Culture Connections – Making Lasting Friendships on J-1 Exchanges
by Lauren Coffaro
Culture Connections is a series of articles which explore the unique opportunities, interests, challenges, and questions of international participants living in the U.S. on J-1 Intern/Trainee and J-1 Work & Travel programs.
Every year, thousands of adventurous people from around the world take advantage of the U.S. Department of State’s J-1 Intern/Trainee and J-1 Work & Travel Programs with CCI. Some are university students who spend their summer breaks working in and around popular tourist destinations and exploring the U.S. Others are professionals who want to advance their careers by training in a U.S. business with American colleagues.
As distinct as these two programs are, the participants share a common desire- to make American friends. These cultural programs provide a chance for participants to make lasting memories and friendships with Americans, and for Americans to make friends from around the world.
According to a recent survey cited by the Chronicle of Higher Education, around a third university exchange students report having at least three close friendships with their American classmates. Yet another third of exchange students feel that they are not close with their American counterparts. Why? Many report shyness, lack of English language skills, and cultural differences as obstacles to meeting new friends abroad.
As a foreign national living in the U.S. on a J-1 visa program, what can you do to meet more Americans and, moreover, make lasting friendships?
Join a club in your community. Most towns have a variety of clubs where you can meet Americans with similar interests – from running to soccer, service to singing.
Volunteer in your area to get to know new people and places. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for help locating service opportunities in your area and to learn more about CCI’s Greenheart Club for volunteers!
Meetup with like-minded individuals for international nights, language groups, anything! Try looking at meetup.com for events (often free!) planned by residents in your area. Remember to use your best judgment and be safe by only attending events held in public places.
Talk to coworkers, peers, and neighbors. Strike up conversations about your day, their day, your home country, their home town, the news- anything! Don’t be shy about practicing your English.
Express interest in making new friends! If you see a potential friendship with someone, try inviting them out to coffee, organizing a study group, or proposing you go see that cool new movie. Sometimes all you need to do is ask!
Be independent and do things by yourself. While it may be tempting to spend time with people from your country, try to go out of your comfort zone. Every day, go for a walk, see a new site, start a conversation. If someone invites you to a social activity, say yes!
Smile! That way, people will see that you for the kind and approachable person that you are.
And the most important tip…enjoy your cultural exchange! It is a rare and memorable opportunity to have time to live, breathe, and explore a new country and people. Take full advantage of each and every day!