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Sunday, 15 July 2007


Surely there is no need for us to underline the importance of making friends while living in a foreign country. Friends may help make the pressures osf academic life and everyday life bearable, and in the long run friends made among locals or among the international sphere makes the whole study abroad experience more interesting . And you never know: The best of friends can be made on foreign soil.

You’re probably thinking, “This chapter is a waste of time. Making friends is as basic as learning to breathe.” In our experience, it is and it isn’t. Friendships, here, there or anywhere, are basically still founded on similar interests, common experiences, but perhaps due to the cultural differences, it might prove a bit more tricky. Below are some tips for making friends, and then further on, tips on keeping connected with friends back home.

1. Take comfort, it’s a level playing field

When the first semester rolls in, everyone in your class will find themselves on the same level, friendship-wise. “It’s not like moving from high school to college in the Philippines where students know some of the others,” says Jay Gatmaitan, one of the two Filipinos in his class at Erasmus University in the Netherlands. This is especially true in graduate school, where absolutely no one knows a single person. “The locals don’t even know anybody,” says Lia Uy-Tioco who took a Master’s Degree from both NYU and the New School. “The students come from different parts of the country and don’t know anybody in school either.” It’s an even playing field out there, and we hope that by knowing this it’ll be easier for you to approach a classmate, extend a hand and introduce yourself.

2. Talk to your classmates, ask questions

Be interested and curious about the other people in your class. There is a load of things to talk about among classmates: cultural differences, factors that led you to your host country and school, your previous job, your families, the local weather compared to what you’re used to back home, even the political situation in your classmates’ countries of origin, or even, yours. “Become genuinely interested in other people” is Dale Carnegie’s first rule in making people like you. Showing interest in other people produces instant affinity.

If you do find yourself truly curious about a classmate’s culture and history but too self-conscious about your lack of knowledge regarding both current world event and world history, you can easily preface your question with “I’m sorry I am not familiar with the history of your country…” People are not as sensitive as you think, and no matter what culture they’re from, people like to talk about themselves and express their opinions. Likewise, people may not be familiar with the Philippines; so be ready with your own opinions about what’s going on, brush up on your country’s history, and learn to mask the shock when some people ask if the Philippines is an island of Indonesia.

Wise Words: Don’t limit yourself to people from Manila, even if this it the easy thing to do. Just be friendly and make small talk. It’s hard at first but there are nice people from all over. –Reine Protacio, Harvard University, Massachusetts

Wise Words: My closest friends are Filipino. They helped me make my adjustment process so enjoyable and supported me so that I didn’t feel too homesick. Meeting one Filipino (there are not too many in Michigan) led me to another, and another, and another etc. until we made a group. – Charissa Baldoria, University of Michigan, Michigan
3. Get out there, put yourself out

Don’t spend your time abroad sitting in a room sending e-mail. Go out and invite your classmates, your roommate, or your fellow dormers to coffee or a drink. If you are a sports buff, go to the park or the gym and join a team. A coffee shop or a bar’s ambiance usually encourages people to talk and loosen up. Check out our suggested list of activities on the section called “What People Do Here for Fun.” Women might be better off going in a group though, just to be safe.

Wise Words: It was a bit easier to make friends with some of the people in my program because it was small. For one particular group, we would have beers at a bar right outside school after one of our classes so that became a habit. I guess alcohol has a universal way of bringing people together. – John Alikpala, Fordham University, New York

You might also want to consider volunteering at a soup kitchen or even just offering to help an acquaintance. You’ll be surprised how friendships are formed when helping someone with homework, giving directions to a building, or with moving. Volunteering always creates good karma.

4. Take advantage of group situations

Business school students are in luck. The system of grouping incoming students into a particular sections creates an atmosphere where students constantly have to interact with one another to discuss case studies, do group work, and study for an exam. The constant contact is fodder for friendships. So are high-pressure situations.

For students who are in less structured courses or programs like the ones we took where you choose your own classes and have different classmates for each class, getting to know people entails a bit more effort. If asking a classmate to join you for a drink after class seems awkward, try checking out the list of activities found at the international students office. Most international students offices provide opportunities for student interaction like cocktails, a coffee hour, or a day trip out of town so students can meet people and be exposed to new experiences. Another reason you should go: your hefty tuition fee pays for activities like these. You might as well put your money to good use.

New York University, our alma mater is host to the largest international student population in the world. In many of the activities, we met people from almost all the continents. During a cocktail hour, Titchie met people from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Korea, and Kenya. If your school does not have a lot of activities, consider organizing one with a few friends. Alpi Bacani and his fellow Filipino students at Sophia University in Japan hosted a year-end party in the common area of their apartment. “We charged about ¥1000 per head pero drink all you can. We provided the music and decorations as well.”

