ELI’s Conversation Café gets a deluxe makeover
Exchange students Silvana Luis Bueno and Alexis Menacho came to the ELI on a scholarship from their English language institute in Peru. Photo by Johanna Alonso

ELI’s Conversation Café gets a deluxe makeover

UMBC students gathered in the Commons Game Room for Mundo Lingo: Conversation Café Deluxe, a collaborative project between the Mosaic Center and UMBC’s English Language Institute program. The event was an extension of the ELI’s Conversation Café, in which ELI students and volunteers meet in an informal environment to chat, play board games and have coffee and snacks.

But Wednesday’s event was not a typical Conversation Café. Rather than taking place in a confined classroom setting, this event was held in the Commons Gameroom, where students were able to be active and play games while they chatted.

Jiuk Choi, a senior Asian studies major and a student assistant at the ELI, noticed that the change of environment allowed students to communicate with one another in new ways. “We just like interacting [with] each other, physically,” Choi explained. “Any way we [can] have deeper types of approaches [to] how we communicate with international students and [share] cultures.”

The students present at the event smiled and chatted as they played rounds of ping-pong, waiting on long lines to be the next to compete. Laughter rang out on occasions when the ping-pong ball would fly across the room, entirely missing the target. Other students gathered around pool tables, foosball tables and the table of snacks located near the back of the room.

Alejandro Palacios, an ELI student, said that the opportunity to have a more active experience at a Conversation Café event was a welcome change. “There was a big variety of games. We had some snacks, sodas,” he said, resting after a particularly intense game of ping-pong. “It was incredible. I really liked it.”

Another ELI student, Jazmin Lorenzo, agreed. “In the usual Conversation Café, we just used to sit, have some coffee and just talk. It was interesting, but in this case, you interact more because there are other activities,” Lorenzo said.

For Lorenzo, this event marked the end of her time at UMBC; she will graduate from the ELI program soon and returning to her native Peru, where she is excited to share the knowledge she has gained with her family and friends. “We have learned many things about the culture here, the people, the lifestyle — that it’s really different from ours. And we have such beautiful experience and anecdotes here that we’ll never forget,” said Lorenzo.

Choi encourages UMBC students to participate in the various programs the ELI offers. Along with Conversation Café, there is also a program called Conversation Partners, in which international students are paired with native English speakers to have a casual, weekly one-on-one chat.

Choi noted that it is not just ELI students, but also native English speakers, who can benefit from these programs and from being exposed to different languages and cultures: “Basically, if you’re a self-motivated student,” he said, “you can find value [in] Conversation Café.”