Rahela spent her junior and senior years of high school studying in Vermont, and is now starting at an American college. She shared this story about her first year in the U.S., which held more than its fair share of disappointments.
The United States is a multi-cultural country that is famous as a melting pot. This country has many international students who came from different countries around the world. Some international students can’t get close to American students easily, and have a difficult time making American friends.
I was one of those students.
I spent my junior and senior years of high school in the U.S. and had a hard time finding an American friend. I think one of the main reasons was my language. This problem is common in the first year of being international student in a foreign country.
It was hard to share my feelings and experiences with other students. Sometimes I was afraid I would use improper or unrelated words in my conversation that would embarrass me.
I remember one day I went to a doctor for an examination. The doctor said, “Ok! Now you’re here.” I thought that she said, “Ok! Now your hair,” and I immediately took off my head scarf. The doctor looked at me strangely and smiled. She realized that I misunderstood and said “No! No I mean you are in our building, in the hospital now. You are here.” I was a little bit embarrassed, but was pleased that she behaved kindly and tried to understand me.
Language is like an ocean – the learners need to swim in it in order to learn. I really wanted to improve my language by finding an American friend.
My religion was another thing that limited my relationships with students. As a Muslim female, I wear a scarf and have certain beliefs, and this created differences with my classmates. I could not be friendly with males and could not shake their hands.
[More about being Muslim in the U.S.]
Friendship has a different definition in American culture comparing to Afghan culture. People in the U.S. usually feel more comfortable making relationships with the opposite sex. In my school students were friendly with their teachers; they shake hands and do high fives, which makes a closer relationship.
Also the girls in my class did not speak a lot with me, which I felt was partly because of the way I dress.
I had a stressful and hard time in my first year of being in the U.S. I felt lonely because I could not make a friendship, but I was fortunate my teachers played their role as a good friend in my life. It is not impossible to make an American friend, but it is difficult. International students could get close with other international students easier than with Americans. They felt that they could make a better connection with each other.
On the other hand, American students are mostly helpful when you ask them for something, especially in studying. There are lots of American students who are interested to make a relationship with international students and learn a different culture, religion or even language.
In my second year I found several friends and I felt more comfortable to talk and get along with them.
I think making a close friendship with American needs a trick, and that trick is to get involved in various communities, be sociable, and share our experience and feelings. That allows us to grow and make a sound relationship.