Conversations Helping and Teaching Stu¬dents, C.H.A.T.S., a program created in 2009, is in the process of becoming an official club at LIU Post. In C.H.A.T.S., an American student and an international student are paired as partners so the two can learn about each other’s cultures and become friends. This gives the internationals students the opportunity to improve and practice their English.
The offices of International Student Services and Religious Life created C.H.A.T.S. in 2009 and act as co-sponsors for the organization. This semester, C.H.A.T.S. has begun the process of becoming an official club by creating an executive board and attending three Student Government Association meetings. The new executive board consists of five students: Alize Margulis, Rika Tatsukawa, Arti Jain, Terry Chang and Serena Oditt, who will attend the Student Government Association meetings to represent C.H.A.T.S. Father Ted, who is in charge of the Newman Catholic Club, and Jeanette Murray, who works at International Students Services, advise the students. Three coordinators oversee the organization Murray, as well as Trica Figuero and Dr. Leslie Bai.
“Make another friend; you always need a friend,” said Figuero. C.H.A.T.S. was created to try to build up the connection between international and Americans students. It also serves to improve international students’ command of the English language, allow international students to learn more about American culture, and permit American students to learn about different cultures. This may lead to inviting their partner home for Thanksgiving, and even visiting their partner’s country, said Bai. “International students feel intimidated and lonely. If they find someone who knows American life, they can meet through C.H.A.T.S. first and then become friends later on their own,” said Bai.
All the C.H.A.T.S. partners are the same gender and are partners for one year. The partners usually meet once a week for about an hour. When, where, what you do and for how long you meet are entirely up to you and your partner. There are also monthly group events for everyone who is involved in C.H.A.T.S. One of the first events this semester was International Friendship Night, which was held on September 20 in the Chapel. The event consisted of games, dancing, food and international trivia. The next event is a presentation on exploring New York on October 11 at 12:45 p.m. in the Chapel. There is an Inter¬national Education Week Dinner planned for November 12 at 7 in the Tilles Center and a farewell party on December 6 at 12:45 p.m. in the Chapel. “The events are open to everyone. We are always encouraging and welcoming visitors and new members, if interested,” said Bai.
There is an application form which helps with the pairing process. Students fill out their major, hobbies and if they have a preference of what type partner they would like, said Bai. She said last fall there were 50 pairs, last spring there were 39 pairs, and there are currently 27 pairs. However, students join throughout the semester. Students, faculty and staff are all members of C.H.A.T.S. The staff members who are involved in C.H.A.T.S. are Trica Figuero, Dr. Leslie Bai, Jeanette Murray and Nadia Hernandez, who all work at International Students Services.
“The biggest headache now is there are always more international students then American students,” said Bai. Many international students are waiting for a partner. Bai said new international students are their first priority but returning international students are also waiting. There is a lack of male American students. Many American students are needed and males are needed the most right now, said Figuero. “We have included staff members, and some domestic students take two partners,” said Figuero, to try to solve the problem of not having enough American members. “We try to recruit students at (club) fairs, but it is always hard to get them to commit,” said Bai.
Bai said many show interest in C.H.A.T.S. while they are recruiting but then they say they are too busy. “Some people are afraid of the commitment; time is an issue,” said Figuero. The coordinators say the group meeting and weekly partner meetings are not mandatory. The events are held so that everyone who is involved in C.H.A.T.S. can get together and do some sort of activity. As long as you are spending individual time with your partner, you do not have to attend the events. C.H.A.T.S. is extremely flexible. “It’s not something to be fearful of or stress out about; just try it” said Figuero. They said they want more American students to learn from this experience. “You don’t have to do something extra; you can bring your partner to something you go to already,” said Bai.
Being a member of C.H.A.T.S., and acquiring knowledge about another culture, will enhance your resume and work experience as well, said Figuero. Clubs can also pick up partners. Every club on campus has to do a certain amount of hours of community service and earn points for it. If you are on another club on campus and need to earn community service points, you can earn them by joining C.H.A.T.S. If there are a few partners per club, they will give you about half of the points needed. “Internationalization, we want more students to open up, even make our campus a little different,” said Figuero.
Rika Tatsukawa, a senior Public Relations major from Japan, has been a member of C.H.A.T.S. since September 2011. Tatsukawa was partners with Arti Jain, a junior English Education major, last year. The partners are continuing to work together through C.H.A.T.S. this year as well. “At first, I didn’t expect her to be such a good friend and now I can’t image campus life without her,” said Tatsukawa. She said that she meets, texts and messages her partner often. “I meet Arti at her house a lot, her mother makes Indian food which I love,” said Tatsukawa. She said she went to her C.H.A.T.S. partner’s house for Thanksgiving, her birthday and Christmas. She also said she has met most of her family. “Now I don’t think of her as a partner; I just think of her as one of my friends,” said Tatsukawa. She said that she and Arti have similar feelings to be kind to others and common sense.
Taksukawa said that C.H.A.T.S. has made her more compassionate to others, especially foreigners. “If I go back to Japan and see foreigners, I want to take care of them and help them because now I know how they feel. Taksukawa thinks that American and inter¬national students can learn a lot from each other. “I wish American students can learn from International students. In the future, it can help them with their work if they know that culture,” said Taksukawa. She said she taught her partner how to say hello in Japanese, “Konnichiwa,” and thank you, “Arigato.”
Alize Margulis, a junior International Studies major has been part of C.H.A.T.S. since she was a freshman. “I joined C.H.A.T.S. because I thought it was the best way to learn about other cultures and customs,” said Margulis. Her first C.H.A.T.S. partner was Winny Wang, a graduate student from China studying Science Research. She said she found similarities between Wang’s culture and her own. “Winny almost always boils water and drinks the water as such; whereas I would boil water but I would drink it only if I had diffused a tea bag,” said Marguilis.
Last year, Marguilis and her former partner, Kotona Uzumaki, a Business major from Japan, were C.H.A.T.S ambassadors. “We spoke at various C.H.A.T.S. events and were nominated and received certification for Outstanding C.H.A.T.S. Partners of the Year 2012,” said Marguilis. She said her past two partners have become her really close friends. “Kotona, who was studying abroad in the U.S. for one year was in two of my classes , and once we became C.H.A.T.S. partners, we went to various club events on campus and explored off campus too,” said Marguilis. She said she feels she taught her partner how to be comfortable in her home when inviting her over for holidays and dinner. Marguilis said her two past partners taught her many phrases in Chinese and Japanese. She said she and Uzumaki would see shows in the city and at the Tilles Center as well as spend time in her neighborhood. Marguilis still keeps in contact both of her C.H.A.T.S. partners through Skype and e-mail. “I’m hoping to travel to Asia one day, so I know I will be able to explore their countries with them too!” she said.
This year Marguilis is partnered with a student from China named Shuai Shuai, but she has not met her yet. She said she wishes more American students joined C.H.A.T.S. “LIU Post provides this opportunity through the C.H.A.T.S. program, but I feel not enough domestic students are committed or interested in becoming a partner. I understand many students have busy agendas, but how complicated is it to take one hour per week out of your time to meet with some one?” said Marguilis.
She said she has truly enjoyed her experience as a member of C.H.A.T.S. “Inter¬national friends have certain values that we as Americans don’t. I am not bashing Americans, but we should embrace other cultures and be open to learning about them, especially in this globalized business world that we live in today,” said Marguilis.