Tips for Getting to Know International Students

You’ll discover that it’s a joy to serve the Lord by serving international students, who come to us from many countries of the world!

One note of caution about a frequent area of difficulty: Because male/female relationships in other cultures are defined differently than our own culture’s, international students can easily misunderstand your intentions, and the international student who is perceived by his or her countrymen as violating their cultural norms can suffer rejection and loss of cultural status. So it is wise to seek out international friends of your own gender.

If your opportunities to participate in friendship are limited, remember that no matter how small your part may seem, you are an invaluable link in the chain of friendship and caring which our international students need and long for. God will be honored as we share our lives with the students and these students will long remember the friendship you offer. Here are some ideas to seek out international friendships:

  • First of all, make sure you are building a relationship out of love. Start out by thinking of them as your friend and not as a non-Christian.
  • Pray - ask God for guidance and openness. Pray for good conversations, pray for opportunities to share and identify with Christ. Since they are your friend, they will respect you and your beliefs.
  • You might encourage others from church to join you, from your small group or Sunday School class, or you may prefer to participate through a student ministry such as InterVarsity’s, with a team of others who have a passion for ministry among international students.
  • Plan to make contact with and befriend international students, perhaps with a special emphasis on a particular hall of residence or a particular nationality. Once you’ve begun a friendship with one person, the whole group of that culture will open to you.
  • Sometimes there’s something like a “Friendship Connection,” a pen-pal opportunity through the university or college giving contact with internationals even before they arrive.
  • Welcome international students as they arrive. Meet them at bus stops, the train station or airport. Several weeks before the beginning of the semester or term put up a poster in the airport or train station with your group’s telephone number, so international students know where to find help. Set up a “Welcome Table.”
  • Often in the first week of the semester the International Student Office holds an orientation for new international students. Usually they are happy to receive help from community people and students.
  • Run your own orientation, city tour, excursions, etc. The goal is to get to know international students and win their friendship. A reception-dinner with a musical program at the beginning of the semester could be a good way for group members to meet internationals.
  • A book table with Bibles or other literature in many languages could be set up in an area where students like to congregate.
  • Students of different nationalities often congregate in different areas of the university. Take initiative to go to them and begin conversation. These are also good places to give printed invitations to international events, but this shouldn’t take the place of personal conversation.
  • Sponsor outings, parties, international dinners, and an international folk festival.
  • Encourage members of your group to sit next to international students in lectures or in the cafeteria, offering to study or eat together.
  • Contact international student groups on campus, national churches (Chinese, Korean, etc.), the international student club or center. A list of international student organizations is usually available from the administration office or the International Student Office.
  • Often, international student groups hold national celebrations. Visit and take part in such various cultural programs to learn something about another culture and to get acquainted with international students. Ask questions and get to know the leaders of such groups. The school newspaper may have a calendar listing international student activities, or look at bulletin boards and kiosks.
  • Language schools, language examinations and special language instruction (for example, courses for exchange student programs), may provide opportunities for group members to meet internationals. International students may be required to take a language examination at the start of the semester. The language lab is also a good place to meet internationals.
  • English tutoring is a good way of giving practical, loving help, and can be the start of a friendship. After a time of tutoring one to one, or in a conversational English class, a Bible study discussion could be offered.
  • Share your joy in the Lord at times such as Christmas and Easter (or other special holidays such as Thanksgiving), as individuals and as a group, through personal invitations to your homes, special celebrations, parties, or camps.

Furthering Friendships with International Students

Perhaps you’re wondering what small ways you might be able to give of yourself and of the blessings God has given you once you are starting to develop friendships with international students. Find out about his/her hobbies, interests, major and occupation. The following are ideas of some ways to spend time with your friends and get to know them. These simple and practical suggestions may give you an idea of a few of the things you could do:

  • Pray for the international students you’ll meet - in your devotions, family prayer and at church.
  • Invite the students to your home for an informal picnic, barbecue, or just a snack or dessert. Have a cookout, if possible. Kitchen table conversations are often the best ones. Or you could eat a meal together either on campus or off-campus at a restaurant.
  • Show practical love and concern for the international students’ needs and concerns. By listening, seek to understand them and their culture. Linger to talk after class (for students). Have a question ready to initiate.
  • Be natural. Do things you normally do, and invite international students to join you in simple things like shopping, running errands, studying, or washing the car. Teach them how to use American gadgets, machines, telephones, etc.
  • Cook or bake together. This can be an exciting time of discovering national dishes from different cultures.
  • Share family photos. Take a photo of them and give it to them. Ask about their families and write to them, sharing what you’ve been doing together. Baby-sit for each other if you have young children. If your children are older, they might be interested in becoming pen-pals with the international student’s brothers or sisters.
  • Go to a play, art show, concert, or movie. Invite them to go on a hike or skiing with you and some of your friends. Have a cup of coffee together. Watch and discuss the news together - you’ll discover new perspectives on the world. Invite them to a “game night” with your friends. Go bowling together at the student union.
  • Offer to drive the student when they’re looking for an apartment, moving, or looking for a job. Drive together to places they might not easily be able to visit: state parks, shopping malls, special events. Help the international student practice driving and get a driver’s license. Offer to serve them in some way (laundry, mail, cleaning, fetching things).
  • Share hobbies and skills together. There may be things the international would love to try out, and you might learn some new skills as well. Fly a kite. Build a snowman. Work on your house or garden together. Ask them for help with something that they know how to do well.
  • Go to a football, basketball, or soccer game together. Play a sport together either one on one or in a group. Learn a sport from their country. Go running or swimming together.
  • Visit the international students in their dorm rooms or apartments. Just drop by their room for 5 minutes to say “Hi” or leave an encouraging note. Meet their friends and invite them to your home to meet your family or friends, or to church as appropriate.
  • Send them a note of appreciation, thanks or commendation. Buy a little gift (food, card, button, etc.).
  • Attend one of their national cultural events, picnics, or group meetings with them, learning about their culture and values. Attend an activity or club meeting that they are involved in. Share about American customs. Learn songs from each other’s countries. Help with English because often simple conversation is all that’s needed.
  • Celebrate holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or a birthday together.
  • Invite them to attend church with you. Attend a Bible study in a small group of other seekers together, such as during one of InterVarsity’s monthly international dinners.
  • Talk together about faith. Listen to their needs, concerns and questions. Having a Christian friend or family whose life they can observe and experience is a powerful witness. Give them Christian literature to read or listen to that will stimulate them to think about Christ.
  • Open your home (perhaps once a year) for programs offered by InterVarsity’s International Student Ministry. Provide some food for international dinners, picnics, or a hay ride, or consider donating financially. Take them home for the weekend or go home with them.
  • When the international students move back to their home countries, continue praying for them, and if appropriate, keep in touch and even visit!
  • In a word: Share your lives with each other!“As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8).
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