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Conversation circles

A space to grow and a space to grow together

Campus and Community

By Katie O'Keefe

In partnership with the Association for New Canadians, the Student Experience Office at Memorial facilitates a biweekly conversation circle between student volunteers and new arrivals to Canada.

From left are Paul Hayward, Shikiba Mashal and Emma Thompson at the University Centre.
Photo: Submitted

The circle is meant to help build bridges across different cultures and help new arrivals feel welcome and are open to all students, whether as volunteers or participants, and provides a welcoming and safe space to meet and engage with people from other cultures and with different backgrounds from your own.

Beyond grammar

When I first came to the conversation circle a few weeks ago, I thought that participating as an anglophone student would just be about practising English pronunciation and grammar with my conversation partner.

However, I have since found that it is so much more than that. Through attending these circles I have, for example, had the chance to speak with some remarkable women, both international students as well as refugees, from places such as Iran, Afghanistan and Syria.

While I can only speak from the perspective of a Canadian citizen, with all the privilege this entails, I would here like to share some of the reasons why I think that this is a wonderful opportunity for members of the university community and hopefully encourage others to join.

From left are Katie O’Keefe, Gerard Conway, Hamidreza Barzegar and Paul Hayward.
Photo: Submitted

A space to share

To my surprise, rather than talking about which preposition to use, our exchanges during the conversation circle were actually meaningful conversations about issues like the struggles that newcomers can face, the isolation that comes from a limited ability to speak English or what it means to come to Newfoundland and Labrador alone or with only a few members of one’s family.

The conversation circle is therefore so much more than just a place where one can learn and teach English, but also an important space to address some of the challenges faced by many of our new community members.

“This inequality has ignited a desire in me to seek a career in international law and human rights.”

From my own perspective, the circle has also had a profound impact on my worldview. For example, it has influenced my career aspirations. I have always wanted to pursue a career in law and through speaking with women from other places, I have learned of the many inequities that exist between our cultures and countries.

This inequality has ignited a desire in me to seek a career in international law and human rights. Hearing first-hand about the struggles that these women face in their homelands not only makes one appreciate life in Canada, but also inspires one to try and use this privilege to make a difference in the world.

… and a space to grow together

Combining locals and new Canadians provides a great opportunity to take an active role in global citizenship.

Through the conversation circles, we can learn more about the issues that we share and those that make us different and try to bridge that gap.

In the short time that this program has been running, I, for example, have learned so much about Middle Eastern cultures and I hope to have also shared Canadian and Newfoundland and Labrador culture and traditions with others.

A place for you

Even though I initially joined the circle as part of an experiential learning assignment for a German course, I will continue to attend and hope that many others, no matter how long they have lived here, will join us.

The circles are a great addition to the Student Life program at Memorial and I would encourage those looking for a new way to volunteer or to make some new friends to join the program.

For more information, to volunteer or to be part of the circle, please email Shannon Lewis-Simpson, co-ordinator, community engaged learning, Student Experience Office. To register for this week’s circle, come along on Wednesday, April 17, to the Children’s Library in the A.C. Hunter Library in the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre.


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