A simple idea is helping conversation percolate between international and domestic students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
First brewed by Student Involvement as a pilot project in April 2016, Nebraska’s twice-weekly Coffee Talks series offers students from around the globe the chance to come together for conversation and to build camaraderie.
“We have the most random and amazing conversations you can imagine,” said Veronica Riepe, director of Student Involvement and creator of Coffee Talks. “This is one of the simplest yet most rewarding things we’ve ever offered.”
The concept grew out of campus conversations on how to help international students acclimate to the social side of university life and engage in campus activities. A primary barrier to those engagements by students from overseas is prowess with the English language.
“International students quite often fear that their English is not good enough — even though many really are very talented speakers,” Riepe said. “To help overcome that fear, we decided to offer a space outside the classroom to practice using English.”
From the first session (which drew 10 international and two domestic students) to this semester’s meetings, the program has remained basic. For one hour, twice a week, Coffee Talks are offered on the raised seating area next to Subway in the Nebraska Union. While Student Involvement facilitators have questions to help launch conversations, most talks are free-flowing and start without prompts. Some days, the topic remains focused, other times the chats spill across an array of subjects.
“One of my favorite conversations — and I don’t remember how we got there — was when we discussed death and different customs related to it,” Riepe said. “Most of the time, it’s a really great cultural exchange. Sometimes it’s more focused, like how much an iPhone costs where they live or why things are a certain way here in the United States.”
The only major Coffee Chat change came with an expansion that allowed faculty and staff to take part in the conversations.
Dan Hutt, an academic success coach with First-Year Experience and Transition Programs who works primarily with international students, is among the regulars who attend Coffee Talks.
“I promote this program all day long because it is so effective at bringing together international and domestic students,” Hutt said. “It’s especially important for international students as it helps them to make new friends they can potentially meet with outside of Coffee Talks.”
Shang Wei, a sophomore actuarial science major, is one of a few Nebraska students from Taiwan. He heard about Coffee Talks during international student orientation prior to the fall 2017 semester and jumped at the chance to participate.
“It sounded like a good thing,” Wei said. “I really wanted to make new friends and needed to work more on my conversational English.”
Wei succeeded in making new friends, one of which led him to becoming involved with Nebraska’s Campus NightLife program.
For Adriana Miller, a freshman global studies and sociology major, Coffee Talks helps expand her knowledge of the world.
“I love learning about other people and places,” Miller said. “The conversations we have are fun. And, it’s a nice break to get to know students who aren’t in your classes and who you probably wouldn’t have had a chance to talk to any other time.”
Nebraska’s Coffee Talks program is open to the entire campus community. It is offered from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Mondays and 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Thursdays through the spring semester. All Coffee Talks are on the raised area across from Subway in the Nebraska Union.
Coffee is not provided for the talks, however participants are encouraged to bring a beverage or snack.