Because of intense academic pressure, it is really challenging to find ways to build community within international students’ busy schedules. Here’s some things we’ve tried to incorporate to build community.
1) Food! Everyone loves food and having international-friendly food really builds community. For snacks, serve pita and hummus rather than chips and dip. Chicken is a favorite with most cultures and fresh fruit is a winner every single time. And always, always have vegetarian options. We avoid pork altogether at events (no pepperoni pizza) to continue to say “welcome” to our Muslim friends.
2) Cook together. Even better…take them to an international grocery to get the ingredients, and then cook together! It’s amazing what enjoying their cooking creations does to build warmth in community.
3) Games. Keep an atmosphere of laughter and warmth when it comes to playing games. Try to have games that are not too language or culturally dependent. Our group enjoys Gestures, Catch Phrase, and Murder, as well as simple card games like Uno and Spoons.
4) Culture Nights. Choose a culture and have a night where they cook, share their cultures’ music and dance and art, and share a testimony from someone in that culture.
5) Sports—and ping pong! Internationals often love sports, especially football (soccer)! In our group, Haydee from the Philippines invites students to play ping ping on Saturday afternoons. She always has a great group of busy graduate students who show up for her “Ping Pong gang.”
6) Holiday parties. Internationals enjoy learning about American culture, so including them in Superbowl parties, Christmas celebrations, and Easter egg dying can be a lot of fun and help students to feel connected to our culture.
7) Dance! We’ve had a ton of fun teaching internationals square dancing and line dancing with a professional caller. Spontaneous cultural dances often break out at other events, and there’s nothing like fun dancing to build community.
8) Grocery shopping. One of my volunteers said that the best thing she ever did to connect with her busy student was regular grocery shopping. The student and volunteer could visit while they did something that the student always wanted to make time to do.
9) Sightseeing together. Taking advantage of academic breaks & weekends to do touristy things together creates special community memories. We’ve enjoyed DC tours, corn maizes, aquariums, and art galleries with our international friends.
10) Road Trip! My all-time favorite way to build community with internationals is at a retreat. Having extended time to cook together, hike, do puzzles, chat into the night, answer questions, share testimonies, and sing under the stars does wonders for building a loving community.