Building Friendships With International Co-workers

One of the best things about living in the Pacific Northwest is the diversity. Especially in areas such as Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond. When you walk into a tech company, you are going to see many faces from different countries. If you work in such a company, it is a great way to travel without leaving your office by getting to know these colleagues better. Here are some ways of building friendships with international co-workers.

Invite your international colleagues to lunch

Invite an international co-worker to join you for lunch. You can ask your colleague to suggest a restaurant that she likes. If you are not too adventurous with food, you can just go to the company cafeteria. It’s just a way to start building rapport. Food has a way of bringing people together and start talking. You can ask them about traditional food in their culture. Do co-workers do things outside of work in their country? Learn about what work life is like in their culture.

You might also ask about how people pay when they go to restaurants. In many cultures, the person initiating the invitation pays for the meal. Sometimes it means paying for the whole group. And next time, someone else would pay for the whole group. It’s considered hospitable, and expected in some cultures. This information will help you as you develop your friendship.

Help your international co-worker know the area better

If your co-worker is very new to your area, you might invite them to join you at events you attend. This helps them to feel welcomed, and to feel less alone, knowing that they have at least one co-worker who likes to hang out with them. And it helps your colleague to understand your culture better. A cultural exchange.

It’s likely that if you invite your colleague to events, they will reciprocate and invite you to events they are interested in. If those events happen to be cultural celebration, you’re in for a treat. It’s like getting a glimpse into the tradition of a culture without buying a plane ticket. And you’ll have your personal guide to explain the customs to you.

Help your international colleague succeed

Some cultures do not have group discussions or brainstorming like some U.S. companies. One Japanese client was lost in one of those sessions. He had so many ideas to share, but his American colleagues kept jumping in, and he is too polite to do the same. In his culture, meetings are conducted in a way in which each person takes turn to speak. So cultural habits such as this would be foreign to your colleague.

You can help her succeed in your company by showing her how she can jump in during a discussion. Maybe even pave the way for her by saying “I think Sue has an idea she wants to share.” Gestures like these mean so much to your colleague. Not only have you made a friend for life, you’ve helped someone else succeed. Win-win!

These are just a few ways of connecting with your international co-workers. Start a friendship over a meal, invite them to events, and help them understand the work culture so they can succeed.

If you find this blog helpful, here is one on Tips for managers of multi-cultural team.

And if you are an HR manager who wants to create an atmosphere that feels welcoming to all cultures, here is an article on How to create a culturally diverse workplace.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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