Making Friends

How can I make friends?

As a student, you will become acquainted with other students who live in your dormitory or attend the same classes. Clubs, religious groups, or international student organizations are also good ways to meet people.

If you see an American on campus who looks friendly, don't be afraid to start a conversation. Don't be discouraged by one bad experience with an American; some Americans will be more open to friendships with internationals than others. Be careful, however, about approaching a member of the opposite sex; he or she may misunderstand your intentions.

What should I do when I am introduced to someone?

"It's nice to meet you" is a common greeting in the United States. Men generally shake hands upon meeting; women rarely do. When a man meets a woman, he usually waits for her to reach out her hand first if she desires to shake hands.

How do Americans greet each other?

Often when Americans meet on the street, they will wave or say "Hi." Other times they may ask, "How are you?," but this is not usually a serious request for information. You can generally give a short answer such as "great," "good," "okay," or "fine" unless the person is a close friend and really wants to know how you are feeling.

How do I make conversation?

With some people, you will have no problem making conversation; they will enjoy asking you many questions about life in your country. Others will seem shy or awkward around you as an international. If you are having difficulty making conversation, ask the other person questions about his or her studies or family, or about American life in general. The person with whom you are talking will probably be happy to explain something you don't understand about classes or American social customs or traditions.

It is usually not proper to ask an adult his or her age, how much money he or she earns, how much he or she paid for an item, or to ask a newly married woman if she is pregnant yet.

How can I improve my English?

"Conversation partner programs" can match you with an American friend to help you practice and improve your English. Such programs may be available through your school, ISI, or local churches.

Ask your conversation partner or friends to correct you when you use incorrect English or an improper word. If someone uses an unfamiliar word or phrase, don't be afraid to ask the person to explain what he or she meant. You might want to make a list of common American words and phrases and their meanings.

You may discover an interesting and sometimes frustrating speech habit of Americans during informal situations. Americans will often use strange words and phrases that mean something entirely different than the traditional meanings of the words. Such words or phrases are called "slang" or "idioms." For example, "pulling my leg" means telling a joke or teasing (making fun of someone) in a way that sounds like the truth. "Raining cats and dogs" means that it is raining very hard. To "stick your foot in your mouth" means to say something incorrect or embarrassing. Not all Americans use the same slang or idioms. Such terms often differ from one region of the country to another.

What if I can't understand something someone has said?

Simply ask the person to repeat the sentence more slowly. If you still can't understand, you might ask the person to spell it or write it down.

How should a man and woman treat each other in the United States?

Although men's and women's roles are changing, it is common in formal situations for a man to open the door for a woman or help her with a coat, and a man may pay for a woman's meal or ticket on a date.

Most American men and women have learned to treat each other as equals, each deserving the same amount of respect and fair treatment in any situation.

How do I make friends of the opposite sex?

What you see on television or in the movies is not normal for American relationships between men and women. Many American students prefer group activities rather than "one-on-one" dating. Don't feel that you have to date to make
friends of the opposite sex. You may enjoy activities with a group of male and female friends more than going out with a single person of the opposite sex, especially if dating is not the custom in your country.

Americans value honesty, and they often say exactly what they think, even if it seems rude. Don't be afraid of insulting your friends by telling them what you think or feel about something. For example, most Americans would prefer that you say, "I'm sorry, but I can't come visit you tonight because I have to study," rather than say that you will come and then not visit.

Also, Americans will often have many acquaintances (people they have met and know by name) but few close friends. While an American may seem friendly when you first meet, he or she may not be interested in a deeper relationship. Try to be sensitive to others' expectations, and don't be discouraged if your friendships don't seem to develop as you would like. In most cases, you will find at least one American interested in a deeper friendship.

If you would like to have a friendship with an American, you can contact ISI. As mentioned before, ISI is a campus friendship organization that helps and serves international students studying here in the United States.

Through ISI's Friendship Partner program, international students, spouses, and families are matched with American families. American Friendship Partners invite their international friends and families to meals or special events. Their home may become "a home away from home" for an international student. A Friendship Partner would be glad to answer your questions about the United States, help you find a place to live, show you around the community, and even help you with conversational English.

Also, if you are interested, ISI has weekly Bible studies and small group activities to help you learn about God's love for you. With the help of local churches and volunteers, ISI can help you learn about the Bible and how you can know Jesus Christ.

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