Tips For Making Friends With International Students

Last Updated on July 19, 2019 by Estrella

Tips for making friends with international students
Tips for making friends with international students. Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst.

Most of my articles have been on how international students, professionals, and immigrants can improve their English or adjust more easily to their new culture. This article is going to be different. If you are interested in learning about other cultures, keep reading. I would like to share some tips for making friends with international students.

Story of how this young man made friends with international students

I want to start by telling you a story about my friend Charlie. He joined DECA when he was in junior high school. DECA stands for Distributive Education Clubs of America. It is an association that encourages students to develop business and leadership skills through marketing competitions.

Charlie really has a brain for business, even before he was a teenager. Naturally he shines in these competitions and has won many times. Through these events, Charlie met many international students. He enjoys meeting people from all over the world. In fact, so much so, that by the time he was 19, he had already traveled to 6 continents. And he paid for his way by working at a supermarket when he’s not at school. Also, he finds the best travel deals.

His international friends invite him to stay with them

Because of the international friends he’s made, when he travels, he gets all kinds of invitations from friends to stay with them. That saves him a lot of money. Not only does he get to reunite with his friends, he get the insider view of a culture. Charlie is genuinely a citizen of the world.

On one of these trips, he stayed with a friend whose family owns a company in the field that Charlie is interested in. The father offered him a job when he graduated. And that’s how he got started in his career.

What Charlie teaches us about making friends with international students

So how did Charlie do it? How did he make so many friends from all over the world?

He enjoys listening and sharing stories. There is no agenda. He tries the food his friends eat, and hangs out with them. Charlie is easy going, very accommodating. He observes good manners, and is soft spoken. And his body posture reflects his personality. All these work in his favor. And he wasn’t even trying!

Observe manners of other cultures

Charlie sits with international students at lunch. He speaks more slowly with those who are less fluent in English. When they don’t understand him, he would explain himself in another way, but always respectful, and never make them feel that their English is not good enough. He has gentle manners. Once, he even offered to walk me to my car. And he was 14 at the time! What great manners.

If you don’t know what manners are considered respectful to other cultures, observe how individuals within that culture greet each other. Watch their body language. Get a sense of what conveys respect in their culture. Overtime, you will absorb a sense of how the community interacts with each other.

Do this when asking questions

It’s possible that you grew up in an educational system that encourages you to ask lots of questions. So, you may do the same when interacting with other cultures. It would be a good idea to say something like, “May I ask you a question about this?” There may be topics that are taboos. For example, asking about a deceased relative. Some topics could be considered impolite to bring up. If you are at all unsure, ask for permission to ask a question. Behave like a diplomat.

Be hospitable

Hospitality is a big deal in many cultures. For example, in some Asian cultures, if someone hands you a cup of tea with both hands, you would receive the cup with both hands to reciprocate your respect. Many cultures also offer you beverages and bring out snacks when you visit them, even if you are not hungry. When you invite your international friends to your home, imitate some of the hospitality you’ve received when you visit their home. This will help them feel welcomed in your home.

Have fun with this. Be a cultural anthropologist to observe and learn, and be a diplomat while you are at it. You’ll be building bridges, making friends from around the world, and your life will be all the richer for this experience.

If you find this article helpful, here is one on Fostering cultural understanding at work.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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