Friendless in America

Study finds that nearly 40% of foreign students report having no close American friends. Those who study in the South have more American friends.

June 14, 2012

Part of the ideal of recruiting foreign students to American campuses is that the friendships formed across international lines will leave those from many countries (including the United States) with new perspectives and personal connections in many nations. For many foreign students in the United States, that's just not happening, according to a new study.

The research -- which appears today in the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication -- finds that nearly 40 percent of international students report having no close American friends and say that they wish they had more meaningful interaction with those born in the United States.

The study found variation by region, with students reporting different results if they are from different parts of the world and if they are studying in different parts of the United States.

International students in the South had more American friends, and were more satisfied with their friendships than those in other parts of the country. Those in the Northeast who were outside of metropolitan areas were second in these rankings. Lowest friendship levels were reported by those studying in the New York City area.

Communication issues appear to be one factor in friendship levels. International students from English-speaking countries were most likely to report that they had three or more close American friends. Students from East Asia were most likely to report having no American friends.

Nearly half of the foreign students cited some "internal factor" -- such as limited language proficiency or being shy -- as a reason they find it difficult to make friends with Americans. Among East Asian students, nearly 80 percent cited an internal factor. But foreign students also cited American factors, such as superficiality or lack of interest in other cultures.

The study was conducted by Elisabeth Gareis, associate professor of communication studies at Baruch College of the City University of New York. In a statement, she said that these results relate not only to the international students' happiness but to their chances at academic success. "A central predictor of overall sojourn satisfaction is international students' contact with the hosting country's nationals, in particular, the meaningful contact found in friendships,” she said. "Through friendships, international students have stronger language skills, better academic performance, lower levels of stress and better overall adjustment to a new culture."


Share Article

Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

Back to Top