Five tips for enriching your international friendships

Karli Olsen is a Masters student at the University of Limerick. In her blog, Karli shares her top tips on how to make friends with other international students and how embracing different cultures can enrich your experience studying in UL!

New country. New people. New food. New weather.

            None of these “news” really troubled me when I first arrived in Ireland. I knew I was going to an English-speaking country, and so therefore, everything would seem normal enough. My mistake was assuming that SINCE I was going to an English-speaking country, most of the friends I would make would be native English speakers.

            Imagine my surprise when, after only a few weeks, I found myself in a friend group composed of students from India, France, and Austria. Although it wasn’t what I had anticipated, I found myself learning and growing in a positive way that I hadn’t expected.

Yes, I felt ignorant as they spoke in their languages, and about their cultures, when it seemed like the only things I had to offer from my country were cheeseburgers and sitcoms. But I soon realized that there was a profound beauty in cultural differences, and I found myself increasingly grateful that the world has so much variety, and that I was fortunate enough to be able to get a taste of that variety through my friends.

            So, here are some fun tips for enriching your friendships with other international students!

  1. Learn some words and phrases from their languages

Since everyone studying in Ireland speaks English somewhat proficiently, it’s easy to be lazy and think, “we can already communicate, so why bother learning their languages?”

Yeah, sure, that’s true! But why not go the extra mile and make an effort to learn the languages they are most comfortable speaking? You don’t have to be a language scholar, but just get your Duolingo up and running, and don’t be afraid to ask your friends questions if you have them! Be prepared to receive some laughs at your pronunciation, and be equally prepared to laugh at yourself too! It’s all part of the fun.

At the UL language center, there are even groups that get together and speak different languages to help with conversational skills. Take advantage of those if you feel confident, or even if you don’t!

  1. Learn to cook some food from their countries

Food is a language that we can all speak, and so is hospitality. Why not combine the two, and have an international food night with your friends? Contribute something from your own country as well (even if you’re American like me and can only come up with hot dogs and potato chips).

Also, if you can, let them teach you how to make some of their favorite traditional dishes. There’s nothing like learning international recipes from the experts, and you may discover some delicious new delicacies that you would’ve never tasted otherwise.

  1. Go with them to cultural events

Let your friends expose you to their country’s celebrations. It’s fun to hear about the history and significance behind them, and even more so when it’s coming from a person who has grown up observing these events. It’s not every day that you have the chance to celebrate all of these different cultures in the same place, so take advantage of it while you can! Besides, it’s another excuse to eat some scrummy new food!

Thankfully, UL is wonderful at observing holidays from all around the world, and there’s always a party going on. I am personally looking forward to sharing some turkey and pumpkin pie goodness with my friends at the Thanksgiving festivities!

  1. Join the International Society and go on their weekend trips

At least every other weekend, the UL International Society takes day trips (sometimes longer!) to different parts of Ireland. While it’s fun for you and your friends to learn about each other’s cultures, it’s also important to embrace the culture of the country in which you both chose to study. Ireland’s landscapes and history are unmatched, and thankfully, the International Society lets you get a taste of many of these places for extremely reasonable prices!

Ireland is probably new to all of you as international students, which makes exploring the country together an even richer and more valuable experience. Learn from each other and your respective countries, yes, but also take the time to enjoy everything the Emerald Isle has to offer!

  1. Remember that you’re all the same on the inside

When it comes down to it, we’re all humans, and we all struggle with the same things in one form or another. As international students, we’re not only trying to keep our grades up, but we’re also dealing with the effects of homesickness, culture shock, and certainly loneliness at times.

Even if it seems like your international friends are doing well, always take the time to ask about how they’re adjusting, and do your best to support them if they’re having difficulties. Maybe that means connecting them to helpful resources, or even just being a listening ear.

We international students are tough cookies. After all, we’ve all left our home countries to pursue our educational goals. However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t miss our moms’ cooking and the streets of our hometowns sometimes.

We all know it’s hard sometimes, so let’s be supportive and loving towards one another as we settle into this new phase of our educational journeys. It’s so much easier to cope when there are people around you who understand what you’re going through.

All in all, I feel very honored that my friends have shared their cultures with me, whether it’s through authentic cuisine, or through a few words exchanged in their native languages. I’m still learning from them all of the time, and it makes the experience of being an international student all the more rewarding and worth it.

Treasure your international friends while you’re both in this stage of life, and you may gain a new perspective, as well as lifelong connections.

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