Wise Words: Almost every business school has a happy hour for its students. In UCLA, it’s called “Beer Buzz.” In Stanford, it’s called “Liquidity Preference.” London Business School calls it “Sundown.”

Wise Words: I was able to find my friends through classes and school organizations. Australians are very friendly and no one will have a hard time dealing with them. Just make sure that when you make appointments that you make it or they will get pissed off. –Annaly O. Elegado, University of Queensland, Queensland

Wise Words: I met most of the coolest people around in my school’s Christian fellowship group. Attending school receptions was also a great way to meet people. – Joy Quintana, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, D.C.

Wise Words: It was easy to make friends with the people who lived in my house. I really didn’t have much of a choice. Since we had all our meals together in the main dining hall, I really couldn’t avoid making conversation with people I dined with three times a day. ––Jikee Santillan, University of Reading, Berkshire

5. Hang in there, keep trying

Tired of explaining why we can speak English? Or why, if we are Asian, we don’t use chopsticks? And who’s supposed to pay for a meal during someone’s birthday, anyway? (It depends on the country you’re in. In the US, friends of the celebrant divvy up the whole bill equally. The celebrant does not pay.)

Hang in there as you learn the customs in your host country. The constant learning is what makes living abroad exciting. And when your kids study abroad you may have some interesting stories to share.

Wise Words: I am not sure whether having a comfort zone (i.e., Pinoy friends) prevented me from taking in all the opportunities provided for us in graduate school. I truly regret that. My one advice to incoming grad students: Get involved. Even if it means having to speak English all the time. Even if it means putting oneself through tortuous hours of ridiculous banter with people you hardly know. It’s worth the life-learning process.--Michael Campos, Harvard Divinity School, Massachusetts

Wise Words: In the US, when somebody asks “Hey, how’s it going?,” do not attempt responding to the question. Instead, respond with something like, “Hey, how’s it hangin’?” –Ari Mallare, Cornell University, New York
6. No friends, yet? It’s not you

While we were at NYU, many of our classmates went to work during the day and then attended classes in the evening. After class, most of them would rush off to the subway. During a discussion about marketing cereal, one of Tricia’s classmates shared that she usually had breakfast cereal for dinner because she was so tired when she got home. Tricia then realized that her classmates seemed unfriendly mostly because most of them were just too tired to socialize!

It’s almost always NOT something you did or didn’t do. “See yourself as the host culture sees you” is one of the tips in the book “The Insiders Guide to Study Abroad” by Ann Moore. Knowing that you’ll be leaving eventually, some locals might not want to spend the time to get to know you. Or, who knows, the people around you might have a bunch of chores to do. When yours starts to pile up, you’ll understand. Racial intolerance could also be an issue. Some cultures are known to be very wary of foreigners because of something that has happened in the past. Read about the local culture from travel literature to history books. It might shed some light on the locals’ way of thinking.

Wise Words: Try to make friends with locals. It may seem “user-friendly,” but the fact is, the locals have more connections than international students. They can help you get jobs in your host country. --Anonymous

7. Count your blessings. Think positively. Be open to opportunities.

Here we are exposed to a variety of cultures and experiences. We are studying something that we are really interested in. We are living our dreams! A grateful attitude kindles a positive state of mind. And a positive outlook and a pleasant disposition are appealing to most people. Who wants to be friends with someone who goes around campus looking glum all the time?

A Filipino friend taking her Master’s in Graphic Design in the US found herself working until four or five in the morning, designing and assembling projects. On top of the demands of her course there were still chores to do! She then realized that her situation was not bound to change, at least not while she was studying . This was, for her, a reality check—she found herself in this situation because of the choices she had made. She wanted to study abroad, and this choice brought on consequences she may not have foreseen. In this instance: housework plus schoolwork equals less hours. On the other hand, she was living a dream she may have had for some years, and a dream some of us may continue to have. She is studying something that she’s passionate about, living in her own apartment, and living in a new and friendly neighborhood. She admits that her outlook changed towards a more positive attitude as she met more and more people during the course of her stay. She even met some of the more interesting people in the most unlikely of places, like a notable jazz musician on the subway, and a good-looking mountain climber at the bus stop.

Wise Words: Be open-minded but don’t lose your soul. People here appreciate diversity, so highlight your own uniqueness. --Joy Quintana, SAIS – Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC

Wise Words: I love all peoples…and my circle of friends is like a model United Nations. All you have to be is yourself and someone is bound to take interest. –Rhoel Dinglasan, Yale University, Connecticut

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