Friendships, Dates, and Grad School

In Lasisi’s voice, I want to rant about making friends as an international student in grad school.

It never occurred to me that making friends would be a struggle until I moved to America. If you ask a couple of my friends or colleagues what my personality type is, I doubt there would be a unanimous agreement. While some will say I am introverted, others will choose the other end of the gamut. I like to say I am different things to different people depending on my life journey. However, I lean toward ambivalence. Despite having a multitude of friends in a previous life of mine, I find that like most adults, the older you get, the fewer people remain in your circle,- this I am gradually making peace with.

I initially rarely warm up to people at first sight. It mostly starts with a period of observation before being drawn toward a person or group of people. I found myself adopting that approach in grad school except that here, there are many factors that are not in my favour.

First is the almighty accent. I am surrounded by many international students like me who all speak with diverse accents. For the first term, we constantly had to ask one another to repeat ourselves. To avoid that, one gets tempted to avoid the hassle and keep to oneself.

Random night in school

Secondly, Americans are more independent and less inclined to socialize than I am used to. Augustus spoke all about it on his YouTube channel but it’s better experienced than explained. Initially, I felt bothered by how some people would ignore me even after multiple meetings, but over time, I have become more accustomed to it. That you sat with someone or were on a project team with them doesn’t mean that you are friends. This does not apply to international students as they are more conversational and open to small talk.

I then turned to the church.  The church I worship is intergenerational and that is putting it very mildly. The friends I have made from church are primarily seniors who are mostly retired and in their 70s and 80s. They love to talk but I hardly find a common ground with them. It’s either they are telling you about a daffodil that began to bloom in their garden or a games night they attended earlier in the week and of course the weather!  Although their stories are pleasant, it is not something I am honestly interested in, so I smile politely and nod a bit too vigorously to mask my boredom.

The thing about making friends in grad school is that it’s like shopping for a date. People suggest going out more, trying the coffee shop, the library, and even the gym. I have tried the gym.

In January, I registered for a group fitness class which I managed to drag myself to a few times. After classes, I attempted to make small talk with people. I ask what programs they are studying and what their research is about. I find that it makes for a good opening line which can further lead to more talks in the future.

They say the greatest love stories happen instantaneously so do great friendships. Consequently, I have stopped actively searching for connections. I’ve decided to continue making small talk with people casually, without expecting too much in return, in the hope of someday meeting people whose interests align with mine.

Someone once asked me if I would consider Corvallis to be my home, and without hesitation, I answered in the negative. Home is among many things where I connect with people the most. It’s still the first year- meaning a lot can change in four years but as of today, Corvallis is a chapter in my book just like Eket, Benin, and Port Harcourt are. I hope to come back to this in a few years to view how much things have changed- or remained the same.

PS: I have been thinking about this quote: Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection. Keep working on your goal even when you don’t see any appreciable improvement. One day, you will look back and be amazed at how far you have come.

By the way, grad school makes you a philosopher. Isn’t it why it’s called Doctor of Philosophy?

P.S.S: I have more to say on this topic, but I’ll stop here for now since this has already ballooned to 750 words.

  • Ijeoma Imediegwu
    Posted at 05:34h, 17 March Reply

    Your storytelling makes me feel like I’m at Corvallis with you. It’s a whole visual experience. Cheers to finding new great friends!

    • Chizzy Nwokoye
      Posted at 18:19h, 17 March Reply

      Thank you for your kind words Ijeoma.

      I have suspended my active search. I am focused on discovering the city/town at the moment.

  • Ruth
    Posted at 05:59h, 17 March Reply

    Thank you for sharing Chizzy. I’m seeing grad school through your eyes and learning a lot from your story.

    I pray you get good friends soon.

    • Chizzy Nwokoye
      Posted at 18:10h, 17 March Reply

      Thank you Ruth.

      I am currently not ‘searching’ though

  • Nkem Obodoagwu
    Posted at 06:08h, 17 March Reply

    You have to break more grounds outside gym. I suggest you should try sitting out for a coffee and see the difference. Indeed Nigeria can not be like America. You must go for the friends you want by making conscious effort. According to you it is not for the faint I wish you all the best as we await the follow up on this story line. Cheers!

  • Nonye
    Posted at 06:33h, 17 March Reply

    I totally relate with you. I have also decided to make small talks and allow those connections happen if they will.
    The elderly are more friendly though, they’ve seen life and now truly understand the need for connections.
    The younger Americans complain about this but still won’t do it any other way. I’ve had and listened to conversations on this and it seems most people are wondering same but nothing changes.

    • Chizzy Nwokoye
      Posted at 18:04h, 17 March Reply

      Exactly my thoughts Nonye.

      It takes a life time to realize you failed to build connections you need through life. I can’t trade our communal living in Nigeria (Africa) for anything.

  • oxblood orange
    Posted at 07:03h, 17 March Reply

    Chizzy be anyi, thank you for the Obodo oyibo experience.
    Your quote has left me puzzled too. Isn’t continuous improvement the premise to delayed perfection? Comparing them spins the head, doesn’t it?

    • Chizzy Nwokoye
      Posted at 18:00h, 17 March Reply

      Look at it this way- Delayed perfection could mean delaying actions until you figure everything out. If you adopt the continuous improvement approach, then you don’t have to wait for perfection before taking action

  • Caleb Ogbeta
    Posted at 08:01h, 17 March Reply

    100% facts

  • Emmanuel Chinedu
    Posted at 09:49h, 17 March Reply

    I can only imagine how it feels, someday I will fully understand it. I wish to have a more pleasant experience when I come over there, although I’m naturally not the friend making type

    • Chizzy Nwokoye
      Posted at 17:52h, 17 March Reply

      I think you will definitely be fine when you start grad school.
      It gets better with time

    Posted at 11:35h, 17 March Reply

    This is definitely for me…”Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection”.

    Hey Chizzy, enjoy the process. You never can tell, Corvallis may just be the longest chapter in your book. All the best!!

    • Chizzy Nwokoye
      Posted at 17:48h, 17 March Reply

      Haha Chijioke,

      The longest chapter remains Owerri. Every other chapter is just a fragment.

      Thank you for stopping by

  • Stella O.
    Posted at 16:49h, 17 March Reply

    First, I want to speak out in surprise and protest for our dear city of Port Harcourt for being recognised in passing as only a chapter in your life. I mean, after all the bole, well made sauce and juicy fish we served you among others?

    On making friends as an adult and an international student, I guess it’s something nothing from a previous life and culture prepares one for. I find it akin to the Igbo adage of learning to use the left hand in old age; it’s not an impossible task but one that requires lots of patience and practice. This reiterates the quote “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection”

    Thank you for sharing your moments in Corvallis with us. I also look forward to the next 4 years to see how much space it’s taken in your life’s book.

    • Chizzy Nwokoye
      Posted at 17:36h, 17 March Reply


      Stella Nwannem,
      The bole was nice while it lasted… Maybe I should make it two chapters for the two years I lived there.
      Thanks for your lovely comment. We’ll take it one day at a time.

  • Neche
    Posted at 01:45h, 18 March Reply

    I am simply smiling. The search for friendship is unending not until at least one domestic student realizes you can solve a problem for them. Right now, they don’t “trust” you enough until you intentionally solve one problem for one white student. Apart from that the environment is a safe definition of boredom. Jisike nne we’re all work in progress.

    • Chizzy Nwokoye
      Posted at 19:03h, 18 March Reply

      That would be transactional friendship which I don’t care about

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