Domestic and international UNL students break out of cultural bubbles

By Bailey Schulz, NewsNetNebraska

Shen Chua’s transition to life in the United States wasn’t an easy one.

The 22-year-old criminal justice and political science major was born and raised in Malaysia and arrived at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the fall semester of 2015 without knowing anyone else in the city.

“I was pretty much on my own,” he said. “When I was a freshman here, it was hard for me to make American friends.… I didn’t know the culture of America.”

Chua is far from the only international student who has faced difficulties making domestic friends. A 2012 study from the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication found that nearly 40 percent of international students reported having no close American friends.

About half of the surveyed students said the lack of domestic friends could be attributed to an internal factor, such as language barriers or shyness. As for external factors, respondents attributed Americans’ superficiality and a lack of interest in other cultures.

Barriers to friendships

Teresa Lostroh, the international orientation coordinator for UNL’s New Student Enrollment, said one of international students’ biggest concerns when coming to America is making friends — a worry that’s not completely unwarranted.

“Academic expectations are different, the individualistic nature of American culture is different, the way we socialize, the way we greet each other,” she said. “Making friends with Americans can be difficult.”

Lostroh said a majority of international students don’t have problems making friends, but there are some differences found among the two groups, such as language and culture. Because of this, some international students find it easier to make friends with students from the same country.

Click to view interactive infographic webpage.

Taking the first step

But international students aren’t the only ones guilty of sticking to those similar to themselves.

“It’s true for international and domestic students alike … all of us like to live in our bubbles,” Lostroh said. “But research shows that we improve and we get better as a result of being around people who are different from us.”

Tanisha Talib, a junior international student from India, said it’s hard for both international students and domestic students to take that first step in making friends with each other. She said it’s easier for her to make friends with other international students, but it’s important to have a mix of foreign and American friends.

“I have to make that effort (with domestic students),” she said.”Both sides tend to become a group.”

UNL taking action

UNL is taking action to provide opportunities for friendships between domestic and international students, according to Charlie Foster, the Interim Director of the Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services and Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center. The university offers a variety of events that allow domestic and international students to mingle, including weekly coffee talks that allow international students to practice their English with domestic students.

Foster said the university hopes building relations among separate cultures will make UNL students “global citizens.”

“We don’t learn unless we see things that are different,” Foster said.

Hadi Alsafwani, a junior international student from Saudi Arabia, has a mixture of international and domestic friends. He said he believes friendships between the two groups can help students gain new perspectives and be more understanding of different cultures.

“The world is really big and it’s very different from one city to another,” he said. “Learning about other cultures makes you understand people better…. If you don’t have that culture or background, your mind closes.”

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