Briefly Noted: (In)hospitality: Are Americans Thumbing Their Noses at the Nations?

The citizens of the United States are not a particularly hospitable bunch, especially to foreigners. Or, at least, that has been my anecdotal observation over the years. But why rely on anecdotal observations, when Karen Fischer has provided us with some data? In her recent article, “Many Foreign Students Find Themselves Friendless in the United States” (The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 22, 2012), Fischer states, “More than one in three foreign students in a new survey say they have no close American friends, and many say they wish they had more, and more-meaningful, relationships with Americans.”

Fischer cites Elisabeth Gareis, associate professor of communication studies at Baruch College. Gareis is the author of “Intercultural Friendship: Effects of Home and Host Region,” a research report on 450 students (undergrad and graduate) at 10 public universities. She reports that 27 percent of international students claimed three or more “close American friends,” 17 percent claimed one such friend, 18 percent claimed two, while 38 percent claimed none. Students from English-speaking countries were the most likely to have three or more. Students were split in their assessment of blame: 46 percent blamed their own shyness or English skills while 54 percent blamed American students for the lack of connectedness. Gareis asks, “‘Where else can people meet and have the time and the freedom to make friends across cultures than at college? . . . But we’re not fulfilling that promise.’”

This survey is not comprehensive or definitive, and my argument would be fallacious if I were to jump straight to conclusions that dismissed American culture as inherently inhospitable. But the survey does raise interesting questions and, more importantly, the specter of a unique opportunity: for Christians to love the nations by loving their students who travel to the United States for an education. As Paul writes, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). May the day come that God’s people collectively embrace foreign students from all tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations (Rev 5, 7), welcoming them and loving them by means of word and deed.




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  1. Chad   •  

    Very thought provoking. I wonder if the recent immigration controversy, coupled with the Recession, are components of American “snobbery.” Also, I think a spectre of anger from 9/11 continues to abide in many Ameican hearts. The terror and evil of the Cartel in Mexico may play a part in some of the American Psyche too. I don’t know, Bruce. It just seems that many Americans feel that are entitled to everything, but then feel like they are giving everything away to foreigners.
    In either case, while the sociological issues are enticing to debate, it is a ripe field to share the Gospel and be nourished in understanding the worldview of other people groups, especially if they are Christians. Let’s face it: Christian’s in Africa think about the world differently than Christians I know from North Carolina or here in California.

  2. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Chad, yep. I’ve spent a large part of the past 15 years overseas in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. I get invited into homes every time i turn around. but that is not the experience that foreigners have when they come to the USA.

  3. Matthew   •  

    This is a great article and you raise some valid points. I think one thing that may have been overlooked here is a different sociological point from what Chad made. Americans are used to seeing different types of faces. The great American melting pot combined with a “color-blindness” that was pushed as a politically correct idea when I was going through high school 15 years ago has resulted in us simply not really seeing people of other ethnicities. I think there is also an underlying fear of offending people by assuming they are from another country and have actually lived in America their whole life.
    That being said, living out the gospel in daily life should override that color-blindness and we can approach these situations with wisdom and grace without being offensive to the person.

  4. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Matthew, good point. The melting pot mentality probably does have a little something to do with it, at least for a certain generation. My own opinion is that the main reason, however, is that we just don’t want to be bothered…

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