Dear College Students of 2K16
Befriend your international classmates
It was a rainy day last week when I rushed into the shelter of our crowded Student Union. With a thirty minute gap for lunch and an exam following thereafter I had just come for a quick bite and a chance to dry off. Or so I thought.
Always self-conscious of my hair’s response to a cool drizzle, I quickly scanned the room for an empty spot. #selfconscious
I found a sophomore from Japan sitting alone sipping a warm beverage–probably a creamy late because our school coffee is not the greatest. She smiled as I approached her so I took the liberty of setting down my bag and engaging in small talk. When I learned she was not meeting anyone or leaving anytime soon, I left to order my food and returned to share some fries and carrots with her.
Food has a way of breaking the awkwardness of intentional conversation. #foodie
I asked how she was doing, inquired about her sister, who is studying abroad, and sliced my grilled chicken into bite-sized pieces. As she responded I took notice of the excitement in her face that we were talking. After sometime when there was a lull in the conversation and I found more interest in finishing my lemonade than engaging in conversation she turned from her computer and said,
“Julia, how do you think international students can make friends with Americans?”
I hesitated before answering because I needed to asses her inquiry. She was a bright student from Japan with a solid group of friends, a Major she enjoyed, and a comfortable English speaking ability. She had even previously said, “Do you notice that my English is improving a lot?” Then why was she asking me something she could most definitely figure out on her own?
The answer, I already knew for I have many international friends and most of them experience the same thing when it comes to befriending American students.
I told her it was important to first understand American culture and how it differs from her own. And after we’d talked some more she asked yet another difficult question.
“Julia, how did you make friends with international students in your dormitory?”
This question was difficult because as a senior I don’t really spend enough time with the girls I live with. #guilty
But then again I do spend every waking moment applying for jobs and submitting articles.
I stared blankly for a while reaching back into the pockets of my memory to recall my sophomore year, the leadership positions I held on campus, the influence I had simply by being readily available to anyone no matter their age, race, national orientation, or gender.
So I told her about being a minority and how minorities notice one another and are sometimes drawn to each other. As I talked I began to realize that my skin color determines who I befriend and who will seek me out, before I do.
What I observed in talking with this girl from Japan is something I feel a lot of international students struggled with on University campuses in the United States. While in some cultures, newfound friends are friends for life, in American culture life-long friendships develop over a lifetime, and acquaintances are more commonly found in the moment.
So, my challenge is to get to know your international classmates not only because they are a long ways away from home but also because their country allowed them to come and our country allowed them to be received in hopes to better understand each other and bring peace.
To overcome cultural tensions and misunderstandings, is it not crucial to perceive the significance of differences? For is it not the differences that cause two cultures, societies or nations to collide?