Making (new) friends was (at the time I entered Ellesmere) and still is a horrifying experience – especially because I was the new kid, whom coincidentally had no bearing whatsoever of English people and culture generally.
As it stands for anyone (I would think), making new friends is always going to be hard, but what made it harder for me was the massive difference in the way I spoke, behaved and thought. It was hard not to stick out like a sore thumb because of my Singaporean accent and my never ending use of Singaporean slang, ‘la’, at the end of my sentences: i.e. I don’t know what to eat for dinner la. So that set me back donkey years in terms of trying to attempt a decent conversation with anyone because all I got were looks of constant bewilderment, and never ending requests for me to “repeat myself” because no one could understand me.
Over time, I gradually fine-tuned my accent so that it would sound more British like so that I could fit in more. It worked – it made me more understandable to my peers, but speaking with the ‘British-like’ accent on a daily basis led to me slowly forgetting how to speak in my Singaporean accent, which affected me massively in that I felt more alienated from home than I already felt.
Accents aside, many friendships are based on the ability not just to hold conversation, but also on banter and the ability to trust. Having a different sense of humour to the English made things ridiculously hard, and it’s still something that I struggle with today. Humour in Singapore is very much ‘in your face’ and involves a mixture of Hokkien, Cantonese, Malay, Mandarin – it’s extremely colourful. The English however are sarcastic and therefore not easy to understand if you’re not already English or snarky/witty yourself (which I’m not, hence the difficulty).
So the transition to English humour continues to be an enigma to me – which has served me no help whatsoever because when you can’t have a laugh about something with your friends then where will the fun be? Also, where there’s no laughter, more likely than not, you’ll be easily left aside because you aren’t seen to be as prominent as the others who are quick to form banter and have a laugh, and once you feel left out, you question the trust and friendship you have with that person because, if you don’t feel as though you’re part of that friendship then where is the friendship?
The above doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone that lives abroad but at least to me and a few others I know of, accents and humour has had a major impact. The change from being able to laugh so freely at words to suddenly not being able to identify what a joke even is, was (and still is) genuinely heart-breaking, and thats why changing accents doesn’t do the trick of helping one to settle in, it’s also trying to understand the lingo of the host country and their sense and style humour, and embracing it as much as you possibly can – which in my case, is still an on-going process!
Over the three years I’ve lived in England, I still haven’t entirely got it. In my flat now, there are often comments being made, which I get so confused about as to whether it is a joke or not and owing to the very nature of British humour I also get hurt in the process of joke making because it does sometimes come across as mean. Moreover, I find it hard to be funny because Singaporean humour doesn’t necessarily cut it here, and what more, it gets so, so, sooooo, very tiring and frustrating when people make comments saying that I’m “weird” for either doing or saying the things I do, because at home, what I say or do would be classed as normal and funny, thus making me feel more of an outcast despite my efforts to integrate into mainstream British culture.
It’s terrifying to say the least, seeing that it is hard to swallow that my sense of humour is very much different to the English’s hence making me feel more alone and always constantly homesick.
But this is only one part of the long story as to why it’s so hard to make friends through the lens of an international student, and hopefully me writing this might potentially help another fellow international student out there – you aren’t alone, and always remember how lucky you are to have this wonderful experience of living abroad.
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