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5 reasons to befriend international students

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

The growth of international student mobility (ISM) has exploded since 1990. There were only five million international students in 2018. But by 2025, they are expected to be at least seven million. Maybe that does not sound like a lot, with a global population of over seven billion. But it is one in every thousand people on the earth. But how might this trend be affected by COVID-19? The current pandemic represents an interruption to international student mobility that is swifter and more immediate than either the SARS outbreak of 2003 or the global financial crisis of 2007–08. While the short-term picture for international student mobility is discouraging, the long-term view is brighter. Most of the studies that report ISM disruptions in 2020 also note that, despite the virus, people retain a long-term interest in studying abroad.

In Canada, there are 642,000 (as of Feb 20, 2020) international students among a population of 37 million. That means approximately one in every hundred people is an international student. It is estimated that nearly three-quarters of international students in Canada come from the 10/40 Window. If you want to reach the unreached, befriend an international student. The 10/40 Window is open, and it will only open wider in the coming months and years.

Canadian universities are preparing for in-person classes from September 2021.

According to the CEOWORLD magazine, in the 2021 rankings, Canada has been recognized as the fourth-best country in the world for international students. With promises that Canadians will be vaccinated by the end of September this year, post-secondary institutions are more confident that it will be safe to return to in-person classes for the fall semester. At this point, those universities that have officially announced fall returns have also said they will monitor the threat of coronavirus and act accordingly to keep students and staff safe. Under the current travel restrictions, international students are allowed to come to Canada as long as they are going to an institution with a COVID-19 readiness plan.

My friend Jason from Dubai received the acceptance letter from the University of Calgary to pursue his engineering degree. He is preparing to arrive in Calgary before September. He is looking forward to making new friends in Canada and connecting with campus ministries in reaching fellow students with the love of Jesus. Isn’t it exciting to know that along with thousands of unreached students, many Christian students are also preparing for Canada? Can we also get ready to welcome and befriend the crème de la crème students from around the world?

Here are five reasons why we believe reaching out to international students is important:

1. They are looking connection.

International students need relationships with local Canadians, especially families, to genuinely understand what life in Canada is like. Study shows that only a small percentage of international students ever make it into a Canadian home. The majority of international students coming to Canada are from culturally collectivistic countries. They come from cultures that are close-knit to one another. So when these students are in a new country, they feel homesick and always look for relationships and friendships. In today’s academic community, the greatest need is to communicate that someone cares. All college students are hungry for relationships even though they have lots of friends on social media. Did you know that we can become the primary means through which your international student friend comes to know our country’s culture and its people? When we reach out in this way offers a powerful platform of influence.

2. They can expand our worldview.

Having an international student in your life sharpens your understanding of what is happening in the world outside of our borders. It differs from listening to the news, watching a movie or reading a book because of the relational component. You are making a friend across cultural lines. This adds depth to your own understanding. If you befriend an international student from South Asia, especially from India or Pakistan, make sure you ask them about the game – Cricket. It’s a good conversation starter 😊.

Do you like to share your expertise? International students are often very eager to learn, especially to have a better grasp of English. This offers a huge opportunity for a friendship to develop just to speak English. They love to learn the Canadian accent, experience camping and canoeing. When we live in our own country, without even recognizing it — like the fish in the fishbowl — we can become limited in our worldview. Befriend an international student to get yourself culturally stretched.

3. They are spiritually hungry.

International students may not always be looking to Christianity for their answers, but they’re looking somewhere. They are searching for the truth. We need to be on their radar screen. They are some of the most open people to the Christian faith that you will ever meet. Conversations with international students are often simple and straightforward - ‘Who is Jesus? Why is he so important? What is this book you keep referencing, and why should I read it?’”

4. They are the leaders of tomorrow.

Many international students who come to study in our universities are among the brightest and best from their respective countries. Some return home to hold powerful positions of influence in corporations, universities, or government. We aim to communicate God’s transforming gospel to the next generation of leaders so that they will use their influence to bring God’s message to their home nations.

5. They are the gateway to global mission.

International Students are uniquely gifted to reach the world because they can:

-speak at least two languages fluently, know their own culture well

- do not need visas to go to their own countries

- they can open doors for foreign “tentmakers.”

Johnson Hsu, Toronto City Director of ISM Canada, says, “We have spent decades praying for the unreached. God has answered our prayers. He is bringing them to us. How will our churches and we respond?”

I can hear the sound of a heavy rain. Can you hear? The nations are going to flood our cities. Would you be willing to receive them?

Hebrews 13:1 exhorts Christian believers to “…not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Next steps:

How often does a Saudi sit next to a Jew, a Korean with a Japanese, an Indian with a Pakistani? This beautiful global kaleidoscope could happen in your dining room this thanksgiving. If you feel that is too far-fetched, you could begin befriending an international student through the friendship program by registering at the following link.


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