Let’s say you’re a freshman student starting your courses in the fall—or maybe you’re getting started with one of your later years in college but want to expand your network; starting conversations and making new acquaintances will be crucial to the quality of your college experience.
Starting conversations with American students isn’t easy. You don’t want to come off as overly forward or creepy. Also, depending on your past experience either studying in the United States or with your proximity to other Americans throughout your life, you may not always be sure how your message will translate/sound from a cultural perspective to your American classmates. For example, where a Chinese student may express an emotion through a Chinese proverb or idiom, an American student may instead express that same emotion through a movie quote.
I’ll give you an example of a bad first contact: After graduating from college in Florida, I moved to China to teach at a university. When I was walking around campus during the first week of school, a student found me and asked, “Do you like to party? Let us be friends.” Even though I spoke with the student for a moment afterwards, I had no intention of developing a friendship with her due to the overt forwardness of her introductory comment. Though she seemed nice, her first words sounded somewhat like those of a stalker.
With difficulties and challenges in mind, let’s push forward and look at ways to successfully break the ice and start conversation with your future American classmates! Here are some foolproof methods for successful first contact:
1. Ask for their opinion
Maybe you just finished a class and you are both preparing to walk out of the room. Questions like “did you understand any of that stuff about queuing theory?” or “What did you think of the test?” would be totally appropriate ways to start a conversation.
2. Ask for info
Even if you already know the answer- asking for information is probably the best way to start a conversation. When I would visit different colleges years ago, I met so many new people just by asking where the college’s bookstore/souvenir shop is located. Other good questions could be “Do you know when the next class starts?” or “could you help me find the library for the school of business?”.
3. Offer to help
This obviously only works in situations where people actually look like they may need help. For example, if a classroom is full, you could move your bag off the seat next to you and offer it to someone looking for a seat. Alternatively, offering someone a pen if they don’t have one, or helping someone with some of the tons of stuff they are moving into their dorm room would be great ideas.
4. Give a compliment
This one is very tricky. You can’t compliment an American student on their physical appearance. It almost always seems weird. However, you can make a positive comment about something they are wearing or using like a bike or backpack. Something like, “hey, that’s an awesome bike, did you get that near campus?” would be perfectly fine.
5. Complain about the weather
Everyone likes complaining about the weather. It’s nearly an American tradition to talk about how bad the weather is. Also, it’s always a safe thing to complain about because no one has a personal connection to the weather. It’s much better than complaining about a teacher to a student who may have a close connection with that teacher. Is it raining too hard for you to make it to your car or your next class? Is it too hot outside for you to bike to class without sweating so much that it looks like you jumped in a pool? Complain about it!
Now that you know these tools for starting a conversation with an American student, you are ready to further your personal network and have a more social and enjoyable college experience. Get over your fears and give some of these tips a try!