International Students Get a Lesson in Love
What does “hang out” mean? What does “friends with benefits” mean? How do I know when an American man or woman is interested in me? These are the types of questions that Rebecca Peterson, an international student advisor, answered during an hour-long session devoted to helping international students build relationships with other students.
“Making Relationships in the U.S.” is one of a dozen sessions in the Living in the United States series, offered by the Office of International Services (OIS). The series also covers politics, health care, accent reduction and success in the U.S. classroom, among other topics.
Part of the Division of Student Affairs, OIS offers a variety of services to USC’s international population, the largest of any U.S. university. Helping international students understand American culture and make friends with American students is one of the reasons this series was created five years ago. The popular “relationship” session addresses friendships, dating, marriage and workplace relationships.
“This session focuses on the social relational aspects of the U.S. culture that may be different for international students,” Peterson said. “They struggle with making American friends, so they ask: How do I make small talk? When they say lets hang out, does that mean they really want to? Will they contact me, or do I contact them?”
About 30 international students attended the September session, where dating was a hot topic. The students — from China, the Netherlands, Korea, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Turkey — discussed how dating differs in their cultures and learned about dating American-style.
Graduate student Amanda Beirne and undergraduate Paul Birkner shared their thoughts about dating from an American perspective.
“If you’re texting a guy all of the time, and he’s never the first person to text, then he’s probably not interested,” said Birkner. “But say this guy starts texting you all of the time. He’s probably showing some interest in you. It’s almost like writing love letters, back in the day. Texting has replaced that.”
Several students said that in their cultures, they only go to the movies with very close friends, and they were surprised that American students will go to see a movie with new acquaintances. There were also some cultural differences related to dinner invitations.
“Going to get coffee or tea or a smoothie, something more casual, is very common,” said Beirne. “Dinner is reserved for more intimate relationships, or someone you’re trying to get to know really well in a romantic way.”
A light bulb went off in Dutch graduate student Paulien Snellen’s head after hearing this.
“I asked someone to dinner, and I never heard from him again. Now I realize he thinks I was interested in him,” said Snellen. “During the day I’m too busy, so I suggested dinner, but I didn’t mean anything more by it. I also have to get accustomed to small talk. In the Netherlands, we share personal things with everyone, not just with friends. Here, it’s just small talk if you’re strangers.”
Snellen will undoubtedly be happy to learn that in America, a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet.