If you plan to work in the US during an internship or full time, you need to understand American culture. The classroom is a start. But that’s structured learning. You also need unstructured learning. This type of learning happens outside the classroom.
If you want to be hired by an American organization, you need to be comfortable interacting with Americans. Comfortable means more than speaking good English. It also means being able to engage in small talk. It means understanding humor, showing enthusiasm at appropriate times, respecting personal space and boundaries, learning about popular movies, music, tv shows, and other elements of American culture. Hanging out with Americans helps you learn the nuances of American culture. It allows you to interact, observe, learn, and try new things.
Making friends across cultures is one of the best parts of being an international student. Finding Americans to hang out with is part of that experience. After all, you came to the US to experience another culture!
So how do you find Americans to hang out with? They are everywhere after all.
But just because they are everywhere doesn’t make it easy, as you have probably experienced. Americans are sometimes confusing. They can be very friendly and talk to you, but it doesn’t mean they want to hang out. They ask you how you are but they don’t really mean it. Americans are full of contradictions.
Luckily your college campus is filled with opportunities to meet Americans. So take a break from your academics and go find some Americans to hang out with. It will improve your job search. But most importantly I’ll improve your experience studying in the US.
How to meet Americans on campus
- Join an informal sports team like rugby, soccer, hockey, softball, flag football, tennis, ultimate frisbee, etc. Many of them welcome people who have never played before.
- Join any club (your university or college website will have a list of student clubs plus contact info)
- Visit your campus church, synagogue, or mosque – religious events are common campus
- Look for community events in your dorm if living on campus
- Attend potluck dinners by your graduate department if you are a grad student
- Take a dance class (even if it feels awkward)
- Join an outdoor group for hikes, climbing adventures and camping trips (example: Cornell outdoor education)
- Get involved with your study abroad office to find events with American students who studied abroad. They are usually more open to meeting international students, especially if they studied in your country.
- Join a language club on campus.
How to meet Americans off-campus
- Volunteer opportunities in the community (like reading to elementary children, feeding the homeless, visiting the eldery). Use a site like volunteermatch.org to find opportunities.
- Get involved with your local church, synagogue, or mosque
- Use meetup.com to find people of like-minded interests – you will find everything.
- Off campus parties. Find the person who parties the most in your group. Follow them around, even if you don’t party or drink.
Check your university website
University websites are terrible to navigate. But many of them have event calendars. Also find events on the department bulletin boards where you have classes.
Next, the hard part: Talk with Americans.
Speaking in a new language is hard. So start by taking small steps. Introduce yourself. Share something from your culture or experience. Ask questions about people’s experiences. Don’t worry about mistakes. Enjoy yourself. You’re not looking for a job in this experience. You’re simply engaging with Americans.
Pay attention to:
- Eye contact
You don’t need to write down anything, just pay attention. If it differs from your experience in your culture, reflect on it. How are the conversations different from the ones you have at home? How are they similar? What parts do you enjoy?
This is the hard part. Keep going to events with Americans. Keep introducing yourself. When you meet someone you like, invite them to do something. A coffee or tea friend date. Watch a movie. Host a dinner.
Making friends is a process. It’s sometimes awkward. But it’s part of the adventure. And there are so many adventures to have as an international student. I love this video below because it’s filled with so many good stories and advice.
This video by an Indian student is one of the best I’ve seen on how to make American friends as an international student
Study American culture to work in the US
Employers are evaluating you on your ability to interact with others on their team. Most of that team will operate in an American cultural context. So make sure you study American culture as part of your preparation for your US internship and job search.