International students sharpen their English skills, build connections at Conversation Café

Written by Mackenzie Rossero, CAS communications intern

A blindfolded student and teammate work at the M&M sorting exercise.

The conversation was audible from the hallway, and the water bottles and candy satisfied the second portion of this weekly event: Conversation Café. Inside Bachelor Hall, room 110, a mix of international and domestic students mingled.

It was the Monday after Thanksgiving. The frequently asked question "how was your break?" bounced off the walls like echoes.

One of the domestic student leaders raised her voice above the chatter and waved around a white piece of paper.

"Did everyone sign in?"

American Culture and English (ACE) Program students at Miami attend an assigned session of Conversation Café once a week to supplement a required ACE course. It's one of the more enjoyable parts of their curriculum — a time to practice their English-speaking skills with native speakers through games and social interaction.

"As a required component of ACE, Conversation Café allows international and American students to come together to talk on on a range of topics," said Carol Olausen, director of the ACE Program. "Their shared activities support speaking skills and building connections. It's one of the ways that ACE works to enhance student engagement at Miami."

Today, the group of students started with games. The room was divided into three teams, which raced to classify a plateful of M&Ms by color. There were two twists though — the candy sorter was blindfolded, and there was no talking allowed.

Participants in the M&M sorting exercise share a laugh.

"Ready, set, go!"

The three teams each devised a unique system to organize the candy by color. And, though no words were said during this odd relay race, there was plenty of laughter.

Tap, tap, tap! One team had members tap their desks to indicate they had the color to match the sorter's M&M. Another group saw the success of that strategy and mimicked it. The third team handled it differently — the sorter held out a handful of M&Ms and let the other team members pluck the colors they needed. They were the first to finish and waited patiently for the other groups to catch up.

The timer dinged, and the M&M eating commenced. Meanwhile, pens and paper were passed out.

Every student wrote down something they had a problem with in college — social struggles, academic hardships, homesickness. Then, they passed the papers around and their peers responded to that problem with encouragement and advice.

This wasn't the first time Conversation Café students had supported each other this way — they did the same exercise earlier this semester, when the idea of American college was even more unfamiliar.

Now, though, they had the wisdom to coach each other and the experience to back it up. Roommate problems, overbooked finals weeks, girlfriends meeting parents, difficulty driving the speed limit — nothing was off the table.

And, after they worked through their problems in the U.S., dinner was delivered, and the international students taught the domestic students how to properly eat with chopsticks.

Then, amid goodbyes and well wishes for final exams, they trickled out the door.