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Why international students find it hard to make friendship Essay


Friendships are not automatic societal functions. Individuals do not just look at each other and decide to be friends. On the contrary, it is a gradual process that requires persons to interact with each other (even briefly) and depending on the messages they send out, the other party will know whether or not they can relate well.

In this regard, the process of making friends is by and large dependent on the communication between two individuals, communication which at times can be non-verbal. Various theories have been developed to help further understand how this communicative process that leads to the making of friends happens.

This essay shall analyze the theories that have been developed to help understand the process of human interaction leading to the making of friends. The theory of cultural dimensions shall be used to provide groundwork, before the other theories are introduced to the discussion.

In this paper, it is argued that different views of self and self-disclosure explain the difficulties international students face when they attempt to form intercultural friendships, therefore less intensity of cultural identification, openness of communication and finding individual similarity would enable both local and international students to form better intercultural friendships.

Geert Hofstede’s theory

Among the theories that effectively analyzed cross-cultural psychology and cross-cultural communication is Geert Hofstede’s theory of cultural dimensions. According to Hofstede, cultural values can be analyzed in four key dimensions. These are: power-distance, individualism-collectivism, uncertainty-avoidance and masculinity-femininity (Hofstede, Gert and Michael, 2010).

When analysing how individuals interact with each other using the power distance dimension, one looks at how closely individuals in different levels of authority interact with each other. In institutions that endorse low power distance, people regard each other as equals regardless of the difference in their spheres of influence.

On the other hand, in societies that promote a high power distance, less powerful individuals accept their position in the chain of command and acknowledge the strengths of their superiors in the hierarchy. In this regard, the theory does not focus on how the society distributes power, but instead on how people see the power differences.

When international students in Australia attempt to form intercultural relationships, the power distance dimension players a key role in determining their success rate. Australia, as a society endorses a high power distance, requiring individuals to first understand their position in social standings before they can try to initiate relationships with others.

In contrast, most of the international students come from countries that endorse a low power distance. For instance, in Tanzania, a very wealthy person will easily hold a discussion with his gate-keeper on the same platform as he would a member of parliament.

As such, an international student coming from such a background will find it difficult to appreciate that he cannot easily relate with others because they come from more privileged backgrounds.

The individualism-collectivism dimension explains how integrated a society is. In individualistic institutions, the achievements of individuals and their rights are given prominence over those of the entire set up. In collectivist societies, people conduct themselves primary as members of one cohesive entity.

In the quest for a better education and ultimately better livelihoods, many persons from the developing countries travel to the developed ones and join academic institutions. However, the difference in societal integration makes it difficult for them to adapt, particularly when it comes to making friends. In Australia, for example, the society is less close-knit compared to a country like Malawi.

In Malawi, individuals tend to live in huge extended families, with everything they do being for the good of the whole. A student from Malawi would find it difficult to understand why someone would prefer to have a meal alone.

This is because in Africa meals are shared and individuals are usually required to have some company while eating. In this regard, the student my end up joining an Australian native for a meal without welcome, assuming that the society is the same as that of his birth country, only to discover that his act came out as offensive.

The uncertainty-avoidance dimension focuses on an institution’s tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. In societies with a high uncertainty-avoidance index, people put all measures in place to avoid undesirable circumstances.

In low uncertainty-avoidance communities, individuals are more comfortable working in unstructured environments and they tend to deal with ambiguity when it presents instead of putting preventive measures in place (Ekeh, 1974). For instance, in some Asian communities, individuals believe that fate has a hand in everything and that any precautionary measures will be in vain if fate had other plans.

If you take a student who grew up in such an environment and put him in an Australian community where everything is pre-planned, with additional measures to deal with unexpected turns, he will find the environment restrictive.

For him/her to try and impose his/her traditions and beliefs will present him as pushy, further reducing his/her chances of making friends. In addition, their Australian counterparts may also be the intolerant to change hence distancing themselves from new friendships.

Each and every institution has a structured format governing the distribution of emotional roles between males and females. Cultures that can be described as masculine, value such traits as competitiveness, assertiveness, power, and materialism (Guerrero, 2007). In this regard, masculine setups place a huge difference in the roles that men and women bear, as well as the nature of their relationships.

In contrast, societies that are feminine them to put more value on relationships and the quality of life (Guerrero, 2007). These institutions allow men and women to have the same values and to bear an equal amount of responsibility. In addition, in feminine societies, men and women relate on the same level with each other.

When it comes to the process of making new friendships, the cultural background of international students determines how successful they will get. For example, in most Arabic setups and institutions, men are regarded as superior to women. These communities are very masculine and do not allow the two genders to freely interact. In Australia, on the other hand, men and women are treated as equals.

This principle applies in both formal and informal setups. As such, an Arabic lady attending an Australian college will shun from making apparent friendships with male students because her culture does not allow for such relationships. In the end, the lady might find herself completely isolated after word spreads around that she is not friendly.

