Reaching Out Through Conversation

Program Coordinator Jane McGarity (standing at easel) and (seated closest to camera) Mandy Dicker (l.) and Ann Skeath (r.) are among the Swarthmore Presbyterian Church members who are sharing conversation with Chinese visitors during two weekly sessions in the church’s study.

Program Coordinator Jane McGarity (standing at easel) and (seated closest to camera) Mandy Dicker (l.) and Ann Skeath (r.) are among the Swarthmore Presbyterian Church members who are sharing conversation with Chinese visitors during two weekly sessions in the church’s study.

By Ali Holsinger

When Wenzhi “Wendy” Tian, a visiting scholar from China, was working at the University of Pennsylvania during the past year, she discovered though her own experiences how difficult communication can be for those visiting the U.S. from her country.

As she came to know Swarthmore, it was Wendy’s dream to form an English-Chinese class at Swarthmore Presbyterian Church, where she worshipped (before returning to China recently), to help the many visiting scholars from China that reside in Swarthmore and may be facing the same challenges that she did. Through Wendy’s partnership with Jane McGarity, a retired social worker and church member, the English Conversation Class with Chinese Friends was born.

Wendy and Jane were delighted to welcome about 10 Chinese visitors to the first meetings in January. The classes continue twice weekly, on Thursday evenings and Friday mornings in the SPC study. Not surprisingly, this class has been embraced by many of SPC’s members, who regularly come to the classes to assist with the activities that are designed to help new friends get more comfortable speaking English, while learning our customs and culture.

Wendy commented on the need for this outreach, even among highly accomplished professionals visiting the U.S.: “Most of the participants have studied English to read and write, and have learned English grammar. But speaking and understanding spoken English can be a big challenge. Many Chinese are more cautious and conservative, sometimes afraid of offending others. They try not to speak much to avoid mistakes.”

Jane rejoined: “But it seems as though they are becoming more relaxed and at ease with us now. We have a lot of talking going on! We typically break into small groups of three led by volunteers to give a comfortable and safe space to get to know each other with simple English conversation and pronunciation, on a variety of topics.”

Class topics are varied and designed to help with real-life situations, both fun and functional. Recent topics have included banking, insurance, medical treatment, and American holidays. Upcoming are: handling scary and confusing situations, neighbors, cookie-baking, Bible stories, and cultural exchange sessions. The meetings are Thursday from 7 p.m to 8 p.m., and Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Many of these new friends have been joining us in worship and Sunday school classes, and as volunteers with our Parish Life committee. New volunteers are always welcome. If you would like to join us, please be in touch with Jane McGarity at janezmcgarity@verizon.net.

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