While Purdue University has one of the largest international student population among large research universities, the majority of your classmates at Purdue will be your average American college student. Americans are often very friendly and helpful to people that they do not know well, and they may also be more open in what they talk about than people from many other countries. This can be confusing to someone who comes from a country where people are initially more reserved. An international student may also feel that Americans are superficial or are not good friends when this initial friendliness does not continue as friendship. Americans are initially very friendly and open. When meeting people from other countries, it may be helpful to be aware that ways of getting to know someone may be different in different countries, and to try to avoid making judgments about the people of that country.
Two important American values are privacy and independence. Thus, Americans may prefer to do something themselves rather than asking for help, as they do not want to impose on the other person's privacy. They may also expect others to do the same. This can create misunderstandings with people from societies with more interdependent relationships, who assume more obligations to friends. In addition, expectations of friendship may be very different in various countries. Americans tend to use the word "friend" where people in some countries might use the word "acquaintance;" and they often have different types of friends: friends just to do activities with, close friends, and best friends. In some countries, people reserve the word "friend" for a few people who are very close.
What is considered an appropriate topic to talk about with friends or acquaintances can vary somewhat between countries. Many international students comment that they do not know how to start a conversation with Americans, because of a lack of shared background. When speaking to someone they do not know well, try to talk about fairly neutral topics and to look for similarities. Begin with "small talk": discuss the weather, or the immediate situation (the class, professor, party, host, decorations). It might continue with questions or comments about common acquaintances, sports, movies, work or school.
- Don't be afraid to take the initiative: Start a conversation, show interest in others by asking questions, invite someone to have coffee with you after class.
- Be positive: Don't assume someone doesn't like you if they don't respond in a way that you expect. Just as you are apprehensive starting a conversation with an American classmate, your classmates may also feel the same way about talking to you.
- Be informed: Read the campus or local newspapers, like the Purdue Exponent or the Lafayette Journal and Courier. This may help create a more common background to start conversations and let you know what activities are going on.
- Take advantage of Purdue's international activities. Many Americans who have traveled or lived abroad particularly enjoy meeting people from other countries. Activities sponsored by the Purdue Study Abroad Office, Office of International Students and Scholars, the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, the International Center, and various international student organizations are a good place to meet people who have an interest in other cultures.
- Take advantage of campus and area clubs and activities that sponsor activities that you enjoy: Sing in a choir, take a pottery class or a dance class, and participate in team sports. Sharing activities is a good way to meet people with common interests. Eventually, this could lead to friendships.
- Be aware that differences in expectations about making and having friends may sometimes be confusing or frustrating, and those misunderstandings or miscommunications may occur.
- Remember to be patient with yourself and others. Try to suspend your judgment, and don't take things too personally if you run into difficulties.
- Finally, relax, have fun, and realize that it takes time to make friends, no matter what country you are from!