Isabella Romero Stefanoni, Contributing Photographer

For the last 15 years, the Office of International Students and Scholars has hosted English Conversation Groups to promote the practice of English conversational skills for Yale affiliates. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, these sessions continued to take place over Zoom. However, since the start of the fall semester, these sessions are back in-person at OISS for the first time since March 2020. The sessions take place from 1:15 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. every weekday except for Tuesday, when OISS is closed and the sessions are held remotely.

“The OISS English Conversation Groups are great in that they not only help participants gain confidence in speaking but also provide an opportunity for meeting people and making friends,” Charlie Mayock-Bradley ’23, a volunteer facilitator, told the News. “By learning with and from each other, we always leave our conversations feeling a bit more curious and a bit more connected. It’s a joy to work with such an enthusiastic and cool group of people.”

Some of the volunteer facilitators are Yale College students, like Mayock-Bradley. He joined the conversation groups last year when they were still taking place online on a daily basis. For each session, he prepares a series of questions and topics and then gives participants the freedom to offer a variety of perspectives and ideas. 

Molly Hampton, associate director for engagement, assessment and operations, emphasized how the sessions are structured differently every day but that the comfortable and low-pressure dynamic remains the same.

“The facilitators choose their topic of the day, whether that be related to American culture, or even an article that was written in the YDN,” Hampton wrote in an email to the News. “Sometimes our facilitators play games such as Scrabble or even take walks around campus when the weather allows.”

Each day is led by a different volunteer facilitator, according to Hampton.

Groups are typically composed of three to five participants, but participants are free to attend the sessions according to their availability so sometimes 10 to 12 people may attend a session. Most of the attendees are the spouses of Yale international students and scholars.

Though most of the participants in the English Conversation Groups are the spouses of graduate or visiting international students, sometimes the parents of students who are visiting Yale for an extended period of time participate in the sessions as well.

“I joined the conversation groups as a facilitator last year when they were still online, and it was a really great way to connect with people in the midst of hybrid or online school,” Mayock-Bradley said. “Moving to in-person programming … was great in that it allowed me to get to know the other participants a bit better — the only drawback is that people living outside of New Haven can no longer join us.”

Sara Xiao, the spouse of an international scholar, is one of the most consistent members of the English Conversation Groups. She joined the program at the beginning of the fall semester and shared that it has made her more confident in her English conversational skills. 

“I am not as shy as I used to be when speaking English,” Xiao wrote in an email to the News.  “It’s also a great opportunity to meet people from other countries. We share our cultures and experiences and that’s so nice to learn from each other.”

According to Hampton, the English Conversation Groups will be held again next semester, starting in late January.