Serving the International Student

International students are often confused and lonely

A bewildering array of adjustments confront the average international student:

  • New language
  • New culture,
  • New environment,
  • New system of education
  • New friends, and maybe new enemies
  • New ways to buy, sell, borrow and save.

Not surprisingly, many international students are homesick and lonely, sometimes to the point of despair.  Often to the point where they would appreciate a Christian friend reaching out to them.

The following quotation provides a rare look at the inner turmoil of an international student.  Though a Mainland Chinese visiting scholar at Northwestern University wrote it in 1988, others face the same struggle today.

“I knew my misery came not only from missing my family, but also from the frustration of being unable to learn (in English).  People in Beijing must be thinking I was enjoying myself here in the richest country in the world.  Yet I was suffering, not because people in America were rejecting me, but because they didn’t understand me and didn’t seem to care how I felt-and because I didn’t understand them, either.  After my three classes each day, I wandered around the campus like a ghost. I had nowhere to go.” [1]

Another lonely “ghost” recently appeared on a campus in the Mid-Atlantic.  Here’s how this international student described his American experience in an email,

“I am not doing so well here.  My professor cut my scholarship because he is out of funds.  I will have to make money for my unbelievably expensive tuition…And even worse, I have been feeling so lost these days.  I am thinking that nobody will notice even if I am killed one day.  I have tried so hard to be a good friend, but it seems nobody cares, nobody wants to be a close friend of mine.”

There are many ways to assist the international students studying at a university near you.

{pagebreak}Here are the top five ways to serve:

1.      Help – International students need help in many areas that we, as Americans, can provide with a reasonable degree of effort. Airport pick up, temporary housing, transportation to grocery–especially ethnic markets, furniture, and help moving are the most obvious examples.

2.      English – Internationals desire to practice their spoken English.  Although most have good basic English skills, many struggle with their accents or their understanding of idioms and slang.  There are several approaches that can help. One-to-one language partnering and short classes help students learn idioms/slang/cultural meaning of words.  Coffee hours often sponsored by the university can help students interact with Americans and with each other-you can attend or help organize.

3.      Friendship – If not pressed by their academic responsibilities, internationals love to hang out with friends like you for hour upon hour. Another key to friendship with internationals is helping in time of need.  Needs will arise with international students and they expect that if you are their friend, you will help them. Your friendship should not be only one-to-one.  Just as you would with a fellow American, introduce your international friend to other people you enjoy.  Better yet, introduce your international friend to a group of others.

4.      Cultural understanding & recreation – Arrange for your friend to visit an American home-yours or that of other friends. Involve your friend in celebrations of American holidays…and make yourself available to help celebrate your friend’s holidays.  Take your friend to an American church. Attend sporting events together.  These events will meet many needs they have and will be a lot of fun as well.

5.      Travel – Internationals want to see America, especially the sights that are internationally known— Niagara Falls, Grand Canyon, Empire State Building, Times Square, White House, U.S. Capitol, Disneyland, Disneyworld. They also want to see local points of interest–state capitol, scenic lookouts, caverns, historic buildings or monuments.

[1] Liu, Zongren, Two Years in the Melting Pot, 1988, China Books & Periodicals, Inc., p. 45