5 Tips for Befriending an International Student

Your years at college are a time of new beginnings and experiences, some of them exciting and some a little scary. Imagine being a brand-new college student in a different country using a different language and without your support system of family and friends nearby. International students are a brave and interesting group, and your life will be enriched by their friendship.

However, it’s not always easy to befriend an international student! They tend to hang out with groups of students from their own country, perhaps speaking their heart language. Obviously, this is their comfort zone. Here are some tips to help break you out of yours!


Don’t be intimidated!

Trust me, international students long to form relationships with American students, but they, themselves, are worried about language ability, cultural misunderstandings, and being the first one to make a move. Go ahead and introduce yourself. Ask questions and listen to the answers. You’ll be amazed at the interesting things you learn.

Don’t do all the talking!

Americans don’t like silence; we tend to fill up any conversational pause with more words. Please remember that your new international friend may be working hard to speak English and may need just a moment to organize sentences using an unfamiliar grammatical structure. Allow reflective time, and you’ll be rewarded with a relaxing conversation that doesn’t require anything but interest and goodwill.

Offer a ride!

International students often come from metropolitan areas offering convenient and cheap public transportation at all hours of day and night. American cities and especially smaller towns are sadly lacking in this area, so offer a ride!  You don’t have to be going anywhere exciting; a ride to the supermarket is a great help to someone who would otherwise have to walk. You’re probably going shopping anyway, so this is easy on you and reinforces the truth that Americans are friendly and helpful. If you’re really lucky, there may be an international supermarket nearby, and there is nothing more fun than shopping in an international market with someone who can read the labels and recommend favorite products! This shopping trip might lead to an evening of cooking together! You can teach an American favorite, and your new friends can teach a favorite from their country. Speaking of eating together…

Eat with international students in the campus dining hall.

Dining halls can be intimidating when wondering where you’re going to sit and with whom. If you see an international student, ask if he or she would like to sit with you and your friends. It’s even easier if you can say, “Hey, I know you from Economics class! Come and sit with us.” Introduce your American friends and see where the conversation goes. One thing is for sure: in a campus dining hall, you can always talk about the food!

Offer to study with them.

This tip is perhaps not as fun, but will be very appreciated by international students who are trying to adjust to an educational system in which professors may expect different outcomes from what they are used to in the home country. Help them understand what formats test questions may take, possible essay prompts, and the importance of understanding an entire concept rather than just memorizing rote facts. Bonus for you:  helping someone study is guaranteed to improve your own test performance!


Give one or two of these tips a try today! You’ll be amazed at how international friendships will enrich life right here in the United States.

UMHB is home to more than 3,900 students representing 31 different countries. If you’re looking for a college where global engagement is a priority both inside the classroom and out, UMHB may be a great fit for you! We invite you to visit our website for more info, or stop by for a visit!
Dr. Elizabeth Tanaka

Dr. Elizabeth Tanaka

Elizabeth Tanaka is the director of International Student Services at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. She lived in Japan for 5 years, and brought home a husband as a souvenir. She has travelled to 30 countries in the world and made friends in all of them!
Dr. Elizabeth Tanaka

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Dr. Elizabeth Tanaka

About Dr. Elizabeth Tanaka

Elizabeth Tanaka is the director of International Student Services at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. She lived in Japan for 5 years, and brought home a husband as a souvenir. She has travelled to 30 countries in the world and made friends in all of them!