Global Connections program fosters cultural understanding

November 30, 2015

Room 314 in the Boucke Building is a busy place. Year round, as the headquarters of the Global Connections program, it plays host to over 4000 students and community members. Program participants come from all over the globe, with hometowns from Perkasie, Pennsylvania, to Trabzon, Turkey.

Current president Marc McCann summed up the philosophy easily: “Our goal is to help as many people as we can, any way we can.”

Since 1961, when it was known as the International Hospitality Council, the mission of Global Connections has been to “bring together people of diverse national origins to foster intercultural understanding, to promote awareness of our roles as citizens in the wider global community and to facilitate partnerships and resources that enrich the vitality and diversity of the Centre Region.” In the past years, the United Way and University affiliate has done all that it can towards those ends.

“We see some truly phenomenal individuals,” McCann recalled. “We had a woman from Jamaica walk into our office who we’d never seen before, and she immediately began joking around with our staff. It turns out that in the course of her work, she’d spoken in front of the United Nations both in New York and in Switzerland.”

With over 7,000 international students at Penn State and even more faculty and staff, Global Connections sees a lot of interesting people. This includes the Humphrey Fellowes, 10 professionals from other countries who are embedded in the College of Education for nine months. Some of these scholars receive services from the program, and all volunteer.

There are several aspects to the services provided by Global Connections. Most international visitors, students, and scholars seek conversation partners, a program that matches up a fluent English speaker with someone who wants to improve their language skills. In cases like Alison Pennell’s, the conversation help goes both ways. Pennell is traveling to Rwanda in the spring, and so a graduate student from Rwanda named Maurice is helping her learn Kinyarwanda in exchange for practicing his conversational English. Also available is the International friendship program, which facilitates cultural understanding, and the tax assistance program.

“We’ve all gained a better understanding of different cultures; the non-native English speakers get practice and friendships have emerged,” said board of directors member Bill Zimmerman, who has had four conversation partners in his time with the organization. “It’s been enjoyable seeing all of our partners and friends grow with their speaking abilities, in their academic careers and with the level of acceptance they feel on campus and in the community.”

To register for Global Connections, or to become a volunteer, complete the registration form at To view the Global Connections blog, visit

Last Updated January 15, 2016