How To: Be a Good Friend to an International Grad Student
I just spent the bulk of the day stressing over KQ and a JFK connection, hence why this piece is late. I also watched the first World Cup match with Qatar-d, (thanks Njugush!) But also, to be fair, this weekend has behaved as a weekend should. Late nights, late mornings, no pressure, at-home brunches, Masterclass with Indra (which I highly recommend) but generally, restful and relaxing.
This Thursday is Thanksgiving in the US. According to Merriam-Webster, Friendsgiving is a blend of friend and Thanksgiving, and it refers to a large meal eaten with friends either on or near Thanksgiving. As such, I thought to share some thoughts on how to be a good friend to that friend who’s an international grad student.
Keep them posted and in the loop
As human beings, social connection is at the core of our being. For most people, family goes along with friends in determining and defining that sweet social circle spot. Friends most time get it more than your family may, and so it’s important to try and keep them posted and in the know of what’s happening. Being away from home especially before you build a new community is already stressful to the body and the mind. I suggest keeping in touch and going the extra mile. My circle of people has graciously had to live with video calls of baby showers, birthdays, and weddings. It’s worked as best as it can to foster that feeling of connection, belonging, and presence. They may have elected to live away, but they still want to know what's happening and feel at home.
Genuinely listen and ask of how they're doing without judgment. While there may be underlying feelings of being left behind or struggling to find where you fit in in your friends' new life, genuinely checking in and listening is one of the greatest gifts you can give. Create a suitable environment for vulnerability, listen kindly to the lamentations they may have, of the weather, leaving loved ones behind, feeling unaccepted, of the price of watermelon, the cost of living or their study experiences.
For most mid-career students who transition from regular income to a reduced or non-existent income form, financial stability and mere survival is at the core of their new life. I know you cannot fathom sending money from home to the US and that it should be the other way around, but sharing what you have to financially provide for your friend however small, goes a long long way.
For instance, my sister once sent me money for the sole purpose of buying a slice of watermelon. (For context, a whole watermelon in Kenya would probably cost under a dollar, at Giant a quarter slice may cost about 7$ give or take.) I doubt she even knows this, but I have never felt that taken care of - plus the watermelon was delish! So send money to your friends.
And on that note, my good friend is raising funds to support the completion of his postgrad degree at Duke. You can support here, with whatever you have :)
Introduce them to other friends
Some of the best connections I’ve made have been through friends. If you know someone who’s in the same area as your friend, go the extra mile and introduce them to each other. Just the thought and idea of having a friend of a friend, somewhere to start from is so understated yet so helpful and meaningful. It’s a small show of goodwill that goes a far way.
Take note of the time difference
My most asked question to my Google Assistant is, ‘Hey Google, what’s the time in Nairobi’. Be thoughtful and considerate enough to take note of the time zone your friend is now in and the time difference. Be kind enough to take that into consideration when communicating and realize that they may respond to you or be available to speak when you’re not and that planning dates may not be as straightforward as it used to be or as you may like it to be.
Lastly, transitions are brutal. On the body, the soul, and the mind. While you may not realize it, they may need time and space to adjust to the newness of their new lives without the burden of carrying you along. Be kind, extend grace and pray that they do the same for you when you need it.
While I realize this may be one-sided, I’d also love to hear from the other side and actually glean on how friends back home feel grad student friends may have been or may be better friends. Maybe a Friendsgiving 2.0, let me reach out to my personal people and see if we’ll have a 2.0 🙂
On Sunday nights there was a show called AfroCentral by Patricia Kihoro where she’d play African music that wasn’t mainstream and not on pop radio. She so kindly made a public playlist titled, For Malovings that is a great listen. While there are many favorite things on my list today, this is what I am loving. Enjoy :)
P.s. I especially really like the Acoustic version of Kubali by Brandy Maina, a great listen!
'When someone says something important that will help you, or when someone makes you an offer related to something you want to do, your job is to ‘lean into it.’ Dip your toe in the water and see what that opportunity feels like.’
Jack Canfield in Success Affirmations