAL program serves as an opportunity to expand that network and generate new contacts.

“Sure, two Chinese students can get together and speak English to each other, but more likely they’ll speak Chinese,” Menard-Warwick said.

Many participants in the program, including Orey, are interested in teaching English abroad or tutoring, for which she said PAL provides a solid foundation.

“Participating in the program made me decide to become an ESL instructor,” said Janet Lane, a linguistics lecturer, coordinator of the PAL program from 1990-2010 and former UC Davis student.

Menard-Warwick’s assistant coordinator and linguistics Ph.D. student Emily Feuerherm has also been a participant in the PAL program, along with a similar program at the University of Arkansas, where she developed a long-lasting friendship with a Japanese international student.

“You’re building people skills on an international level,” Feuerherm said. “[My conversation partner and I] are still friends after 12 years. He sends me pictures of his kids. He has celebrated Christmas with my family.”

The “pals” are set up through an online database of international students, which includes their major, interests and hobbies. Non-international students can be invited to the website and then make a selection of a few students he or she is most interested in working with.

There are currently 154 international and 91 non-international students participating in the PAL program. The majority of the international students are graduate students, and the majority of the non-international students are undergraduate students.

With the majority of the international students coming from China, Korea and now Chile, the PAL program is an opportunity to connect with students from all over the world. PAL is one of a number of programs at UC Davis illustrating its move toward “globalization” and “internationalization,” Menard-Warwick said.

“When you’re participating in the PAL program,” Menard-Warwick said, “you’re also learning a whole lot more about the larger world.”

Students interested in the program can visit linguistics.ucdavis.edu/programs/esl-instruction/palprogram and follow the instructions for international or non-international students.

Christina Novakov-Ritchey can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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