Happiness = Reality Minus Expectations
- International US College grads share insights & tips

Happiness = Reality Minus Expectations
- International US College grads share insights & tips

A key to making friends and finding your tribe is recognizing the difference between intention and expectation. Intention imparts a sense of purpose tempered with willingness to adapt to changing circumstances. Expectation is based on a presumption of reality that is beyond our control and apt to disappoint.

Part II – On Campus Social Life:

Few codes are tougher to crack than the unwritten language of social cues, especially in the cliquey realm of youth culture.

The international students, who shared their experiences with us, stressed the importance of keeping an open mind and not rushing to judgment about unfamiliar social norms.

I attended international schools my whole life, where I was able to connect with friends with similar backgrounds/experiences. University was different, and I had to connect with Americans, who had never left their home State, on a different level.

Rahma, University of Chicago, IL 

I found the process of making friends in the US a bit confusing. While almost everyone was friendly, few people seemed to have meant what they said about “grabbing that coffee together”. It took me a little while to differentiate between superficial “friendliness” and people who might actually become your friends.

Ece, University of Chicago, IL

You can easily isolate yourself, so you need to decide and make a conscious effort to hangout with people that you like and get to know them better - even if it seems unnatural at the time. I was also more used to making friends in a group - while at uni it was more individual friendships. 

Menzer, sophomore transfer from USC to NYU

Everyone wants to be your friend, meaning, (and I am speaking to my experience) that a lot of Americans are overly excited and very positive freshman year. While this is a great thing, it can be kind of superficial, so you have to be sure to find people who you connect with well. 

Camille, Brown University, RI

Internationals tend to gravitate towards other foreign classmates. While their native cultures may share little in common, the fact that they are facing similar challenges creates common ground. Children of American expats, who grew up overseas, can also feel more at ease socially with international students.

Being foreigners in the US made us start our acquaintance with something in common which made it easier to bond and become friends.


I got involved with international clubs, e.g. Model UN, which made me feel more connected with my roots. 


College social events are frequently organized around sports teams, fraternities, sororities and clubs. Getting involved in “orchestrated fun” can require pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.

Friendships on campus were "activity" based, which is totally different than what I was accustomed to. I realized that you had to be part of a club (sports, special interest, career, etc.) to make friends, whereas it was much more of an organic process back home.

Serra, Columbia University, NY

At first I found Greek life quite strange and cult-like. Not to mention the (relatively) crazy parties. However, as I got to know more people who were part of Greek life, I realized that they actually foster quite a special and life-long bond among members.


I didn't get involved because Greek life wasn't big on my campus, but advised my younger sister to join a sorority when she came to the US for undergrad. I would've gotten involved if I knew more about it at the time.


Greek life was banned at Middlebury, which is what put the onus on sports teams to organize parties. Making friends was difficult if you were not on a sports team. Students tended to stick with their team for activities, parties and hanging out.

There were a few “underground” fraternities, but the students who joined them didn’t belong to a team and struggled to make friends.

Alex, Middlebury College, VT

Greek life felt more isolating than connecting. I actually felt like I did not fit into USC social life because I was not interested in joining a sorority, which made me a minority. I felt much better adjusted to the social life at NYU (which barely had Greek life).


Camille - who grew up in London and attended British schools - sums up how a positive ‘nothing ventured’ attitude is a winning strategy for making friends and maximizing the vast choice of extra curricular activities American Colleges have to offer.

My ethos was that I was in the US for a reason, and while I had many international friends, I needed to expand my horizons. Once you get involved in these smaller groups, you become part of a whole different culture. I understand that Greek life can be antiquated and elitist, but you can get involved in anything and immediately you are opened to different experiences. The great thing about the US (and this takes some getting used to for Europeans) is that there is a lot of organized fun, but once you embrace it, it really is great! 



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