International and American students can struggle to find common ground

Ilham, Staff writer

You might not think of school as a lonely place; not with so many people milling around and so many interesting things to do.

In a recent study, Elisabeth Gareis, an associate professor of communication studies at Baruch College, New York, found that many international students have few close American friends. Her survey of international students found that 27 percent said they had three or more close U.S. friends, 38 percent said they had no strong American friendships, 17 percent reported one such friend, while 18 percent said they had two. In addition, over all, 38 percent of international students surveyed were not satisfied with the number of American friends they had, and 27 percent said they were unhappy with the quality of those relationships.

The survey seems to suggest that American students and international students do not relate well to one another and, for the most part, go their separate ways socially. The main reason for this lack of strong friendship between many American students and international students appears to be cultural.

A sampling of international students at Madison College was asked about this issue.  Here’s what they had to say:

Ryoji Asano, a Liberal Arts student from Japan said, “American students love themselves, not others. That makes them more individualistic than the ones who come from other parts of the world.”

Jason Lee, a Liberal Arts student from Hong Kong said, “It’s mainly because we speak different languages and have different cultures.”

“It is personal preferences. Some American classmates are welcoming, others indifferent and others opposed,” added David Franciscus, a Visual Communications student from South Africa.

Anand Raj, an IT & Web Technology student from India added that he has two or more American classmates with whom he has a good relationship. “But I don’t think they are friends of mine. They are just being nice.”

“They feel shy to get to know international students,” added Justin Chan, a Liberal Arts student from Hong Kong.

Some American students at Madison College also shared what they really think of international students.

“International students are the same as anyone else. They just have an accent. I did not make an effort because I’m going to school for the degree. Not to socialize. Sometimes my classmates become my friends but my main goal is to graduate with a high GPA,” said Dee Saunders, a student in the Marketing Program.

Boi Casillas, a student in the Liberal Arts program, said, “I think it’s interesting and valuable to get to know folks I would otherwise have never met, whose life experiences I would never have had access to. It’s important for me to hear first-hand what it is like to live in or experience another place.”

She also added, “International students tend to have their guard down and are usually interested in opening up and talking about themselves. Many American students are not interested in being so vulnerable.”

Michael Westerfelt, a student in the Marketing Program, wants more international students at Madison College. He said, “it would be beneficial to the community here in Madison as well as the entire country if more people from foreign countries came to live and learn in the United States for the practical purpose of bringing the international community together and enhancing our ability to comprehend other cultures and their significance.”

Schools need to be more active in bringing international students and local students together. I observe a tendency among international students to stick together rather than reaching out to American students. Also, most American students, from what I have observed so far, have had very little experience of other cultures or countries. They just don’t understand what it’s like to live in a foreign culture so they seldom know how to relate to students from abroad.