Being in contact with many international students through my job as an International Community Assistant, living for more than two years in the United States and being an international student myself made me aware of a very interesting fact. It is hard for international students to become friends with American students. But why is that? I talked to some international students and below is what I have found out.
I believe reason number one is the language. Most international students have English as a second or third language before coming to the United States which makes them not as confident speaking as they would be if they were speaking their primary languages. Another issue involved with language is that sometimes the international students do not know how to or cannot express themselves due to language. It causes anxiety and a little bit of worry on the foreign student part.
Reason two is the difference in the way that different cultures build relationships. From a foreign perspective, we learn a lot of things about the United States before going to college, but that does not mean we know how to live in this culture nor that we will adapt to it. For example, in Brazil (where I am from) when people meet (informally) for the first time, they kiss each other’s cheeks. Can you imagine in what kind of trouble would I be if I tried to kiss someone that I have just met in the United States? Thinking about it now, I had to basically change how I behave to “fit in” in the culture. That change sometimes is unnoticed, but surely affects the possibility of connecting with natives.
Reason number three is how long the international student is going to stay in the United States. Between the three, this is the reason that makes the most difference when I would ask people whether they had American friends or not. The longer the time, more likely to this person to have American friends. For the ones staying only one semester or less the thinking is simple: Why would I try to connect with people if I will only stay 5/6 months?
Reason number four is the fact that they don’t get involved. But how do internationals get involved? The easiest way is to join a club. Join a club that matches our interests is the simplest way to connect with natives. Another way is going to events. During a normal week in college there are at least 5 different events for students per day, so depending on the events there is a good opportunity to make friends. One tip is to go to events designed for international students, here at Kent State we have a living-learning called Global Village that is a community that connect international students with American students through activities, events and programs.
To enjoy your experience abroad to the fullest, connecting with the native people is a must, and when we talk about college you have a bigger chance of really experience the American culture, so don’t be afraid, go out there and connect with people. Enjoy your youth, get out of your comfort zone. If everything goes well you can even create friendships that will last for the rest of your life.
Home Country: Brazil
Kent State University, Kent, Ohio