The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.
– J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
I had only been in the country for a couple weeks, but I already felt disoriented and alone. In an attempt to feel somewhat normal, I tried to go to one of my favorite coffee shops that reminded me of home, but it turned into a disaster. The taxi cab ride should have cost a few dollars and taken less than 10 minutes, but instead, after 45 minutes I found myself on the south side of town on a dirt road with a cab driver who couldn’t understand anything I tried to say in his language! Once I finally made it to the coffee shop, I was tired, frustrated, and still lonely. I wondered how I would ever make it in this country.
Have you felt like this before? Has making the transition to studying in the U.S. felt like my cab ride – meandering, prolonged, and disappointing? Fortunately, my study abroad experience did not end like this. I met a few friends who in some ways reminded me of home and in other ways opened my eyes to experience life from a different perspective.
I met Timothy on campus while trying to find the library. We quickly discovered that we both loved to play tennis. Playing tennis with Timothy helped our friendship grow and reminded me of home. Timothy also loved to drink tea, however, as you may have observed by my frantic search for coffee earlier, I’m obsessed with coffee. Timothy took me to a traditional tea shop to drink tea the real way, and when I confessed to him that I put honey in my green tea, he simply shook his head in lighthearted disapproval! My friendship with Timothy both opened my eyes to the new and reminded me of the familiar. Have you experienced any friendships like this?
A 2012 study on friendship among international students found that making friends with Americans does not actually happen very often. This is important because other research shows that friendship with the host country’s students significantly affects student satisfaction in the study abroad experience. Maybe you’ve experienced this too. A number of students have shared with me how making friends with American students is particularly difficult because of communication barriers, lack of common cultural references from childhood, and general lack of sustained interest in people from other countries. Have you faced these challenges while trying to make friends with American students on campus?
The wish for friendship develops rapidly, but friendship does not. – Aristotle
Several students I’ve known have shared some helpful things to keep in mind for making American friends in college. I’ll share just a few here.
- Be yourself. Americans value displaying their personality, opinions, and unique interests. Don’t try too hard to fit in but rather share who you and get to know who they are.
- Consistency and common interest. Americans ease into relationships slowly and usually because of something you have in common – a place, event, interest, or activity.
- In conversation, ask questions instead of waiting for them to offer information. Though this may be strange to you, it’s normal for conversations with Americans.
- Initiate with American students. Americans value people taking the lead, and if you introduce yourself as an international student getting to know the campus and culture, Americans will be more likely to respond with hospitality.
- Don’t give up! Though Americans are typically friendly, making deeper friendships comes with difficulty. Patience and persistence will help you.
So, is it worth it to pursue friendships with Americans? What would I have lost had I not pursued friendship with Timothy? I would have lost the opportunity to see the world through different eyes and to show a different way of looking at the world. We would have lost the opportunity to know ourselves better in knowing each other. Americans need to know you and see the world through your eyes. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to make friends with Americans and show them a bit of the world through you!