Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Building Bridges across the International Divide: Fostering Meaningful Cross-Cultural Interactions between Domestic and International Students

Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Building Bridges across the International Divide: Fostering Meaningful Cross-Cultural Interactions between Domestic and International Students

Article excerpt

College and university campuses have the potential to be ideal settings in which to foster cross-cultural interactions and meaningful international friendships. Studies suggest that international students often build cross- cultural friendships with other students from around the world when studying abroad, yet social interactions between domestic and international students are generally more limited, particularly in the United States (Trice 2004; Gareis, Merkin, and Goldman 2011; Gareis 2012; Rose-Redwood and Rose-Redwood 2013). This lack of social engagement has important implications not only for the student experience itself; it also shapes the social networks and professional opportunities that students encounter once they have completed their studies. If domestic students only interact with their domestic peers, this will most likely have the effect of limiting their cultural literacy as well as diminishing their ability to socially and professionally interact with people from diverse cultural backgrounds in different geographical contexts. As Lee suggests, there is a "need to concentrate on how to enhance the quality of intercultural friendships and how to make such relationships work" (2006, p. 6). How, then, might meaningful cross-cultural interactions and international friendships be fostered on college and university campuses? What formal and informal practices can effectively break down the social barriers between domestic and international students? Put simply, how might we actively seek to build bridges across the international divide in higher education settings?

This article seeks to address these issues by reflecting on our own personal experiences as domestic students interacting with international students at two higher education institutions on the East Coast of the United States around the turn of the twenty-first century. We employ a narrativebased approach to frame our discussion, which enables us consider the intricacies of how international friendships develop within higher education contexts. In one case, an international friendship with a Malaysian student grew from a formal, university-sponsored conversation partner program organized by the university's international office, and, in the other case, a close friendship with an international student from Tanzania emerged through informal social interactions on a college campus. Although the mode of initial contact differed in each case, both resulted in lasting friendships that not only expanded our social networks and cultural capital but also broadened what we might call our "geographical empathy" based upon an ethic of care for those living in distant places around the world.

In the remainder of this article, each of the present authors provides a narrative account of our experiences developing an international friendship in a higher education setting. Our aim is not to claim that these experiences are representative of international friendships in general but rather to highlight how both formal and informal opportunities exist on college and university campuses that can facilitate the development of meaningful, longlasting friendships between domestic and international students. For far too many domestic students, the lack of cross-cultural engagement with international students results in a series of missed opportunities that could have enhanced their educational experience and enriched their understanding of the world. We hope that our stories will inspire more domestic students to cultivate their own international friendships and assist higher education professionals by illustrating two cases in which domestic and international students sought to break down the social and cultural divides on college and university campuses.

PERSONAL NARRATIVE #1: A JOURNEY FROM CONVERSATION PARTNER TO INTERNATIONAL FRIENDSHIP

As a young Caribbean women of East Indian descent, I (CindyAnn) moved from Trinidad to New York City in 1992, and I attended both high school and college in New York. …

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