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Study shows international students find it hard to have American friends

International Club
Daniel Sopdie hangs out with his friends Liz McElligott (left), and Chelsea Brown in the Konditorei. — Emily Novotny

A survey published by the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication last June reports that few international students have close American friends.

Daniel Sopdie, president of Wartburg’s International Club, said the survey is quite accurate.

“It’s accurate, because from my experience here at Wartburg, I’ve found that even though you can have an American colleague or acquaintance, it’s very hard to find a friend,” said Sopdie, originally from Cameroon.

Jenna Rinehart, director of international student services, attributes the difficulty in forming friendships to deeply-rooted cultural norms.

“Human nature encourages us to associate with those who share a similar background,” Rinehart said. “This is especially true of new international students who are experiencing culture shock and gravitate toward other international students for comfort and support.”

The cultural differences were not as difficult for Sopdie, who attended an international school with other American students before attending Wartburg.

“There is a certain time that you feel like you’re connected, whether you’re international or American,” Sopdie said. “After a few years, you kind of know each other and the time of adaptation has passed.”

According to the Wartburg website the college’s international student enrollment is approximately 120 students from more than 50 different countries.

Milica Njezic, public relations coordinator for International Club, thinks that cross-cultural relationships just take time.

“I personally have a couple of really close American friends and I know for sure that other internationals at Wartburg have a lot of American friends too,” said Njezic, who is from Bosnia. “However, the number of international exceeds the number of American friends because of activities we do together and the common position we’re in.”

In fact, Njezic said that American students are often shyer than internationals.

“Class discussions or even sitting together in the Mensa would make a significant progress,” Njezic said. “We can learn from each other, exchange experiences and participate together in campus activities.”

Sopdie said he appreciates that Wartburg professors promote diversity by splitting students into groups.

He said he also believes foreign students find connection more easily with American students from large cities due to their familiarity with diversity.

“But with students from small towns, it’s almost like a culture shock to them too, so it’s not just one-sided,” Sopdie said.

Emily Hogan, agreed that the issue has two sides.

“From being in band, there are a few international students and they might be shy, but once you get them out of their shell, I’ve never experienced any of them that have had a problem talking,” Hogan said.

Rinehart said many of us fall  for stereotypes.

“By taking the time and effort to show genuine curiosity about someone’s unique personal history, students can move past the stereotypes and start to understand each other on an individual level,” Rinehart said.

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