5 Steps: Building relationships with foreign exchange students


Taylor Foxx
Staff Writer

Living in the United States does not guarantee that you know American people.
A study done by the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication concluded that 40 percent of foreign exchange students in the U.S. report having “no close American friends, and say they wish they have more meaningful interaction with those born in the United States.”

The challenge of building relationships between different cultures is a struggle for many Troy students whether they are from America or another place entirely.

“It is the cultural differences,” said Duong Tran, a sophomore art major from Hanoi, Vietnam. “It was hard to communicate with people. I didn’t know how to start a conversation.”

Tran agreed that most foreign exchange students want American friends but said that it is much harder to maintain a friendship because of cultural disconnects.

However, these relationships are not only possible but can become rewarding experiences for both parties. So, here are five simple ways to begin connecting with the foreign exchange students on Troy’s campus.

1- Engage

It is always hard to meet new people. Take that first step and introduce yourself. Don’t wait for them to do it. Realize that many foreign exchange students are unfamiliar with casual American greetings that we so often take for granted.

2- Listen to Understand

Once a conversation is started, listening is absolutely vital. Give the student your full attention, and ask him or her about topics you genuinely care about. Then give them your full attention. Don’t pretend.

It may not be easy for the student to share his or her thoughts, but realize that this person is doing it in a second language. Be patient with them.
Most of all, strive to make your conversations a two-way avenue. Jo Ann Smith, the Administrative Assistant for the Dean of Student Services, stressed this point.

“Many times our international students have a hard time understanding us,” Smith said, “and simple conversation is a good way to relate to our international students.”

3- Follow up

It is easy to meet an international student once and then move on. A friendship with someone from Kenya is not any different from the relationship you have with someone from Georgia. They require time, energy and effort. The only way you can build a friendship is by continuing to pursue it. Follow up, and do it promptly.

4- Invite

The quickest way to build a relationship is to enjoy life together. Whether you are inviting them to hang out with your friends, meet your family or just to eat lunch let them be a part of your daily life experiences.

Amber Voss, a junior political science major from Wetumpka, had the opportunity to build relationships with a foreign exchange student during her freshman year.

“We would go to lunch every day, and she would introduce me to all her friends,” Voss said. “One day, I was eating lunch with her, and I realized that I was surrounded by students from all different countries. To this day, I still keep in touch with her and her best friend.”

5- Get Involved

Outside of the classroom and dorms, there are lots of opportunities to build relationships provided by Troy University. Check out ISCO (International Student Cultural Organization). This group meets weekly on Thursday nights at 7 p.m. in the Trojan Center Room 119. The meeting is a great way to meet students from around the world.

If you are looking for something more personal, check out the Conversation Partners program. This program provides an opportunity to meet weekly with a few students and get to know each other at your convenience. For more information, email Robert Klein at rwklein@troy.edu.

Gerald Baxter, a senior broadcast journalism major from Dothan, gives his advice on the topic.

“Be the person to make the first step in building a relationship,” Baxter said.

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