How do you build a friendship? We don’t often ask this question, but most of us do make and keep friends. Think of a good friend you have who has not been your friend since childhood. How did you become good friends?
Likely did something like this: you met, you chatted, you exchanged numbers and/or friended each other on Facebook, sent a few messages, met up to do something, asked a favor, did a favor, brought a meal or pet sat, went out for coffee, sent a few more texts, etc. etc. And all this happened over quite a bit of time.
None of the things listed above is particularly grand in and of themselves. But together, they built the friendship you have now, one “small touch” at a time.
Sometimes when we try to befriend internationals, we get weird. We don’t go about it in the same way as we do with same-culture friends. We swoop in to help in a really big way (using our pick-up truck to move furniture to their new house) or we spend a huge amount of time with them one day (maybe learning to make their cultural foods or teaching them how to make cookies), and then we drop out of their lives for the next month or two. This on-again, off-again type of relationship can be quite hurtful for immigrants.
I get it. We’re busy. But we all know that only making grand gestures a few times a year is not enough to build a friendship. Instead, it may be that we’re checking off a “ministry” box and viewing the immigrant as a project, not a person. *I’m raising my hand. I’ve been guilty of this!*
Now, should you move furniture and have a cooking day? Of course! These are GREAT ideas! But don’t stop there.
If you’re really trying to make meaningful connections, remember the “small touches” approach. Follow up with a text after you spend the day together. Check in the next week with a five minute call. Invite them over for a shorter time. Do something quick together. Text them to ask how their presentation or doctor’s appointment or parent teacher meeting went. Keep this up, and you will in all likelihood build a meaningful crosscultural friendship.
In short, if you want to make friends with immigrants, use the same “small touches” approach you use to make friends with people within your culture. If there was ever a recipe for friendship, regardless of culture, it is this: small touches over time.