August Tips for Engaging South Asian Students

You’ve probably trained your students to follow up interested students from surveys or gathering events. You most likely have given them some very practical how to’s on what to say and how to develop relationships.

Dale Schlack, Director of the South Asia Network with Bridges International, sent me a great piece that David Stuckenschmidt and Steve Edwards developed in connecting with International Students from India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

Engaging South Asian Students

Bright smiles, a harried countenance, and a desire for friendship, often describe our newly arrived international students. Those from South Asia are no different. They may not be sure what to make of you (as a Christian staff worker or volunteer) and they might be initially shy and cautious. But don’t let that discourage you…most really would like to meet and get to know you.

Some South Asian students are familiar with Western culture and fit in with our typical methods and events. Too often, though, our methods to meet, follow up and filter large numbers of contacts create formal or awkward situations. If that is your experience or you have difficulty meeting South Asian students…consider doing some different things or a few things differently.

General Tips

  • Pray specifically for these students on your campus. There are real spiritual barriers.
  • Aim to connect well with at least one new student from South Asia. When you meet one, you’ll soon be friends with many more.
  • Drop by and visit them in their apartments or labs. You can just knock on their door or text them before going.
  • Consider setting aside [time] each week to engage South Asian students in a way that fits them (rather than what is familiar to you or just inviting them to your events).
  • Be a good host. This is your city/country so you get to welcome them.
  • Introducing yourself: “We are a faith-based non-profit student organization that serves the social and spiritual needs of international students.” or “We are a faith-based (or Christian) group but serve students from all backgrounds.”

Using Technology

  • Social media—students connect and communicate using Facebook. Sharing Facebook contacts when you first meet makes it easier to put a name to a face and to contact them again.
  • Text instead of email—Texts, Facebook messenger or Whatsapp are the best ways to communicate. For an event it is better to start with a general future plan to meet (let’s meet up next week for lunch) and then text a day or so in advance.
  • Except for really big events most students make plans on short term notice. It is okay to text with last minute invitations.
  • Pull up an India map on your phone and ask them to show you their hometown.

Follow-up and Appointments

What do you do with that stack of response cards? It is hard to know what South Asian students really intend from their follow up card responses. The questions may mean something different to them. For example, “Yes, I would like to visit a church” probably indicates a cultural curiosity like “I’d like to see one of your cathedrals”. Interest in a Bible study could indicate more spiritual curiosity. Here are some follow up tips to consider:

  • Sending an email to suggest a follow-up appointment to meet on campus for coffee or a coke will occasionally work, but typically this will be met with no response. It feels awkward and formal to them with someone they don’t know.
    • If you get no response, it is still okay to try to meet them another way.
  • Go visit them. Really! Go knock on their apartment door and welcome them and see how they are doing and if there are any ways you can help them. You’ll usually get invited in treated with hospitality and meet their roommates. They will be honored that you visited them. What are you waiting for?…just go!
    • You can text them earlier in the day (or the day before) and see if there is a good time to visit them. But you can also just drop by.
    • If you’d like you can bring a plate of home baked cookies or some salty snacks from an Indian store or something like that to leave for them to enjoy.
    • Best times to visit would be in the late afternoon or early evenings. Indian students will usually come home to cook dinner around 8 or 9 pm and eat at 10 pm.
    • Don’t bring a Bible to give away. This might be misinterpreted and it will be more readily accepted after a connection is established.
    • Feel free to invite them to your weekly meeting or other welcome ministry events when meeting them for the first time. But do not leave the impression that your main reason for seeking them out is to get them to come to your event.
  • Go visit one of their events. Try to find and attend an event sponsored by your campus Indian student association.
    • August 15 is Indian Independence Day (their July 4th) and some organizations might have a cultural event for the occasion.
    • Some student associations will have a welcome party for new South Asian students (called “freshers”). If you are friends with students from India, you might get invited. If so, make it a priority to attend. But don’t use their party as a place to invite to your events. Just go.

Practical Needs and Service Opportunities

  • Furniture: Inexpensive furniture (mainly desks, tables and chairs) are needed for their apartments along with help moving any furniture they purchase. Some ministries have a furniture giveaway or mobilize pickup trucks and divers to transport furniture from second hand stores or state/campus surplus auctions.
  • Transportation: Getting around is often a challenge. Uber or Zipcars help provide new options but a personal ride is very welcomed and saves time. A ride to Walmart…or more importantly to a local Indian grocery store for cooking supplies is helpful. Some can use help obtaining a driver’s license.
  • Food: Offer to take some students to a local Indian restaurant. After a few weeks of American food and cooking on their own, students are often happy to get a ride and go out to eat. Let them choose the time and the restaurant.

I thought that if you have had the thought of reaching out to South Asians, this might encourage you to take the first steps. But, also, while this is South Asia specific, it also might spur your thinking in how to train students to reach out to other contexts.

Fall Coaching Tips

Summer Tip Series


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