If you have developed strong friendships within your own culture, you have at least half of the skills and experience needed to befriend internationals. However, differences in culture, expectations, and communication (even if everyone speaks English) can create barriers to good friendships with internationals. Identifying and understanding those issues and putting in the extra effort to ensure your communications are clear can help you navigate the additional challenges that come with cross-cultural friendships.
Friendships with Internationals
Internationals arrive in the US wanting to make friends, including with Americans. Their first two weeks in the country are the most critical, as they have the most needs and are most open to meeting new friends. They will always remember who picks them up at the airport and anyone else who helps them meet critical needs during their first days in the US. A large number arrive in August, but significant numbers also come in January, earlier in the summer, and before each school term starts. Visiting scholars may arrive anytime. Large universities often have orientation programs for them in August, but those arriving at other times may not get much guidance.
Where can you meet internationals? Social events that are part of a university orientation are good places. So are international clubs and student organizations. Large numbers (especially those newest to the US) typically live in unversity graduate student housing. Internationals may gather at soccer and cricket fields, certain restaurants and ethnic groceries near campus, or at English conversation corners or events. Get to know internationals and start reciprocal relationships (remember, we minister with and not just to – they have things to offer you!). Do not evangelize at university events or with new friends. Trust is first needed before internationals will seriously consider your opinions and beliefs, and contact evangelism gives the impression you’re there for a project, not to build relationships. This could damage your relations with both the students and the university.
Get to know your friends and their cultures by asking good questions. That includes inquiring about often unspoken expectations and cultural norms. What does being "friends" or "classmates" or "best friends" look like to them? The meaning to those words and others may be very different than most Americans expect.
Don't jump to assign negative motivations based on their behavior. Ask about it. Someone showing up 45 minutes late for a meeting usually is not a sign of disrespect; they were probably showing respect for the people they were talking with beforehand, putting people ahead of time, which is normal in many cultures. While there are some general Western vs Eastern cultural differences to be aware of, each person is unique. An Indian who grew up in Dubai and went to school in England may be a mix of several cultures, for example.
Sharing Jesus in Friendship
You see and hear countless ads for products and services every week. Do you believe that all of the companies behind those ads truly have your best interests in mind? Probably not. Few, if any, understand who you are and what you really need. Making an eloquent, passionate appeal to someone to follow Jesus will also likely fall on deaf ears, unless that person trusts you and believes you are looking out for them. Trust takes time to build, but it can be lost in an instant. True friendship should be your goal with your international friend. If they think your friendship is just a means to evangelize (or do something else), your friendship and your evangelism (or other goals) will fail.
Much of friendship is about sharing. Sharing time together eating, studying, and exercising; sharing interests in movies, music, and art; sharing opinions, desires, priorities, and beliefs. So, sharing your prayers (and their answers), what you are learning in Bible studies and church, and how you are experiencing your personal relationship with Jesus should be natural parts of a close friendship. Conversations and discussions will grow from there if and when those topics are of interest to your international friend.
Bible Studies for Seekers
Most Bible study guides for Americans assume participants have some familiarity with the Bible and its passages, as they have been part of American culture for hundreds of years. Many internationals grow up in cultures where the Bible was completely unknown, or they were told to avoid the Bible because it is "corrupt" or otherwise has a negative influence on their society. Thus, Bible studies for internationals should generally not assume any prior biblical knowledge and may need to address misconceptions. As true Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus, many Bible studies for international students focus on the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.