As an international student, you will face obstacles that include bridging initial culture gaps, adopting the American way of life and overcoming homesickness. Below are some tips to build a network of friends and develop a full social life.
1. Make friends with a wide variety of people: International students tend to stick together, as they usually meet each other first through the international student orientation at the school and form a strong bond based on being new to the U.S. This is fantastic, but you should branch out and make friends with American students as well.
American students will teach you a lot about the culture and introduce you to their other friends. You may even be invited to an American Thanksgiving or Christmas celebration. Also, your English will improve significantly!
[Avoid the mistakes new international students make.]
2. Don't be embarrassed about being different: When I was a child in Vietnam, my mom used to take me to my grandparents' village. Every morning, my grandparents would take me and their water buffalo to their mulberry fields. While the buffalo ploughed the fields, I sat on his back, talking and singing to him. It is one of my fondest memories.
During my first year of college, I never told anyone that story because I thought they would laugh at me and my unusual experience. When I finally shared the story, my friends all laughed in disbelief and told me it was one of the coolest things they had ever heard. To this day, five years after graduation, some of them still refer to me as "the water buffalo girl."
Being different and growing up in a different part of the world is what makes you unique. Don't be afraid to talk about yourself and your culture. Your friends will love you for it.
[Explore the universities with the most international students.]
3. Speak slowly, and ask people to repeat: As an international student, at first I was embarrassed about English not being my first language. Therefore, I spoke quickly, and never asked questions when I didn't understand something.
This greatly hindered my communication with others. Speak slowly, be clear in your pronunciations and always ask questions if something doesn't make sense. People appreciate that and will be more willing to talk to you.
4. Don't stay in too close contact with home: This might seem counterintuitive, but constantly contacting people from home will actually make your homesickness worse. The sooner you integrate into the American college experience, the sooner your homesickness will pass.
Don't make frequent, long calls home or spend your free time writing letters. Make friends, play sports, read books and enjoy yourself. Homesickness will go away.
5. Pursue your interests: The quickest way for people to bond is through activities. Embrace what you enjoy doing.
Most colleges have plenty of clubs and organizations that always welcome new members or volunteers. Keep your eye out for posters and flyers around campus, and ask your friends about their extracurricular activities. At least one of those is bound to interest you.
[Learn how colleges foster international student engagement.]
If you really can't find anything that you want to do, break out of your comfort zone and just try something new!
A few of my Zimbabwean friends met many people by being on the college soccer team. A Japanese friend met her best friend through an Origami workshop. And I actually performed in a hula dance, even though I had no idea what I was doing and ended up looking like a lost chicken on stage. I had a lot of fun though!
Do what you love, and the friends will come.
Tra Ho, from Vietnam, received full financial aid to attend Colorado College in 2004. She graduated magna cum laude in 2008 with a degree in mathematics and is currently working as an actuary for a consulting company in Washington, D.C.