My husband and I used to host an international prayer group at our apartment at married student housing. One of the best compliments ever given to me came from one of my dear friends in the group—a lady from Taiwan—who said, “Jessie, you have been an information booth for us. Any question we have about living here, you help us find out the answer.” This sweet statement made a lightbulb go off in my head—that’s exactly what I want to be (what I want US to be) for our international friends.
That’s what incoming international students need from you this semester: an information booth friend.
So how to do you do this? Well, you are already well on your way if you’re familiar with your own culture, your area, and know how to find out information when you don’t have the answer (Google, Yelp, a phone call to a friend, etc.). But here are a few ways to freshen up your “info booth services” for this new semester, getting ready to welcome new students:
- Remind yourself of what’s in your town.
When you’ve lived somewhere for awhile, it’s easy to forget the places new people will want to know about. Where is the closest grocery store to campus? Where are the home goods stores? Do you have any bargain stores in the area offering good deals on furniture?
- Have information on international student ministries on campus and what help they offer.
Some international student ministries have storerooms of furniture that they give to new students, some have ESL classes, some pair students with local families. Taking part in and taking advantage of the things these ministries do will go a long way in smoothing a new student’s transition.
- Help them find their “happy place.”
Whenever we move, my Ethiopian husband tries to find an urban environment where there’s a lot of pedestrian traffic and “life” on the street, because it feels like home (as opposed to the deserted suburban roads where people only walk if their car breaks down!).
As for me? I try to find the greenest, most natural park that I can, one where I can walk on grass and look at trees and smell dirt, because it reminds me of home (smalltown Maine).
Related to this, some of my Chinese friends told me they deliberately go shopping on Black Friday, not to get deals, but because the crowds and lines and hustle and bustle remind them of home!
Ask new international students what they miss from their home country, or what was their favorite place to go/thing to do in their home country? This will help you introduce them to places that might fill that void for them and be their “happy place” that reminds them of home.
- Tell them they can ask you questions, and then follow up.
Be the first local person to give your phone number to a new international student, “If you have any questions or are confused about anything, please call me.”
But go further than that as well. As some people are embarrassed to ask or may not want to bother you with something “small,” follow up when you see them, “So how is everything? How are you adjusting? Is there anything that’s confusing? Anything I can help with?”
By following up, you are showing that you care and building a foundation of trust on which a true friendship can be built over the course of this semester and beyond!