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SJP and UC Divest Coalition Demonstrations at UCLA

Language learners exchange more than just conversation

(Kira VandenBrande/Daily Bruin)

By Sydney Walls and Laurel Scott

Jan. 25, 2016 12:00 a.m.

Editor’s note: This is part one of a three part series in which Bruin contributors Sydney Walls and Laurel Scott follow two international students through the Dashew Center’s quarter-long Language Exchange Program.


Bruin: Any first impressions so far?

Maurer: It’s good.

Quintero: Well I spoke to him in Spanish and he went like, “Oh”. But yeah, yeah, it’s good. Very good.

Bruin: This is the story of many of the students who apply for the Dashew Language Exchange program.

International students sign up with Dashew when they apply to UCLA. The Language Exchange program helps anyone who wants to learn a new language or improve what they already know. Two people are paired together and teach each other their native language.

That’s how Maurice Maurer, a first-year graduate student in physics from Germany, and Luis Rodriguez Quintero, a third-year chemical engineering student from Mexico, found each other.

Here’s Maurer.

Maurer: Every international student signs up with the Dashew Center. They had an info session and you could sign up for the newsletter that sends mail around with all the stuff they are doing, and I was interested in doing that.

Bruin: As for Quintero,

Quintero: I was informed by the Dashew Center and in the beginning I wanted to practice my French, but I didn’t find one, so right now at UCLA I’m starting German, so I thought, well, why not.

Bruin: The international student population at UCLA is pretty big, and because of that, Dashew Language Exchange has been successful. Jennie Weingarten, the assistant director of programs at Dashew, told us about its history.

Weingarten: We’ve had a language pairing program for at least eight years. The old name was “Conversation Partners.” It was a very similar program to this one, we just rebranded it last year to “Language Exchange,” so this is the second quarter of Language Exchange.

Bruin: Besides Language Exchange, Dashew holds other events for its students. They take day trips to Arizona, Las Vegas, go see shows like Cirque du Soleil and even go to Disneyland Resort. And if you’re brave enough, they do speed dating, too.

There are about 12,000 international students on campus, and they come from more than 110 different countries. Dashew helps each one with everything from academics to finding a home away from home.

Every student has a reason why they are here. While Quintero came here on scholarship from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Maurer never expected to find himself at UCLA.

Maurer: The professor I wrote my thesis with, he is originally also from Germany. He was a professor at Munich. And when I asked him if I could do a Ph.D thesis with him he said, “Sure, but meanwhile I’m not in Munich anymore, I’m at UCLA – wanna come?”

Bruin: Thanks to his professor, here he is.

Many students in Dashew want to improve their English, but some are trying to pick up a third or fourth language. Trying to learn a second language is hard enough for most of us, but try learning four like Quintero.

Quintero: One of my dreams is to speak six languages. Right now I speak three, German is my fourth. I chose German because I would like to work in Germany, because there are a lot of opportunities for engineers.

Bruin: For the next two months, Maurer and Quintero will meet for at least two hours a week to practice German and Spanish. Meeting with a stranger and learning a new language can sound intimidating, but it shouldn’t be too hard for this pair. After all, they’ve already bonded over a common interest of soccer before they even left the first meeting.

Weingarten says this is pretty common.

Weingarten: We’ve seen some partners become like family and invite them to their home country far after the program ends.

Bruin: To be in the program you don’t need to know anything about the language you’re trying to learn. Which is good for Maurer and Quintero. Their language backgrounds differ slightly.

Maurer: Three years in school of spanish and one year at university. I eventually want to live in a Spanish-speaking country so I figured, better learn it before you go there.

Quintero: I’m just getting started here at UCLA.

Bruin: Over the next two months, our story will follow Quintero and Maurer as they face the challenges of conversing in a brand new language.

For Daily Bruin Radio, I’m Sydney Walls.

And I’m Laurel Scott.

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