Conversation Partners Program




The main purpose of the PIESL CONVERSATION PARTNERS PROGRAM is to connect international students with UNL community members including students, staff, and faculty through authentic and friendly conversations and interactions. 

This cross-cultural partnership program provides international students with an intimate experience of culture in the United States. In return, domestic volunteers learn about another country and culture and develop cross-cultural competencies. These interactions help foster a global community.


  • Foster positive intercultural relationships between new international students and UNL community members.
  • Help international students learn more about and adjust to the culture in the United States.
  • Provide important social support for and extend hospitality to international students during their initial adjustments to life in their new surroundings.
  • Offer all students an opportunity to learn about new cultures and how to communicate in a diverse society.
  • Encourage UNL students, faculty, and staff to improve their cross-cultural understanding and to gain global perspectives.
  • Raise international awareness, promote international education, and contribute to the university’s comprehensive internationalization efforts.
  • Foster international student engagement with the campus community, which will positively impact student well-being and retention.


The program coordinator pairs international students with domestic volunteers based on interests, academic majors, and availability.

Domestic volunteers include students, staff,  and faculty in the UNL community.


Students and volunteers interested in the program apply online to participate by completing this PIESL Conversational Partner Program sign-up form. The sign-up deadlines are in early September for the fall semester and early February for the spring semester.

The program coordinators match international students with domestic volunteers based on the information provided in their applications. Coordinators take the level of study, hobbies and interests, and other preferences into consideration when matching pairs.


To have a rewarding experience, participants should fulfill the program's commitments. Participants who put in the time and effort necessary to develop relationships with their partners will have a more positive experience. The program encourages partners to spend time with one another by hosting events and suggesting activities, but it is the participants’ responsibility to take advantage of these opportunities. Program participants are asked to make the following commitments:


Partners should meet at least once every two weeks, although more frequent meetings are encouraged. Domestic partners are asked to initiate the first two or three meetings of the semester as international students are adjusting to life in the United States. Later in the semester, international partners should initiate contact with domestic partners to arrange meetings. Meeting expectations include:

  • Must meet at a public place or event
  • Take pictures and post on the IEP program’s Instagram account: @unlpiesl
  • Keep the meeting friendly and appropriate. This program does not encourage romantic involvement between partners.
  • Inform the program coordinator immediately with any concerns/issues about the meetings



The program offers events throughout the semester to provide easy ways for partners to interact with one another. Typically, there is one large event in the fall semester and one in the spring, and all partners are encouraged to attend. In addition to these large events, the Conversation Partners Program also offers casual opportunities throughout the semester to bring together participants and create a sense of community within the program. These small events are a great opportunity to meet other program participants and develop a deeper connection to the program.


The Conversation Partners Program will send mid-semester and end-of-semester surveys to learn about participants’ program experiences. We want to make the program better for everyone, so participant feedback is important. Participants are also encouraged to contact the program coordinator immediately if they experience any problems in the program.



As a domestic volunteer, it is important to remember that this semester might be your international partner’s first time in the United States. Your partner might not know many traditions, values, and perspectives that are commonly known among people familiar with American culture. Remember to be patient as you introduce your partner to various aspects of American life and to remember that you also have the opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of another culture. With these things in mind, here are a few expectations of the American volunteers:

Be a friend. Even people from different cultures can tell if you are not genuine in your commitment to get to know them and be a friend. This partnership is a good opportunity to practice empathy, thinking of yourself in another person’s situation. Your international partner may be homesick from time to time and facing challenges that go with living abroad. Try to treat them as you would want to be welcomed in a new place far from the comforts of home.

Share resources. You are likely much more familiar with the NU campus and community than your international partner, so share resources you know that might be helpful to them. Share with them where to go to find things to do on campus, festivals you like to attend, places to rent bikes, where the bus stop is downtown, etc. These resources will help make your home a home to international students as well.

Share your culture. Be prepared and willing to explain cultural differences between American culture and the culture from which your partner comes. Think about attitudes and values strongly present within American culture, but be open to learning about other ways of thinking from your partner.

Additional program expectations:

  • Commit to one semester of participation in the CONVERSATION PARTNERS PROGRAM.
  • Contact your partners within the first week of receiving their contact information.
  • Respond to your partner’s communication within 48 hours of receiving it.
  • Attend at least 2-4 meetings/month with your partners
  • Attend the Conversation Partners Program semester event, and other small events throughout the semester as you and your partner are able.
  • Complete the end-of-semester surveys to provide feedback about the program.
  • Maintain regular communication with your partner.
  • Contact the program coordinator if you have any questions or concerns related to the program.


Although you are new to American culture, you also have an important role to play in this partnership. While your American partner will initiate contact with you at the beginning of the semester, you should also show commitment to the partnership by responding to your partner’s communication and initiating contact later in the semester. You also fulfill a teaching role in this program: You are able to share about your culture with an American who may have never traveled outside the United States. Your friendship could be the most exposure to another culture your partner has experienced. With these things in mind, here are a few expectations the CONVERSATION PARTNERS PROGRAM has for its international student participants:

Be a friend. Treat your American partner as you would treat your friends back home. While developing friendships across cultures can seem uncomfortable at first, with time and effort from you and your partner, your friendship will become stronger.

Engage with your partner. Don’t hesitate to ask your partner questions, as they wouldn’t have signed up for the program if they didn’t want to be a source of support as you adjust to life in America. Feel free to invite your partner to activities you normally do (dining, shopping, campus activities). The more you interact with your partner by asking questions, sharing concerns, and inviting them into your life, the more likely they are to do the same for you.

Share your culture. Your partner will likely be curious about your home country, its traditions, language, and culture. Share pictures, stories, and any information about your home that your partner might want to know. Take this partnership as an opportunity to share the pride you have in your home country.

