Making friends as an international student in a foreign land isn’t easy. The cultural differences are real, and the language barriers can span as wide as the distance you’ve just traveled. But no man is an island, and as much as we can reach our friends and family on Skype 24/7, or just stick with people who look and talk like us, meeting new people should be part of our living abroad agenda.
How do you feel when you see people walk in packs from one seminar to another, always looking terribly happy for being in each other’s company. And what about the times you sat alone at the student’s union while everyone else sat among friends? How about when you felt like a recluse and the most unapproachable person on the planet?
At this point, it’s probably a good idea to remind you that society is weird and you’re not the first university student to have all these feels.
What you can do instead, if signing up for all events your International Student’s Office has planned isn’t up your alley, is check out IFI.
Here’s an organisation that connects universities and Christian volunteers in the name of promoting “friendship and hospitality for international students, scholars and family members”. You’re likely to be in a location with a local IFI branch, which means, lucky you, you’ll get to join the activities they’ve usually got arranged for international students, like airport pickup, temporary housing with a local American volunteer, trips across America, group discussions of the Bible, English conversation partners, and more.
There’s a Christian element to this, so you may not be too keen if you practise an extreme form of Atheism. But for the rest, it wouldn’t hurt to check them out, especially when they host Lunar New Year parties like the one in the video below:
Alienation is a big problem among the international student community in the US, where Chinese students make up nearly a third of more than one million international students. According to the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, 40 percent of international students had no close friends among their domestic classmates, a rate that was especially high among East Asian students.
As a nonprofit, IFI doesn’t take any money and most activities are free, thanks to generous donors. While this may sound too good to be true, students can take some refuge in their claim that they adhere to the NAFSA: Association of International Educators Statement of Ethical Principles in its ministry to international students and scholars. A review on their Facebook page by a user who goes by “Mengmeng Huo” said: ”
“To all international students going to Columbus, don’t hesitate to ask help from IFI. I received not only help but also family-like friends through IFI. Stay in touch with this organization and you’ll have more sweet memories than you’ve expected.”