The mental struggle of finding friends

A graphic showing the title: The mental struggle of finding friends CREDIT: FSU PUBLICATIONS AND COMMUNICATIONS DEPARTMENT

Adapting to a new environment can have a serious impact on our mental health. It is no mystery that coping with a different culture can be difficult and international students know this all too well.

“I am from India, and being an international student in a new country, with new rules, new currency and new language, has been overwhelming,” said Fanshawe student Achsah Japheth. “I felt alone, but I knew every beginning was hard. The problem was that I did not even know where to start. It was tough to cope with all the changes in my life and even tougher to cope with the loneliness.”

Japheth stated that she learned how diverse Canada was when she arrived. She said that even though she was feeling lost at the beginning, she met many friends from India and that helped her to adapt a little faster.

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According to Statistics Canada, since the middle of the 2000s, the number of international students in Canada has steadily increased, reaching 638,300 in 2019. In 2020, there were 528,200 international students in Canada, a 17 per cent decrease from 2019 and the first annual decline in the number of international students in Canada in 20 years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the number of international students reached 621,600.

“When international students first arrive in the country, they tend to gravitate towards people they may already know or people from their culture and language. That can sometimes limit their options for making friends,” said Fanshawe International Student Transition and Engagement Facilitator Laura Taron. “It can be difficult to make friends in a foreign country because sometimes you are not meeting with people who share the same interest and culture as you.”

She stated that some other students tend to interact only with the people in their programs, which limits the pool of people they can meet with even more.

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that people often refrain from talking to strangers because they have pessimistic expectations about how such conversations will go. People believe they will be rejected or not know what to say.

Taron said that the language barrier could contribute to pessimistic expectations, leading to students feeling like they’re not going to fit in with a group of friends.

“In Fanshawe, there are people from all over the world. So there is a place for everybody. There is no reason to fear new interactions.” Taron said.

She said that every student would eventually enter the workforce, which is why they must know how to interact with people of multiple backgrounds.

“It is also a great networking opportunity because it is a chance for students to learn to work through some of those personality challenges. Fanshawe offers many ways people can build their networking. One of them is the Fanshawe Friends Program,” Taron said. “If a student is concerned about some of their soft skills, that program is an excellent opportunity to build them in a social environment while interacting with a diverse population.”

Taron said that international students are often more outgoing, friendly and energetic than some domestic students. She said that international students can make friends, interact and socialize with people quite well.

“They are risk-takers because they are willing to change their lives and embrace the challenge of moving and studying abroad,” Taron said.

She said that the best way to meet new people is by attending events that are related to something that they may be interested in or finding communities or networks within the college that will get them in touch with likeminded people.

“When you are sharing experiences, that helps you build these solid foundational friendships,” Taron said. “Finding those opportunities to have meaningful experiences together rather than just passing by in the classroom is key to building a strong and long-lasting friendship.”