Four Tips to Help Your Child Make Lifelong Friendships While Abroad
Making friends as an international student can be intimidating. Parents are often the first to hear when their child is homesick, lonely, or stressed. It isn’t easy to make new, lasting friendships in a foreign country and parents can feel helpless on the other end of the phone.
Here are some tips for you to share with your child as you support them through this new challenge.
Eliminate Language Barriers
Making friends when there is a language barrier is challenging. International students may be tempted to surround themselves with only those who speak their native language because it’s easy and comfortable.
Talk to your child about the amazing and unique opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds. Remind them that they could miss out on valuable friendships if they base their inner circle on language alone.
Encourage your child to speak the language of their host-country as much as possible. The more they can speak the language, listen to it, read it—and even sing songs they have learned—the better they will communicate.
Language need not be a barrier to creating great relationships and the right friend will help your child master their second language. Students can be creative in the ways they communicate and ask questions, too. They can use pictures, hand signals, or videos to ask questions if they don’t know the word. And they can (and should) share their native language with their new friends, too.
International students will need to get comfortable with being vulnerable to make the best relationships. You can help them do this by nurturing their confidence and self-love. Remind them what makes them a great friend, student, and person and help them understand that fear will only hold them back. Encourage your child to take risks by embracing the foreign culture and learning as much as they can about it.
Suggest they start a conversation with one new person each day. Students can prepare a list of introductory questions (such as do you have any pets; where were you born; how many siblings do you have) and use it to spark conversations with new people. Challenge them to ask their teachers about their own educational backgrounds and experiences, too. It can be scary to put yourself out there, but it’s all part of the international student experience.
Humor is a powerful tool. Not only can it kill fear and negative self-talk, but it can and does bring people together. Laughter is not dependent on language or culture so encourage your child to grab their phone and watch some funny videos with their new friends. If someone mentions a language mishap to your child, encourage your child to take it lightly and laugh it off together. It’s bound to happen and in every failure there is a lesson.
Remember (Almost) Everything Is Temporary
Your child’s time studying abroad will come to an end sooner than you both think. Fear, discomfort, and anxiety are temporary; eventually they dissipate and fade into the past. Your child may be filled with many overwhelming emotions as they try to forge new, meaningful friendships, but it’s certainly worth the discomfort and risk— the one thing from their time abroad that just may last a lifetime is a great friendship.
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