Foreign Students Struggling to Make Friends in US: Study

Posted July 18th, 2012 at 3:25 am (UTC-5)
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As the number of foreign students attending colleges and universities in the United States continues to grow, but a recent study suggests many are struggling to make friends with their American classmates.

The study in the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication suggests 38 percent of international students in the U.S. have no close American friends.

Elisabeth Gareis, a professor of communications at the City University of New York’s Baruch College who authored the study, says that means domestic students are missing out on a chance to widen their perspectives and foreign students are more likely to leave the U.S. feeling alienated and dissatisfied.

“International students who make friends with host nationals are overall more satisfied with their stay in the host country. They have better language skills, they have better academic performance. And, they have better attitudes towards the host country.”

The study found East Asian students reported having the most difficulty integrating, with 52 percent saying they had no close American friends at all. Gareis says this could be because of cultural and language barriers, as well as the way in which different cultures initiate friendships.

“Students from East Asia have cultures that are different on many levels from culture in the United States. But then there’s also language problems and also maybe some social skills, such as “small talk,” that are possibly not as important in their native countries, where it’s not as important to initiate friendships with “small talk.'”

Gareis says it is natural for international students to form friendships with classmates from their home countries, pointing out that this often helps students adjust to initial culture shock.

But she says in the end, students will probably not be happy with their educational experience if they do not make enough friends with host nationals. And she says that could even have foreign policy implications.

“When (foreign students in the U.S.) return home and often fill leadership positions, they can foster productive relations with their former host country and build international goodwill by doing that. And so, by them not making friends with host nationals, we’re missing out on one of the great promises of international education.”

Gareis notes that many colleges and universities already have short-term programs to encourage intermingling between foreign and domestic students, particularly at the beginning of the academic year.

But she believes that longer-term measures such as mixed residential facilities and more internationally focused student groups could also be effective at getting foreign and domestic students to interact.