Additional program expectations:

  • Commit to one semester of participation in the Conversation Partners Program.
  • Contact your partners within the first week of receiving their contact information.
  • Respond to your partner’s communication within 48 hours of receiving it
  • Attend at least 2-4 meetings/month with your partners
  • Attend the CONVERSATION PARTNERS PROGRAM semester event, and other small events throughout the semester as you and your partner are able.
  • Complete the end-of-semester surveys to provide feedback about the program.
  • Maintain regular communication with your partners.
  • Contact the program coordinator if you have any questions or concerns related to the program.



1.      CONVERSATION PARTNERS MEET AND GREET | early in the semester

Meet your partner and other program participants for the first time. After you receive your partner’s contact information, make plans to meet each other at this first event. CONVERSATION PARTNERS PROGRAM staff will be present to meet you as well.


Each semester, the program hosts one large event to bring together participants for a fun activity. Watch your email for details about the upcoming event and make plans with your partner to attend. Attendance is highly encouraged.

3.      PARTNERSHIP CELEBRATION | end of the semester

Enjoy refreshments with other CONVERSATIONAL PARTNERS PROGRAM participants to celebrate the end of the semester. Partners will have the opportunity to share their experiences in the program. We will also ask participants about ways the program could be improved in the future.



You should arrange your first meeting with your partner in a public place on or near campus, such as a dining hall, library, or local coffee shop. Keep it casual and friendly. When scheduling the meeting, be sure to give detailed directions and a specific time. Use email or texting to confirm the meeting and clarify information.


(Adapted from the Duke International Friends Program Participant Handbook)

  • Be sure your friend knows your full name, email address, and phone number.
  • Become familiar with the cultural background of your friend, the geography of their home country, and a few facts about it. Ask questions, but also do some of your own research.
  • Ask your friend about dietary restrictions based on religious or cultural preferences and practices.
  • Be flexible about when you can get together.
  • Make sure that when you invite your friend for a meeting or event they understand the date and time they are expected to visit and for how long.
  • Include your partner in whatever you are doing: cookouts, service clubs, community festivals, fairs and holidays, political meetings, or activities.
  • Invite your partner to include other American or international friends on occasion.
  • Remember that some students are shy and quiet; some are not as proficient in English as others; some like to listen more than talk about themselves.
  • Be careful about jokes. Humor is one of the final components of language acquisition. However, don’t be afraid to laugh together about misunderstandings.
  • Be open, be yourself, ask questions and enjoy the experience of getting to know someone from another culture.


  • Cook a meal
  • Watch a favorite TV show or movie
  • Go to a movie
  • Go to the farmers market
  • Attend a sporting event or watch one on TV
  • Relax at a coffee shop downtown
  • Shopping
  • Exercise
  • Visit the public library
  • Attend a concert
  • Check out campus decorations and parade during homecoming
  • Get ice cream on a warm day
  • Study at the library or a coffee shop
  • Attend the international students’ events


(Adapted from the Florida Institute of Technology International Friendship Program Handbook)

It can be hard to start a conversation with a complete stranger, particularly one whose cultural experience may be extremely different than your own. To help you get started, here are some questions you can use to break the ice and get to know your partner and their culture better.


  • What is your family like?
  • What responsibilities do different members of your family have in the home?
  • How does your family celebrate special holidays? What do these holidays celebrate or represent?
  • Describe your extended family.


  • What dietary restrictions do you have? Are there special reasons for them?
  • What is the main meal of the day in your culture?
  • Is mealtime a time when your family gathers together?
  • What is your favorite meal, and how do you make it?

Daily life

  • What is an average day like where you’re from?
  • How do you travel to work or school? How long does it take?
  • How often do people in your country go to the shopping mall or grocery store?
  • What do people in your country typically do after a long day at work or school?


  • What is the educational system like in your country?
  • What language(s) are you required to learn in school?
  • Describe a typical day at school; how is it scheduled?
  • What are the educational backgrounds of your family members?

Leisure activities

  • What is the most popular sport in your home country? What sports do you like?
  • What leisure activities do families enjoy?
  • What hobbies do you enjoy? Do you play a musical instrument?
  • Does your family go somewhere special on vacation?


(Source: “Cross-Cultural Dialogues: 74 Brief Encounters with Cultural Difference” by Craig Storti)

  • Don’t assume everyone is the same.
  • What you think of as normal behavior may only be cultural — a lot of behavior is universal, but certainly not all. Before you project your norms on the human race consider that there may be more than one way to do something.
  • Familiar behavior may have different meanings — smiling, for example, exists in all cultures but does not always mean the same thing. Just because you recognize a given behavior, don’t assume you understand what it means.
  • Don’t assume that what you meant was understood — you cannot always be sure of how others are interpreting your behavior.
  • Don’t assume that what you understood is what was meant — all communication is filtered through our own cultural lens, which is not the same lens used by people from another culture.
  • You don’t have to like or accept or adopt a behavior that is different from yours; however, understanding where that behavior comes from and what values underlie it can help you to be respectful of any differences.
  • Most people do behave rationally; you just have to discover their rationale.


Guided by the NAFSA: Association of International Educators statement of ethical principles, Programs in ESL is committed to upholding the welfare, safety, and best interests of the university’s international students. We strive to provide high-quality programs and services for everyone involved in the international community. As participants in the CONVERSATION PARTNERS PROGRAM, you are also held to these high standards, as you are important members of the international education community at UNL.

According to these ethical considerations, you should not offer or encourage your partner to indulge in drug or alcohol use. Respect for the law and policy is one of NAFSA’s top ethical considerations, and upholding this ethical matter is of vital importance.

If you feel as though a program participant is not meeting these expectations, please contact the Program Coordinator immediately.