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Overseas students in USA struggle to integrate

International students are struggling to make friends at US universities a new survey has found, with more than half saying the fault lay with their American classmates. The survey, conducted by Elisabeth Gareis, associate professor of communication studies at Baruch College/City University of New York, asked more than 450 international students in the south and northeast of the USA about their campus friendships.

"Nearly 40% of the survey respondents had no close American friends"

According to Gareis, “Nearly 40% of the survey respondents had no close American friends and would have liked more meaningful interaction with people born here”—a worry for the US as the world’s leading student destination.

The biggest group to express dissatisfaction came from China and other East Asian countries

“Through friendships, international students have stronger language skills, better academic performance, lower levels of stress and better overall adjustment to a new culture,” Gareis said.

She added that the “enormous potential” of intercultural friendships to promote goodwill beyond a student’s stay in the US was “often not realised”.

The biggest group to express dissatisfaction came from China and other East Asian countries (nearly 30%), many of whom had “no close American friends”. Language and shyness were cited by 46% of all students as causes, although a high 78% of East Asians called it an issue.

However, many also blamed Americans or US culture, the most common reasons being “superficiality” (cited by 32%) and not being open-minded or interested in other cultures (25%).

“More than half of students who were less than very satisfied with their American friendships felt that the main problem lay with the Americans,” Gareis said.

However, a Voice of America survey of 50 US and 50 international students suggests the problem can run both ways. About 40% of American students polled said they found it difficult to relate to overseas students, also citing language and cultural barriers. Each group said the other could do more to overcome such hurdles.

A majority said they would welcome more international students to their campus

“At my school, international students stick together,” said Laura at the University of Central Oklahoma, in an interview for the survey. “There’s always a group of two or more in my classes and they rarely try to talk to us, so we sort of just leave them alone.”

While both studies give cause for concern, the Voice of America survey found that a majority of US students (55%) said they would welcome more international students to their campus, with many saying diversity broadened cultural horizons. Only 10% said they wouldn’t want more international students at their school.

Gareis found integration to be better in some states than others. Overseas students attending college in the south reported being much more satisfied with their friendships than those in northeastern states. Those in smaller college towns were more satisfied than those in metropolitan areas, with New York having the lowest rates of any destination.

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