10 Ways to Make International Students Feel Welcome on Your Campus

Life on a U.S. college campus can be tough for some international students. Language barriers and cultural differences can make it difficult to feel like part of the crowd, to say nothing of the feelings of social isolation college students born and raised in the U.S. can feel on campus. These steps should help you become a better ambassador for international students at your school.

By Sarah Wright


1. Be friendly.

Duh, right? But what does being friendly mean, in this context? Ideally, you'll be warm, open, welcoming and non-judgmental, just like you are with anyone else. Cultural differences are only a barrier to friendship if you treat them as such.

2. Be inclusive.

If there's an international student in your classes, dorm, major or club, treat him or her just the same as everyone else. That means you shouldn't leave him or her out of any party, study group or off-campus excursion plans. If he or she seems quiet or shy, don't make the assumption that your invitation will be unwelcome.

3. Be supportive.

If your new international student friend wants to hold on to seemingly weird aspects of their home culture, don't be a jerk about it. Be supportive by not making a big deal. If your friend does things that are particularly socially inappropriate, you should probably say something politely, but the chances of this happening are pretty slim.

4. Be curious.

Being welcoming doesn't necessarily mean that you've got to be trying to help a foreigner adjust to a new and different culture. Chances are that your help in that area isn't necessary. But if your new friend is from a part of the world you've always wanted to see, or from a culture with a culinary style you particularly want to learn, why not ask about it?

5. Be an ambassador.

A great way to make international students feel welcome on campus is to simply be a good representative of your school. Be nice, be helpful if necessary and don't be mean or rude.

6. Be respectful.

You aren't likely to make anyone feel welcome if you try to nitpick and micromanage. Being a good friend to an international student doesn't mean that you have to make a person your pet project. Follow the social cues your new friend gives you and act accordingly. If he or she doesn't seem interested in changing something you think is strange, accept that as part of who he or she is. This is a good skill to learn with friends of any nationality.

7. Be sensitive.

It's good to be curious and ask questions, but make sure you aren't going overboard and putting someone on the spot or making it seem like you find them strange. No one wants to be put under a microscope like that.

8. Don't be presumptuous.

No matter how far-flung and seemingly exotic your friend's home country is, he or she is still probably a pretty savvy member of an advanced society. Treating an international student like a clueless child is very likely to make him or her feel bad. If your friend asks for help with something, give it, but otherwise don't make assumptions about his or her cultural understanding.

9. Don't make a big deal out of cultural differences.

International students might prefer to eat things you would never dream of snacking on, or they might dress in a way that you find strange. Foreign students might also refer to family practices and traditions that seem really out there to you. But guess what? That's their normal. Reacting with a 'that's SOOOOOO WEIRD!' to everything an international student says and does is a great way to seem closed-minded and xenophobic, which you should obviously avoid if you're trying to be friendly.

10. Remember the golden rule.

'Treat others the way you'd like to be treated' - how would you want people to act if you decided to go to college in, say, South Korea? It's never a bad time to remember that your own feelings about certain situations are a great guide to proper behavior.

International students might feel more welcome at one of these great schools.

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