Apart from Hofstede, there are a number of scholars that came up with theories that could be used to explain why international students find it difficult to make friends. These theories are social exchange theory, equity theory, relational dialectics and attachment styles (Miller, 2005). The four have been detailed below as per their application to the current discussion.

The Social Exchange Theory

The Social exchange theory was first published in the 1960s by George Homans. It was later picked up by scholars Richard Emerson and Peter Blau, who continued writing more on the theory (Blau, 1964). According to Homans, social change and stability is a process that calls for constant communication between the involved parties.

The social exchange theory posits that all relationships are based on a cost-benefit structure, where individuals look at the requirements they need to form a new relationship and then compare them with the rewards before making a decision. In this regard, the worth of a friendship can be defined as the difference between rewards and costs.

That is, Worth=Rewards-Costs

Where costs are: the time, money and effort that an individual commits to a relationship. Rewards on the other hand are the things that have a positive value on an individual and include things like acceptances, companionship and support (Spector, 2008).

When it comes to the process of making friendships, particularly for international students, their Australian counterparts have to look at the costs they will incur in sustaining the friendship. At times, individuals conclude that the international students will leave for their home countries at the end of their studies hence fail to see the point in making friends with people that will not be there for them.

Relational dialectics

Dialectic is a method of putting an end to a conflict between two individuals and it has a base in Indian and European philosophy. In relational dialectics, individuals bearing different opinions of a given situation raise their points of view and then discuss about out it, with the person with the most convincing stance convincing the other party to join him/her.

When it comes to the formation of relationships between individuals who hail from different cultural backgrounds, their initial contact brings their differing points of view at loggerheads. However, after some time of interacting with each other, they can manage to convince one another to drop certain elements of their beliefs and support new ones.

This results in the formation of new friendships. For instance, an international male student from Saudi Arabia, who comes from a culture that holds women as inferior humans to men, might find it difficult to hold socialization sessions with female Australian students.

However, if the Australian ladies sit with him and convince him that his beliefs are wrong, they might end up making a new friendship. Unfortunately, most people prefer to keep their distance once they notice that you are trying to put them down, hence making it difficult for international students to make friends.

Equity theory

The Equity theory was developed in 1963 by John Stacey Adams, in an attempt to explain how individuals perceive fairness and unfairness in the allocation of resources within relationships (Walster, Walster and Bershcheid, 1978).

Adams after an extensive study on interpersonal relationships came to the conclusion that individuals value institutions that value them. In his study, Adams confirmed that individuals regard their environment as equitable provided the ration of their input to the outcome was equivalent to that of other people around him. This was summed up in the formula below:

individuals regard their environment as equitable provided the ration of their input to the outcome was equivalent to that of other people around him

In the equation above, inputs are all the contribution that an individual makes to a relationship that will help him get rewards. These include: Time, effort, loyalty, commitment and determination. Outcomes, in the equation, are the consequences that result from a particular relationship as a result of an individual putting in the inputs and they include things like recognition, reputation and thanks.

In the process of making friendships, individuals hope that if they put in an equal amount of effort as their partners they should get similar benefits. International students find it difficult to make new friendships in Australia because unlike their counterparts who have grown up in the region, they have nowhere to start.

As such, they end up expecting to get the same popularity as the Australian students, only to feel cheated when this is not attained.

Attachment theory

The attachment theory was developed after the Second World War by psychiatrist John Bowlby. It posits that individuals who enter into any form of relationship do so for survival and security purposes. In this regard, individuals will tend to stay away from relationships that they cannot gain the two desires listed above from.

This theory applies in the case of International Students trying to make new friendships. This is because most of them tend to try and make friends to make their stay in the foreign country more bearable as well as get the security of someone to run to whenever they have problems.

There Australian counterparts also seek the same things in the friendship and once they realize that they are getting the shorter end of the stick, they opt to steer clear from such relationships.


This essay had set out to explain why international students find it difficult to make new friends. To this end, various theories have been analysed with their application to the current discussion well highlighted. It, however, should be noted that the discussion was not exhaustive because there are many other theories that were left out.

Reference List

Blau, Peter (1964). Exchange and power in social life. New York: Wiley.

Ekeh, Peter Palmer. (1974). Social exchange theory: the two traditions. London: Heinemann Educational

Guerrero, A. (2007). Close Encounters: Communication in Relationships, 2nd edition. New York: Sage Publications, Inc.

Hofstede, G., Gert H. & Michael M. (2010).Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Miller, Katherine (2005). Communication Theories. New York: McGraw Hill.

Spector, E. (2008). Industrial and Organizational Behavior. Hoboken, NJ:Wiley

Walster, E., Walster, W. & Bershcheid, E. (1978). Equity: Theory and Research. Brooklyn: Allyn and Bacon, Inc.

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