By Sixiang Chen
Walk around campus on any given day and you will see batches of American students walking and chatting together, and small groups of international students doing the same. But it’s much less common to see the two together.
“Before I came to St. Michael’s, I thought I would make many American friends,” said Ethan Li ’22, from China. “However, everything is different. No American wants to be friend with me.”
St. Michael’s College enrolls 150 international students each year on average, said Melissa Holzman, international student advisor. Most of the students who come from Asian countries are enrolled in the intensive English program, which helps them improve their English language skills. But often they are frustrated that they don’t make any American friends.
“I was afraid of making friends with Americans for my language barrier in the first year at St. Michael’s,” said Sayaka Okamoto ’21, a Japanese student. “I feared that they would laugh at me.”
Okamoto will return to Japan after her one year at St. Michael’s. In her class, there are only Chinese and other Japanese students. “However, I have four close American roommates. Right now, I often hang out with them.”
Jack He ’19, from China, has a different experience of making American friends. In the four years at St. Michael’s, he only played video games at his room or hanged out with other Chinese friends when he had no class.
“The principle of making friends to me is having the same hobbies,” said He. “I love playing video games, especially League of Legends. So all my American friends are League of Legends players.”
Playing the video game with Americans has also improved his English skills because they will talk to each other through the microphone or type during the game. “The only sad thing is we can’t meet in reality,” He said. “I don’t have any American friends in reality. ”
Yaya Lida ’20, a Japanese student says that the relationship between international students is much solid than between international and American students. “I’d love to make friends with Americans, but I think making Chinese friends is easier than making American friends,” said Lida. “Because both of us have the same language issue. When I made a mistake in speaking, Chinese friends would understand me and translate what I want to say. But Americans will make me feel they judge me.
“The most awkward thing in talking with an American is we don’t have much same conversation topics. When we talk to each other like two minutes, the conversation is usually over and no one talks anymore,” Lida said. “The atmosphere is full of embarrassment.”
On the flip side, Americans have the same issues. “To me, it seems international students always speak their native languages and stand outside. They don’t reach out so we don’t reach out,” said Colin Gidarakos ’19, whose girlfriend lives in Cashman Hall where many international students are housed. “It probably runs another way too that we don’t reach out so they don’t reach out. It seems no one from both sides touches the middle line.
“Cashman Hall did a good job bringing international and American students together,” Gidarakos said. “That’s why I never really tried to make international friends on purpose. We just became friends when we are around each other.”
In Cashman Hall, because American students and international students room together they have the opportunity to to make new cross-cultural friends.
“I have many international friends, but the most difficult thing is you may not understand what they are saying,” said Lily Hopkins ’21, an American female. “Some international students just don’t make friends with us, and I know other international students really really want to make American friends.”
Hopkins said she often says hi to international students whom she doesn’t know. But she often got no response from them, which makes her feel awkward. “International students should not be afraid of speaking English to us.
“Be confident and just talk to us, even a few sentences. We are always ready,” Hopkins said.