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(L-R) Heather Dirks and Mirian Lopes. // Photo by Rob Nay

(L-R) Heather Dirks and Mirian Lopes.

‘Each new international friend opens more doors’

August 16, 2016 — 

For Heather Dirks and Mirian Lopes, a language program helped pave a path to friendship, learning and sharing knowledge.

“I was new here and wanted to know more about Canada and its culture,” said Mirian, who hails from Brazil and speaks Portuguese.

She and Heather met in April 2015 through the Language Partners Volunteer Program (LPVP), run by the University of Manitoba’s English Language Centre.

Mirian had recently moved to Winnipeg and Heather was volunteering with the LPVP. Along with seeking to learn about Canadian culture, Mirian wanted to practise her English and pronunciation, augmenting skills she was gaining through courses at the English Language Centre.

As part of the LPVP, they met for about an hour each week in a casual setting.

“You can talk about everything. It’s very helpful,” said Mirian. “It’s an amazing experience.”

While there was no set format for their gatherings, Heather and Mirian did draw on tools to occasionally spur dialogue.

“We shared photos of our families and our lives. If you need some help with language, photos work very well (to start conversations),” said Heather.

“Some weeks, we would read a newspaper article together from The Manitoban. So, if you need a little bit of structure you can always read an article together,” said Heather. Outside of volunteering, she is an English as an Additional Language teacher, who case manages about 200 newcomer students at Fort Richmond Collegiate.

The minimum requirement for the LPVP is seven hours of volunteering over a three-month term.

As a volunteer, Heather said the program offers a range of rewards.

“Each new international friend opens more doors and I’ve learned so much,” she said. “I also just love seeing people learn and Mirian is such an eager learner. To see her progress is very gratifying. After our formal partnership, we still meet as friends, which is really cool.”

Mirian, who trained as a psychologist in Brazil, said she aims to pursue a master’s degree in psychology at the U of M, examining autism and behavioural therapy.

Volunteer applications for the LPVP are being accepted through to Sept. 1.

Volunteers can be students, university employees, alumni or members of the community who are fluent in spoken and written English and have lived in Winnipeg for at least two years, or in Canada for at least five years.

For U of M students, volunteering with the program can be recognized on their co-curricular records, with a minimum commitment of 10 hours.

To sign up, contact Crystal Stewart by email at crystal [dot] stewart [at] umanitoba [dot] ca or by phone at 204-474-6722.

More information on the English Language Centre and its programs can be found here.

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