Intercultural friendships can provide highly rewarding life experiences for everyone involved, but they can also end with misunderstandings and hard feelings caused by cultural differences. Different cultures have different attitudes and beliefs about life, different expectations about how people should behave in social circumstances and even different understandings of what friendship means.
The biggest barrier to forming a close friendship with a person from another culture is also one of the best reasons for trying to do so. It's easy to make friends with someone who shares most of the same assumptions about life as you do, but you might not learn as much about the world or yourself as you could by making friends with someone who sees the world a bit differently. However, the difference in attitudes and assumptions can make communication difficult. A study published in the "Journal of International and Intercultural Communication" found that exchange students from Asia tended to have less positive experiences in the U.S. than did exchange students from Europe. This could be due to the greater cultural differences between Asia and the U.S.
One way in which cultures frequently differ from each other is in the role of the individual in society. American culture is more individualistic than are many other cultures, while Asian societies tend to be more collectivist. A friend from an Asian country might be more reluctant to voice an opinion in class or to go against the beliefs or opinions of her parents than would you. You might think she needs to stand up for herself more, while she might feel that you don't show your parents and teachers enough respect. It's important to remember that both of you have been shaped by the culture you grew up in, and that neither of you is right or wrong. An intercultural friendship can only work if you both accept the differences between you.
One way to smooth over any communication difficulties with a friend from another culture is to do a little research. For instance, if a Turkish friend invites you over for dinner, it might be helpful to know that guests are usually expected to take their shoes off in a Turkish household, or that a small gift is considered appropriate when visiting a friend's home. Travel guides and language textbooks often contain this type of cultural information.
Too Much Information
Cultures also have different attitudes about what topics of conversation friends should engage in and how much information friends should normally share with each other. For instance, if you start talking about your love life with a Japanese friend, he might be a little embarrassed because friends in Japan are more likely to talk about work, school or favorite hobbies rather than romance. Of course, any example about cultural attitudes is bound to be a generalization and may not apply to a specific person. The best way to find out what your friend is comfortable talking about is to follow his lead. If you do your best to understand your friend's culture and to respect his feelings, you should be able to overcome any difficulties.
- The Fountain: Turning the Tables to Build Intercultural Friendships
- Jounrnal of Intercultural Communication Research: Measuring Patterns of Self-Disclosure in Intercultural Friendship: Adjusting Differential Item Functioning Using Multiple-Indicators, Multiple-Causes Models
- Taylor and Francis Online: Intercultural Friendship - Effects of Home and Host Region
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