International students' experiences developing friendships in U.S. higher education
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Learning outcomes for twenty-first century higher education in the U.S. include graduating students capable of functioning effectively across cultures. The growth in campus internationalization efforts stems from an emphasis on graduates’ ability to navigate a complex and rapidly changing world. Strategies to achieve internationalization goals focus on expanding student participation in educational programs outside of the U.S. and enrolling greater numbers of international students. Although, research shows global learning on-campus is possible, resources and attention targeted toward intercultural learning on campus are more limited. Using narrative inquiry, this study explores international college students’ experiences making friends in the first year of college in the U.S. as well as the influence, benefits, and challenges of making friends. The findings highlight the value of friendship development for international students and the opportunity to revisit internationalization strategies and goals. Each student expressed worry about making friends in the U.S., that making friends in college was different, that they pursued friendships based on their perception of commonalities, and the benefit of reflecting about the experience of making friends. The majority also expressed desire to develop intercultural friendships. Their experiences making friends were associated with a wide variety curricular or co-curricular activities, with a few occurring before arriving to the U.S. Most students shared positive overall experiences, conveyed satisfaction with their experiences making friends, and developed intercultural friendships. Most students also expressed their friendships enriched their overall college experience, their experiences making friends was connected to stress or mental health experiences, and their intercultural friendship experiences were both rewarding and challenging. A few students with less successful friendship development experiences conveyed a negative impact on their overall college experience and their overall emotional wellbeing. This study highlights the value for institutions to be aware of international students’ expectations and experiences making friends, gauge their intercultural skills, and their experiences making friends early in their academic career as well as the necessity to promote a culture of inclusion on campus and provide ample opportunities and adequate support for students to develop intercultural relationships. Their experiences reinforce that intercultural friendships can stimulate global learning for all students.