In a previous blog, I talked about the benefits of joining a student organization with people who are like you to help make friends quickly when you first arrive on this large campus. Today, I would like to encourage you to hang out with people who are different from you sometimes, too.  There are pros and cons to sticking to other students from your own nationality, religion or shared hobbies.  It is natural to gravitate toward people like you when you are in a foreign country.  It is easier and less exhausting to communicate and get your point across in your own language.  You can make and understand jokes better.  You can understand the frustration and homesickness each other feels and can celebrate your country’s or religion’s holidays together. You can complain together about what is so different from your “norm”. You share the same pop culture and probably like the same actors, musicians and athletes or at least you know the same celebrities. Things require less explanation.  Perhaps most importantly, you enjoy the same food and can help each other find ways to survive in your new surroundings.  It’s just more comfortable to hang out with people with whom you have so much in common.

I get it. When I lived in Japan for three years, I loved hanging out with my friends from the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and Canada.  They got me.  Well, at least they understood me better than the Japanese people I was trying to know.  It took me a little while to give up the comforts of hanging out with people more similar to me and who spoke the same basic language, but what I gained by branching out and making friends from a very different culture far surpassed what I gave up by leaving my comfort zone.

What do you gain if you hang out with people who are different from you and may not understand you so easily? You gain the opportunity to learn another language, new foods, new traditions and holidays, and the chance to receive a deeper understanding of that culture. You also gain intercultural communication skills which are necessary in this global economy.  It’s normal to have a set of best friends who speak your language to whom you can run when things are really tough, but when traveling or studying abroad, remember – you can hang out with people like you when you go back home!  Now is your chance to embrace a new culture and expand your horizons. 

This advice is also true for domestic students at MSU.  Get to know some of our amazing international students!  MSU has international students from over 130 countries waiting to be your friends!  If you come to Coffee Hour on Fridays from 4 to 6 in the International Center, you can easily find people from all over the world looking to network and make new friends while enjoying free coffee and hot tea.  Check out our Calendar of Events and join a cultural event sponsored by one of 40 nationality clubs or the International Students Assocation (ISA).

Get out of your comfort zone!  Mix it up a little!  Your life will be changed, and you will be glad you did!

Amber Cordell is an OISS International Student Advisor and the Coordinator of International Student Orientation.  She is also a facilitator of Personal Leadership Seminars and an instructor of EAD 315: Student Leadership Practices.