International students at U.S. college campuses are not very satisfied with their friendships with Americans on average, but their satisfaction level varies by U.S. host region and the student’s home region. This new study is published online today in the National Communication Association’s Journal of International and Intercultural Communication.
Conducted by Elisabeth Gareis, Ed.D., associate professor of communication studies at Baruch College/City University of New York, the study surveyed more than 450 foreign students in the South and Northeast. By online questionnaire, the researcher asked students to identify the number of close American friends they had and their level of satisfaction with the number and quality of those friendships.
“Nearly 40 percent of the survey respondents had no close American friends and would have liked more meaningful interaction with people born here,” Gareis said.
Analysis of survey friendship data by home region showed that the least satisfied international students were from East Asia, which is the largest contingent of foreign students in the United States, according to Gareis. Nearly 30 percent of the participating students (134 of 454) came from China and other East Asian countries, she reported.
By host region, foreign students who attended college in northeastern states were much less satisfied with the number and quality of their close friendships with Americans than were international students in the South. Likewise, metropolitan regions were linked to lower student satisfaction with close friendships than were smaller college towns, the study found.
Gareis surveyed undergraduate and graduate international students at 10 public universities in three regions: New York City, nonmetropolitan parts of the Northeast (Connecticut, New Jersey and New York state) and the nonmetropolitan South (Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Mississippi).
A total of 228 male students and 226 female students participated in the survey, most of whom had been in the country three years or less. Students who indicated that they were only somewhat satisfied or not satisfied (n = 222) with their American friendships had the chance to elaborate in a free-response section.
“More than half of students who were less than very satisfied with their American friendships felt that the main problem lay with the Americans,” Gareis said.
Other highlights from the study findings include:
- Friendship numbers and satisfaction levels were highest in the South, with the nonmetropolitan Northeast ranking second, and the New York City metropolitan area ranking lowest.
- Participants from English-speaking countries were most likely to report having three or more close American friends, whereas students from East Asia often had no close American friends.
- Among all races and ethnicities, 46 percent thought that the reason for their friendship problems was an internal factor, such as low language proficiency or shyness. However, among East Asian students, that percentage was much higher, at 78 percent.
- The most common reasons why students attributed their friendship difficulties to Americans or to U.S. culture were superficiality (32 percent) and not being open-minded or interested in other cultures (25 percent).
These findings are of concern, according to Gareis, who said the United States is the world’s leading higher-education destination.
“A central predictor of overall sojourn satisfaction is international students' contact with the hosting country’s nationals, in particular, the meaningful contact found in friendships,” Gareis said. “Through friendships, international students have stronger language skills, better academic performance, lower levels of stress and better overall adjustment to a new culture.”
She added that intercultural friendship also has “enormous potential” to promote international goodwill beyond the students’ stay in the United States. “Unfortunately, this potential is often not realized,” she said.
Gareis called for more research in this area, especially with students in additional geographic regions of the country.
The article, “Intercultural Friendship: Effects of Home and Host Region,” will also appear in a future print issue of the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication.
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