A lot of college advice focuses on practical, tangible topics, such as earning good grades, making money last, and even doing laundry. But college represents something else as well: an opportunity to forge new friendships.
In fact, some brave students attend a college where they know no one, and will be building a new social life completely from scratch. Here's what students can do, whether they're from the United States or are coming from abroad.
Though your student will be independent in college in a way that he or she hasn't been before, as a parent, you can still look for ways to influence their choices or advise them if trouble arises. Here are a couple of pieces of advice to keep in your back pocket for when that happens.
1. Recommend involvement: When it comes to making friends, there is simply no substitute for coming together with other students around a common activity or interest. In this kind of setting, friendships tend to happen more organically, without feeling forced. Some of Lindsey's best friends in college continue to be her fellow Student Ambassadors, an organization she joined very early in her freshman year.
And even if socializing comes naturally to your child, an organized club or organization will start his or her résumé off well and will ensure that at least some of the social time is of the healthy, responsible variety.
[Read more about how and why to get involved in college.]
2. Encourage balance: College is a time of all new experiences, including the opportunity to manage time and priorities. Balancing it all can be challenging, but it's important.
If your child is a studious wallflower, you may need to encourage him or her to leave the library and join in socially. If, on the other hand, you've raised an offspring who is the life of the party, a little moderation in the other direction is advisable.
I've been lucky in college to make many friends with the same interests as me, mostly by joining clubs and organizations, as my mom suggested above. It was still a struggle, but I eventually found my place at school.
For international students, the challenge of making friends can be even greater than it is for American students, especially for students from East Asian countries, according to "Intercultural Friendship: Effects of Home and Host Region," from the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication. Language and culture barriers sometimes keep international students from having the relationships with American students that they imagine when coming to the United States.
My mom listed some good tips for American students above. I'd like to offer some resources for international students to help them bridge the gap between cultures.
1. Seek out multicultural resources: At the University of Kansas, our Office of Multicultural Affairs is a great resource for international students. They offer dozens of clubs, events, seminars, and social events for all students, making their office a great way for international students to connect with their peers.
[Learn about college resources for international students.]
Find out if your school has a similar office. Groups specifically for international students are helpful, too, but an overall multicultural organization allows international students to meet students of other nationalities as well.
2. Connect with other students in class: International students may have trouble coming up with common interests with which they can connect to American students, but a major or course of study is a ready-made way to relate.
Introduce yourself to American students in your classes, and offer to study or work on a project together. If there are upperclassmen in class, ask them to mentor you, or see if they have any advice to succeed within that major. This can be as simple as an E-mail or Facebook message but can go a long way.
[See what may surprise international students at U.S. colleges.]
3. Spend time with both international and American friends: When you're in a new place for the first time, it can be tempting to cling to people who are similar to you. It's great to find a group of international friends as a safety net early on, but also do your best to limit the time spent in groups of all international students.
Living in a non-international residence hall, joining campus clubs and organizations, or just making an effort to meet and spend time with people who are outside your comfort zone are all great ways to make friends with American classmates.