Building Cross-Cultural Friendships
January 12, 2018
by Erica Largent, King’s Schools International Student Coordinator
As we continue deeper into the 21st century, the importance of developing an international mindset grows at an accelerating speed. Here at King’s Schools, I am thrilled that we get to inspire and equip students from across Seattle and around the world, embracing the challenges of developing young adults ready for the internationalized landscape of the future.
Equipping comes not only through our curriculum, but also in the way our children develop friendships among schoolmates. This can be difficult to do across cultural lines. We tend to make friends with people that are similar to us. Sometimes, the further you travel outside of your culture, the more difficult it is to find those relationship-building, shared connection points.
Not only that, but different cultures have different ways of creating community and approaches to friendships. In some cultures, people tend to be more open with acquaintances and develop friendships quickly with a new acquaintance. In other cultures, true friendships take substantial time to develop as trust builds over multiple interactions. There are different ways to demonstrate friendship, too, which don’t always translate well to other cultures!
So, how can we inspire our children (and ourselves) to better reach out to the increasingly diverse group of peers around us?
- Be intentional. Encourage your child to get to know as many kids around them at school. Take the time to research cuisine options and cultural events around your city that your family wouldn’t otherwise seek out, and talk with the individuals working there. Look for movies, TV shows, and books from other countries, many of which are available (either translated or in original language with subtitles) online or at your local library. Invite the new family from overseas to dinner in your home. Open your family to what exists outside of your own cultural bubble!
- Be authentic. Each individual has their own beliefs and habits and idiolect. Although your child represents a facet of your culture, they do not need to feel the pressure of trying to be an ambassador for your culture—and they shouldn’t expect their friends and classmates to be an ambassador for their particular cultures, either.
- Be grace-full. With different cultures, you can anticipate additional disconnects or bumps in the relationship. Cultural norms for relationships are not all universal. There are different expectations, values, and behaviors from culture to culture. Sometimes, this results in misattributions that end up harming an intercultural relationship. Encourage your child to talk about those potential differences with their friends as they learn to work through conflict, restore relationships, and show grace for unintentional offences.
Need a little more guidance or support as you start exploring? There are a lot of great resources out there for this very purpose, but I’d suggest starting with Patty Lane’s A Beginner’s Guide to Crossing Cultures. I hope you’ll be inspired to invite new friends into your life, and make this big world just a little bit smaller!
Erica Largent serves as King’s International Student Coordinator, working with the international students, families and host families in our schools. A third-culture kid herself, she loves helping newcomers to Seattle acclimate to our unique culture here and grow confident sharing their unique self with their new community.