We sometimes find it difficult to make a new friend even in our own culture. It is easy to imagine how difficult it is to develop a friendship between people from different cultural backgrounds. In my first month in Brno, I struggled to make new friends and became seriously homesick. In fact, making new friends is the first task for people who study abroad, and some of them find it very difficult. There are ways of becoming closer to foreign people. I would like to introduce the three most effective ways for me, which changed my life in Brno dramatically.
The first step is to show an interest in other people’s cultures. Generally speaking, most first conversations begin with the asking of names and which country your conversation partner comes from. Everyone can easily manage this first step. The problem is the next one. How do you show interest in the person you are talking to? If you do not show interest, the conversation will soon stop because you do not have anything in common to talk about. Here are some effective phrases that show your interest in other cultures.
- “I know some greetings used in your country.” You probably know some easy greetings used in other countries. If you know some words in the language that the other person speaks, practise them. They will surely be happy about it and tell you more about their language. For example, many people have said “Konnichiwa” (hello in Japanese) to me, and then I have taught them other easy words or greetings. Sometimes, this conversation will be a chance for you to start learning a new language.
- “Where should I go when I visit your country?” It does not matter whether you are planning to visit or not. The most important thing is to express that you would like to know about your friends’ country. They will be glad to talk about their culture and hopefully their information will allow you to develop your interest.
- “Do you have any interesting festivals?” Every country has at least one crazy, interesting and unique festival. For instance, the Czech Easter tradition of gently hitting girls with a decorated willow whip surprised me a lot and the conversation livened up. Asking about festivals will be a lubricant for the conversation.
The second step is sharing your traditional food. Every region has its own food and recipes. The traditional food is closely connected with lifestyle and culture. Moreover, it even forms our personality. For example, one Japanese traditional food is “seven-herb rice porridge”, which is very healthy food containing only rice, water, salt and spring herbs. To be honest, a lot of people hate it because it is too healthy and tasteless. However, regardless of whether they like it or not, many of them eat seven-herb rice porridge on 7th January for health reasons, because they drink a lot and have a big meal during the New Year holidays. In my opinion, this eating habit is representative of the Japanese characteristic of caring for one’s health. Hence, sharing traditional foods is very important if we want to understand not only the culture but also people’s characteristics.
In the first, orientation week at Masaryk University, we had an international food party where each country introduced its traditional food. It was a good chance to show interest in other countries and talk to new people. In addition, I sometimes held Japanese food parties of my own. Many people enjoyed eating Japanese food and some of them asked me how to cook it. These parties not only expanded their interest in Japan but also helped our friendship develop.
The final step is to respect other cultures. If you want to be closer to your friends, showing an interest in their culture is not enough. You need to respect their culture by practising together or learning about it spontaneously. For instance, I have a lot of Muslim friends who cannot eat pork and drink alcohol because they are forbidden to do so by their religion. When I had party with them, I always paid attention to the ingredients of the foods. In addition, I tried not to drink alcohol in front of them, always drinking juice instead. Some people said to me, “That’s too much”, but I never felt uncomfortable about it. My Muslim friends often told me that they appreciated my understanding and kindness.
Similarly, learning about your friends’ cultures on your own is a very effective way of getting closer to them. It is difficult to talk about the history and politics of other countries because you have no idea. Sometimes, I could not give an opinion and was very upset at my poor knowledge. So I tried to learn about the history of my friends’ countries spontaneously, paying attention not only to Asian news but to world news too. Moreover, I memorized some easy words and greetings in their languages and used them in practical conversation.
To sum up, these three steps will make it easy for you to develop friendships with the people from different cultural backgrounds. Although they are taken from my own experience only, they changed my lonely first two weeks into a wonderful life surrounded by a lot of friends. These three steps will hopefully work for you and make your studies abroad more meaningful and amazing.