“Friends are those rare people who ask how we are and then wait to hear the answer” (Ed Cunningham). In our fast-paced North American culture, we struggle to invest in relationships. Our schedule doesn’t allow us to slow down and really see those around us, let alone discover their needs and care for them. True friendship requires time, sacrifice, and intentionality – it does not happen on its own!
For international students, finding American friends can be quite difficult. There are cultural and language barriers, of course, and then there’s the time factor. Some are here for a short amount of time and are also busy themselves studying in a language that is not their heart language. One international student remarked that in his experience, many Americans will greet him and ask how he is doing in passing, but very few actually stop to hear his answer. Many international students also never get invited to an American home during their time in the U.S. – this is a clear indicator that a large percentage of international students return home without ever making a true American friend.
The Bible emphasizes the importance of relationships and how to live in community with others. We are to show love to people and treat them the way we would like to be treated. Jesus gave us this example in how He lived His life. He invested in deep relationships with His disciples and sacrificed Himself on the cross for every single human. God knows that we can’t do life alone – we need Him, and we need each other. The same is true for international students – they have left their families and communities back home and have great hopes of making lasting friendships here.
“God knows that we can’t do life alone – we need Him, and we need each other. The same is true for international students…”
So how can we follow Jesus’ example of intentional relationships and befriend international students while they are studying on our campuses? A great place to start is by becoming aware of the internationals on your campus. Where do they live? Where do they hang out? What countries are they coming from? By simply doing a few minutes of research, you can quickly come up with practical ideas of where and how you can meet them. Instead of expecting them to show up to your activities, go where they are and introduce yourself. They are excited to meet you!
Once you do meet them, another step is to simply be curious about the lives of international students! Be a good question-asker and get to know things about their families, their cultures, what kinds of foods they enjoy, why they’re studying, what they’re studying, what the process to get to the U.S. was like, etc. In turn, be willing to open up about yourself and your interests. You probably have more in common with international students than you might expect! Find something you both enjoy, even something as simple as cooking or playing soccer, and make a plan to do that together. Friendship goes both ways, but as the host culture, be hospitable and take the initiative to be the one inviting and planning.
In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus commands that we are to make disciples “as we are going.” Let’s make international students part of the disciples we intentionally make “as we are going” about our lives on campus, recognizing that the act of befriending them can lead to impacting nations for Christ!