Lending a hand

Column by Hallie Beard, Opinion Editor

In news this week, we’ve got a story on the cost of being an international student.

Through working in the writing center, I’ve had some interaction with international students and have heard about their experiences here, but I’m ashamed to say I’ve never gone out of my way to help out our visiting students, besides maybe offering a ride once or twice.

Making new friends on campus or reaching out to new students is never easy, especially if we think some linguistic or cultural barrier will make the process more difficult. But, as students at a university that has a large international population and welcomes those students, we should be more aware of how our interactions with them – or lack thereof – affect their perceptions of us and, ultimately, their stay in the U.S.Once, a student in the writing center brought in a personal essay about her expectations of going to an American university and how her time at Murray State has compared to those expectations. In the essay, she revealed how much anxiety she had about coming to the U.S. because other friends who had participated in exchange programs described American students as mean, exclusive and apathetic to people who didn’t look like them.

I was appalled – it was heartbreaking to know international students expected us to be cold before their arrival in the U.S. I wanted to apologize to that student on behalf of any Americans who fulfilled that stereotype, but how genuine could that apology be if I haven’t put time into being a friend to them, either?

Thankfully, the student wrote that her time at Murray State improved after getting acclimated to student life and living in the residential colleges, but I still couldn’t help but feel a bit sad when she left.

So, even though I’ve only got a limited amount of time before I graduate and it’s a bit late in the year for a resolution, I’m resolving to make more of an effort when it comes to befriending or helping international students.

If you’re like me and feel awkward trying to make a new friend without a specific plan, here are some ideas for how to make this process fun and helpful for all involved:

Be a study partner. This is a fairly safe way to make a new friend and comfort someone who might be struggling with material. If there are international students in your classes you think might be struggling to understand the professor or juggle all the reading, lend a hand. You don’t have to approach it as if you have all the answers – in fact, you could ask them for some notes or to figure out a problem you don’t understand. That way, discussing the material is natural and no one feels embarrassed about not knowing something.

Share a meal. Next time you’re in Winslow or the T-Room and see an international student eating alone, ask if you can sit with them and tell them about your day. Or, ask about their classes and see if you have any academic interests in common. Imagine you had to live at a university in a new country where the town was small and the friend groups were even smaller. Would you want to eat alone in a crowd of people who seemed to enjoy each other and know exactly what’s going on? Probably not. Put yourself in their shoes and treat them as you’d want to be treated.

Be friendly to hitchhikers. OK, this isn’t the 1960s and it’s not likely you’ll see anyone holding their thumb out on the side of the road, but I’m sure you’ve seen international students lugging their grocery bags from the store across 121. In this cold, that’s a miserable trek, and you know those grocery bags aren’t strong. If you’ve got room in your car, roll the window down and ask if they need a ride. It’s not that weird, and it never hurts to ask.

Hopefully these tips help all of us bridge the gap between awkward smiling and friendship or at least make someone’s stay here a little brighter.