The conceptualization of friendship by Chinese international students at a university in the Southeastern United States

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University of Alabama Libraries

Currently the number of international students at higher education institutions in the United States is at an all-time high at nearly one million. International students play a vital role in internationalizing college campuses across America and provide opportunities for American college students to have meaningful interaction with students from different countries and cultures with whom they would not otherwise have the opportunity to interact. As intercultural competence is one of the main goals of internationalization, meaningful intercultural interaction is essential. Unfortunately, many international students struggle to build friendships with American students. The purpose of this qualitative study was to better understand how Chinese international students, at one particular university, conceptualize friendship. Using a constructivist grounded theory approach, I interviewed 33 participants and analyzed the data using initial, focused, and theoretical coding. The findings suggest that Chinese students usually allow friendships to slowly develop over an extended period of time, but once the friendships have formed, they last for a long time. Moreover, I found that reciprocity, in the form of gift giving and helping, was an essential part of friendship maintenance. I also found that the group mentality was an important aspect of friendship. Because of the differences in regards to friendship formation and maintenance, Chinese and American students may have difficulty becoming friends. By understanding how Chinese students perceive friendship, higher education administrators, particularly those in student affairs, may be able to offer more assistance and guidance on how to become friends with Americans—provided the Chinese students want to make friends and welcome the advice. Possible practical implications of this research include seminars on cultural differences and structured on-campus events that encourage meaningful intercultural interaction.

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Higher education