A new study, “Intercultural Friendship: Effects of Home and Host Region,” published in the June 2012 online issue of the International Journal of Intercultural and International Communication, reveals that many foreign students in the United States do not make closer, personal friendships with American students.
450 foreign students in the South and Northeast were surveyed and 40 percent revealed that they had no close American friend. The least satisfied in their friendship pursuits were from East Asia, which represents the highest proportion of foreign students in the United States. Newswise.com reported some highlights from the study:
- Friendship numbers and satisfaction levels were highest in the South, with the nonmetropolitan Northeast ranking second, and the New York City metropolitan area ranking lowest.
- Participants from English-speaking countries were most likely to report having three or more close American friends, whereas students from East Asia often had no close American friends.
- Among all races and ethnicities, 46 percent thought that the reason for their friendship problems was an internal factor, such as low language proficiency or shyness. However, among East Asian students, that percentage was much higher, at 78 percent.
- The most common reasons why students attributed their friendship difficulties to Americans or to U.S. culture were superficiality (32 percent) and not being open-minded or interested in other cultures (25 percent).
The author of the study, Elizabeth Gareis of Baruch College/CUNY, said: “A central predictor of overall sojourn satisfaction is international students’ contact with the hosting country’s nationals, in particular, the meaningful contact found in friendships. Through friendships, international students have stronger language skills, better academic performance, lower levels of stress and better overall adjustment to a new culture.”
I find the attention this study is receiving a bit mind-blowing, though I suppose that the high number of self-reports of no intercultural friendships is what drew media attention. I’m happy to read that foreign students in the South seemed the most satisfied with their cross-cultural friendships. We’re known to be quite friendly in the South. The author’s predictive measures that link close personal friendships to academic success and lower levels of anxiety are quite standard in the sojourn literature. When I defended my doctoral dissertation in 1992, “Fulbright Scholars as Cultural Mediators,” I found that foreign Fulbright scholars who formed meaningful multicultural social networks was the single best behavioral predictor for having academic success and personal satisfaction than those without such networks.
What do you think of the foreign student study findings? Do they surprise you? The students who reported no close personal friendship tended to ascribe blame to their American counterparts. Would you?