International students and communication skills

At a coffee morning for international students hosted by Careers Network, some of our students and International Student Ambassadors mused on the barriers to communication that international students face and possible solution.

Communication skills are an important part of the life of an international student, it does not matter what you are studying, because in the end you find different communication barriers will affect your academic and personal life.

Some barriers that international students have identified are:
•    It is difficult to make new friends, especially with home students. In some cases we do not understand their accents and we feel uncomfortable with the fact that “We just cannot understand”

“Language barriers are only seldom the true reason for many of us, who blame our lack of ability to make friends with in this case, British people. Rather our true selves and potential are often seen when we are given the opportunity to shine. This shining could apply almost in all matters in life. However, we have found ourselves without enough British friends and this can be associated with a few factors as listed in below”

•    Naturally, we try to find friends that understand our culture. In most cases we have friends from our own country that speak our mother language and this makes our lives more difficult in terms of relating to British students.
However, barriers are new opportunities to show how good we are and how many skills we have. So get out of your comfort zone and speak in English with everyone!!!
“Let’s celebrate our uniqueness, there’s beauty in diversity. I think that it’s not too difficult to relate to home students. Just be yourself, everyone is unique you know. You could start by following up on earlier interactions and communicating on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Be genuine, calm and nice and you will surely be able to make new friends. It might be difficult to be part of the clique, but there will be 1 or 2 people that will like you and from there your network will broaden.”

Another important point in communication skills is to talk not only with your voice… use your body!!! You can express yourself using your hands, your face… your body language, in general. International students are more than their own language and you can use your body to make your point and express yourself.
Live the ‘Global village’ spirit
When we arrive in a new country we always feel a little bit different… in some cases, we do not understand why people are so different from us… Who has not felt they talk louder or in a lower tone than UK people?!
Maybe in your culture you talk much louder, do not make eye contact or you have more body contact… All these things make a difference in our lives and, in some cases, it is difficult to understand how people behave and why… However, let mix up and adapt to the new cultural experience…we need to understand that everyone is different and we are also different, so if we want them to understand us… let’s understand them…
“Interestingly enough, quite often, as per my own personal experience, I have found my closest friends to be other international students who came from the same university that I went to. After US, China & France, England is the 4th country I am doing my undergrad Business Studies in. So, stay true to yourself, and never be worried again! Yes be proud of yourself for being an awesome person who cares for others, and who shares love and passion for others!”
Networking… networking… for success
Some tips to increase your network; not only your circle of friends. First, even if it is difficult, get some British friends. It might not be an easy task, but it would be a great experience!
“Friendship could stem from where you are from and better still from your personality. On a light note there was a day I fried plantain (Nigerian dish) at home and my UK housemates liked the aroma. I offered them a dish and put four plates out for the four of them. You can’t believe, they invited me to join their group chat! There are many ways to reach out.” (Note from the editor, sharing food is a great way of making new friends and many UK students will be intrigued to find out more about your culture if you share food from your home countries)

We are international students looking to increase our network. It is always good to get some work experience and of course if we are in the UK, why not get it here? So, we have to be strategic with our networking, in order to increase our chances to make the most of our time in this country. We should: make friends with other internationals, they can be students or not; go to conferences and experience new adventures; apply for  internships or a graduate schemes, among many other options!
“You don’t have to be particularly thirsty or dying for necessarily forming a friendship and / or relationship with a British student. Rather the normal way of your friendly behavior and interaction should be enough reason for everyone to see and comprehend your passion and eagerness and hearty efforts for making and bonding friendships. Thus, if your efforts work, great! If not, be certain that you can’t force one to be your close friend! Believe it or not, international students are as awesome as British students!”
And what about social media???
Now we have the opportunity to connect via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest…All people we meet are important in our life so just try to get in touch using technology.
“Moving to a new country requires adaptability to new traditions, culture, language and people. As international students who very likely only intend spending a short period of time in the UK it would be very easy to just attend lectures and only relate to other students in our similar situation. However, I feel this is a unique opportunity to learn from the “inside” what England and the English have to offer, which is a lot! This doesn’t mean we have to become best friends with every British citizen we encounter and reject all non-home students, but just try to interact with the people near us. Bear in mind that every person you meet potentially opens the door to all of his or her friends and so on.
Many home students will have already created their circle of friends over their time at university, but my advice is you seek those who will have an international interest. The clear example is language students, who will very probably be happy to have a language buddy. Don’t forget that friendship is about interests and we too have a lot to offer. Alternatively, there are many people who may not have been born in the UK but have lived here for many years. They can also teach us a lot about the country and are an invaluable source of information and contacts.”
So, no excuses! Just get out there and start chatting!

By: Helena Badger, Monica Pinilla, Motjaba Fatah, Omolara Fasanmi and Raquel da Silva

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About careersbham

Student Engagement Officer for Careers Network University of Birmingham

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