How do I make friends with people different than me?

Part of the excitement of studying in a different country is the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. You will find that you share many things in common with them but also you will see how unique each of you are. These friendships can enrich our lives but can also be challenging to the ways we do things and sometimes our personal values. So how do you go about making friends with people different from yourself?

First, you must consider what kinds of people you want to meet. Do you want to meet people in the community or professional people, or children? There are volunteer organizations you can join that will put you in contact with people in a different stage of life than yourself.

If you want to meet other students, you must go where students are. Perhaps you can attend a club that you are interested in. There you will meet people who have your same interests. For example, you might join a yoga class, the baking club, or an English club for international students. It is easy to make friends with people with similar interests. Or you might join an activity to experience something you have never done before. Perhaps there is a dance club that learns new dances from around the world or a video gaming club you want to learn about. Going to where friendly people are increases your chances of meeting people different from yourself.

If you become friends with Americans, you may get an invitation to spend a weekend with their family, if they are nearby. Some universities have organizations that match international students with local families. These are great opportunities to see American life from a different perspective.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when meeting people of different backgrounds.

  1. Smile. A friendly smile lets others know you are approachable.
  2. Enter in with “small talk,” ask what they are studying or comment on the weather. If that goes well, and you begin to know the other person you can ask a further question like, “What will you do over spring break?”
  3. Make yourself familiar with their country by looking at a map or reading a little about it. You can also ask them questions so they can share with you from their own perspective.
  4. Find others more interesting than yourself. Be a good listener.

You may have an opportunity to become roommates with students from different cultures and backgrounds. While this can be a great experience, it can also be difficult. Expectations need to be thoroughly talked about before agreeing to this arrangement. Things like how the bills will be paid, what should the room thermostat be set at, and what are people’s idea of clean in kitchens and bathrooms can cause a lot of conflicts unless agreed upon in the beginning.

I know a student who was eager to learn about other cultures. She was friendly and was not afraid to talk to people different from herself. Consequently, her friendship circle is wide. Now, since some of these friends have left the United States to return to their countries, she has friends all around the world. Not only does she understand other cultures and people better, she has grown intellectually and emotionally as well. Making the effort to get to know people different from yourself is worth the rewards it brings.

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