The citizens of the United States are not a particularly hospitable bunch, especially to foreigners. Or, at least, that has been my anecdotal observation over the years. But why rely on anecdotal observations, when Karen Fischer has provided us with some data? In her recent article, “Many Foreign Students Find Themselves Friendless in the United States” (The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 22, 2012), Fischer states, “More than one in three foreign students in a new survey say they have no close American friends, and many say they wish they had more, and more-meaningful, relationships with Americans.”
Fischer cites Elisabeth Gareis, associate professor of communication studies at Baruch College. Gareis is the author of “Intercultural Friendship: Effects of Home and Host Region,” a research report on 450 students (undergrad and graduate) at 10 public universities. She reports that 27 percent of international students claimed three or more “close American friends,” 17 percent claimed one such friend, 18 percent claimed two, while 38 percent claimed none. Students from English-speaking countries were the most likely to have three or more. Students were split in their assessment of blame: 46 percent blamed their own shyness or English skills while 54 percent blamed American students for the lack of connectedness. Gareis asks, “‘Where else can people meet and have the time and the freedom to make friends across cultures than at college? . . . But we’re not fulfilling that promise.’”
This survey is not comprehensive or definitive, and my argument would be fallacious if I were to jump straight to conclusions that dismissed American culture as inherently inhospitable. But the survey does raise interesting questions and, more importantly, the specter of a unique opportunity: for Christians to love the nations by loving their students who travel to the United States for an education. As Paul writes, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). May the day come that God’s people collectively embrace foreign students from all tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations (Rev 5, 7), welcoming them and loving them by means of word and deed.