Developing a Social Life in the USA
Your interactions with other people—your social life—are an integral part of your stay in the United States. To make the most of it, get ready to introduce yourself in a positive way to fellow students, professors, and other people both on- and off-campus.
One of your first introductions to social life on a U.S. campus will most likely be "The International Student Orientation Program," traditionally coordinated by the Admissions Office or the Office of International Programs. Orientation varies greatly from school to school, though the objectives are similar: to introduce the new non-U.S. students to each other, and to prepare you for campus life. Many times, topics include immigration, academic advisors, computer and library resources, telephone services, public safety, medical services, and banking and transportation options. (Be sure to see Money Matters for more details about money management during your stay.) During orientation, students often learn of upcoming activities such as trips to local points of attraction.
College and university campuses are abound with activities designed to foster friendships. Many schools designate a "Student Activities Center" (also called a student union) where you may learn of different activities and programs, such as student government, the newspaper staff, outdoors club, chorus, dance, and a number of athletic teams. Explore which ones may suit you best!
"Know yourself and your home country," Cameron Diaz Jones advised prospective international students in the U.S. A native of Jamaica, Cameron is studying economics and international relations at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He is in his third year of a four-year undergraduate program, and intends to pursue a Masters of Business Administration before working in urban economic development in the Caribbean or South America.
"I've made some great American friends on and off-campus, as well as friends from all over the world; they have taught me a lot. For example, last December, some American friends invited me out into the woods to help cut down their Christmas tree — I had never done anything like that before!"
"When I meet new people, they're always interested to know what it's really like in Jamaica. That has made me think about my own country, so I could share more information with them. If I never left home, I would not need to consider these things. So in many ways, a U.S. education means much more than sitting in a classroom and studying for a degree."
Developing Deeper Friendships
After your initial interaction with new people in the States, you may want to get to know a few of them better. Ironically, many international students have found that they—not their American hosts—must be more assertive if a friendship is to develop. Here is some more advice about the American social life, written by non-U.S. students just like you:
When you first arrive on campus, you may notice how friendly everyone is. People you don't know will smile and say "Hi" and "How are you" and "How's it going." You will notice that these are not really questions; people will most often keep on walking, rather than waiting for your answer. You may get the idea they are superficial or perhaps even rude.
Americans, however, feel that this kind of greeting and behavior is considered very friendly; they feel they are being outgoing and welcoming. These greetings are a social custom which has little to do with friendship. The person may become your friend eventually, but it is important not to misunderstand the nature of your verbal exchange.
Similarly, people may ask your name and country where you were born; they may seem interested for a few minutes, but then go and speak to someone else. This may seem to contradict their initial friendliness, although it is not meant to do so.
You may find it easy to have many "acquaintances" on campus: people seem to all live together, eat together and study together. However, true friendship will take time to build. You will realize, maybe for the first time, how much time it took to develop the friendships you have at home. Then you will appreciate the time and energy it takes to establish close friendships, both at home and abroad.
If you want to develop these interactions into deeper friendships, you will likely have to take the initiative. Ask to exchange contact information: phone numbers, email addresses, and social media handles. Then, you’ll want to follow up! Invite people out for coffee, to join you for meals, or to casual social events. They will likely return the gesture, and the two of you will be on your way to building a friendship.
Don't Be Pushy
There is a difficult balance to keep between taking initiative and being too pushy. If Americans feel you are trying too hard to be friends, they might find it off-putting. You’ll want to be forward, but not “desperate.” Wanting to spend time together every day can make other people uncomfortable. Therefore, you’ll want to be careful that you and your new friend are both putting equal amounts of effort into developing your friendship. After all, you don’t want to be friends with someone who’s not willing to put the effort into being friends with you!
Different Ways of Communicating
One of the newest forms of communication is also one of the most popular on many U.S. campuses. Through your interaction with admissions offices in the States, you may already understand that practically everyone uses e-mail frequently.
E-mail and the Internet have made it much easier (and less expensive) to exchange all types of information. Once you arrive in the States, you will find that computers and Internet connections are very accessible on most campuses. As a matter of fact, e-mail plays an important role in the social lives of many Americans — as they send and receive messages regularly with friends and family.
However, try to resist the urge to spend too many hours in front of the computer; keep in mind that your visit to the U.S. may not last forever, so go out and socialize with others to get a full American experience. Make sure you are open to new experiences!
Socialization is one of the most important aspects of your international experience. According to the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, socialization is most strongly enforced by the school, the family, and peer groups. It is essential for the development of individuals who can participate and function within their societies, as well as for ensuring that a society’s cultural features will be carried on through new generations. Socialization continues throughout an individual’s lifetime, and your experience in studying abroad will challenge you to develop your "people skills" even further.
Please visit our page on Communication to learn more about ways to communicate with your new friends in the US as well as your friends and family back home.