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Supporting both displaced communities and language-learners

We empower forcibly displaced people as paid online conversation partners for language learners around the world.


We provide a robust educational experience for students to improve their foreign language skills, engage in rich cross-cultural dialogue, and think critically about forced displacement.

Our Story

With increasing numbers of forcibly displaced people, daunting projections of future displacements, and heightened levels of societal resentment towards these displaced communities, Conversations Unbound was founded in 2015 to provide livelihood support for forcibly displaced people, while also meaningfully engaging language learners in this global issue.


For displaced people, Conversations Unbound provides the opportunity for them to increase their agency and economic opportunities. We work with individuals who are new to online language tutoring, providing them with the platform, training, and language learners to develop their skills as independent online conversation partners. Some members of the conversation partner team who began their online teaching career with Conversations Unbound have leveraged their talents and are now full-time online conversation partners for language learners around the world. Others used their experience with Conversations Unbound as a resume and skill builder for other career opportunities.


The organization also strives to reconfigure traditional power dynamics at play in humanitarian aid. Conversations Unbound centers displaced communities, who are traditionally seen as passive recipients of aid, as a conversation partner. They are the producer and provider of knowledge. By privileging the expertise of our conversation partners, we aim to balance these traditional power dynamics — tutors and students can learn from each other by engaging in meaningful dialogue.


Conversations Unbound also provides a robust educational experience for language learners to improve their foreign language skills, engage in rich, cross-cultural dialogue, and think critically about forced displacement. Not only do language learners have the opportunity to strengthen their foreign-language conversational skills, but CU also provides opportunities for language learners to meet people who have different lived experiences. These one-on-one conversations allow CU language learners and conversation partners to find commonalities while learning to appreciate and respect their differences. In a world where hateful rhetoric about “others” is increasingly prevalent, CU works to break down the deeply entrenched "us versus them" mentality perpetuated through xenophobic narratives surrounding immigration and displacement.

Meet the Team

Elise Shea

Founder & President

Julia Segal

Program Coordinator

Sophy Smithson

Program Coordinator

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Max Gaegauf

Finance Manager

Samhita Bolisetty

Program Coordinator

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Megan Martin

Program Coordinator

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Michael LaCivita

Program Advisor

Gloria Chan

Program Coordinator

Sophie Boelk

Program Coordinator

​Zoë Van Gyseghem

Program Manager

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Naomi Blank

Program Coordinator

Leena Hanna

Arabic Translator

We work towards a diverse and inclusive organizational culture

CU acknowledges that our team is largely composed of individuals who have benefited from privileged statuses, whether due to our race, socio-economic status, citizenship, etc., and the intersections therein.


We also recognize that many on our team do not have a forcibly displaced background. Subsequently, we work diligently to raise awareness and educate the team on issues of diversity, inclusion, and cultural sensitivity. 


Conversation partners at the core

To ensure displaced communities are always at the center of our work, our tutors are consulted regularly and have played a major role in the initiation, development, and growth of CU.

Our team works with our tutors to create programs that provide meaningful financial support despite some people’s limited access to financial institutions; respect cultural norms; and facilitate engaging cross-cultural dialogues.

We systematically turn to our Conversation Partners for feedback on how to best empower their communities and improve our programs for students. Additionally, we hold annual webinar workshops to provide a space to listen to our Conversation Partners' thoughts and bring our Conversation Partners and administrative teams together to collaborate and learn from each other.

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