Building Relationships

Constructing a circle of friends and a social support network will take time and effort, and is one of the most important things to attend to when relocating to a new environment.  Before coming to the U.S., you may have developed expectations of making new American friends. Who those friends would be, and what they would be like was probably shaped by your notions of what a more or less typical American is. As you may have discovered by now, a typical American can be rather difficult to define. So who will your friends be? There is no ready answer. You will meet so many different kinds of people in the U.S.

Keep an open mind and try not to be judgmental

A friend could be one of those typical Americans. You will also get to know international students from other countries, or students from your own country. Or maybe you will meet an American-born person who is unlike any American person you have ever met, imagined or seen in films or on T.V. Friends come in all flavors.

Be patient

Take this advice from a visiting scholar at Yale, “Initial social contact plants the seeds for a friendship.” Remember that going from friendliness to friendship is a gradual process and takes time.

Be yourself

Because of the emphasis on individuality in American culture, it is expected that everyone will be different. Be confident about who you really are. Also, don’t be afraid to be open when you are not sure of the norms of behavior. Ask, “How do you do this in the U.S.? In my country we do it this way.” Most Americans will be pleased to teach you about their culture.

Look and listen

A word, phrase or gesture that means something in your home country may mean something very different in the U.S. Watch people’s reactions in their conversations with you or with others:

  • How close do people stand when they talk?
  • How do people greet each other?
  • Do people tend to agree with you or do they express differing opinions freely?
  • What makes you feel dissatisfied or uncomfortable when communicating with someone?
  • How do Americans change their communication styles when talking with a professor? A student? A friend? A family member? A stranger?

Look for the universal

As different as we can be across cultures, there are also many ways in which we are the same. A good place to begin seeking out the commonalities between you and others is through conversation. Talk about family, school, childhood, weather, food, travel, work, favorite things - like music, books, and leisure activities. What do you find funny, embarrassing, sad or inspiring? As naive as it may sound there is some truth in the statement, people are people everywhere.

Beware of stereotypes

A stereotype is an idea about a person’s characteristics or personality, which is incorrectly assumed to be shared by all members of the same group. Possible stereotypes in the U.S. might be that all Chinese are polite and good at math, or all Italians are emotional. A stereotype about Americans might be that they are all arrogant, rude, and outspoken. Try not to act on any preconceived ideas you may have about someone you meet. It may be impossible to forget stereotypes, but it is possible to be aware of them and ready to find the exceptions.

Take initiative in meeting others

This is one of the most important elements. Because of the work load at Yale, it is possible to fall into the rut of all work and no play. Don’t wait for a social life to come to you. Make time each week to go out and attend events, take part in sports activities, invite a friend for a meal or a movie. Be active in building your social network. Remember too that Americans could be shy about making friends with people from other countries. Many of them have been raised in a socially and linguistically isolated atmosphere. Don’t be afraid to begin conversations, extend invitations and if necessary make the first move.

An invitation to a party or an event will often be delivered verbally in a very casual manner. Don’t always expect a written invitation or a follow-up phone call. If you are interested in going to a party, and don’t have all of the details, such as where to go and what time, it is customary to phone the host of the party to get more information.

Be persistent

Some social interactions may be superficial and you may experience disappointments in your attempts to form new friends. Learn to distinguish between friendliness and the deeper bond of friendship. Most of all, don’t get discouraged. As we say in English, “There are many fish in the sea,” and finding true friends takes time and effort.

Have a list of topics you are ready to talk about. Examples: cultural differences, slang terms, American food, family members, gestures, wedding customs, etc.