In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Intercultural Friendships

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Benefits of Intercultural Friendship
  • Scarcity of Intercultural Friendship
  • Friendship Promotion Measures

Communication Intercultural Friendships
Elisabeth Gareis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 June 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0292


Intercultural friendship is known to reduce prejudice and foster international goodwill. Yet, intercultural friendship is not commonplace due to a complex interplay of factors that either foster or hinder friendship formation across cultures. Among these factors are the similarity or difference in cultural values, friendship patterns, and communication styles, as well as the extent of intercultural and communicative competence, cross-cultural knowledge, personality, identity, motivation, attitudes, opportunity, and receptivity. Intercultural friendship has intersections with interethnic and interracial friendship, but differs in crucial aspects. Whereas scholarship on intercultural friendship focuses on friendships across macro-cultural lines demarcated by nationality and often language, research on interethnic friendship focuses on ethnicities within a common domestic culture, and scholarship on interracial friendship critically examines interpersonal relationships in contexts marked by racism and discrimination. Intercultural friendship often occurs between sojourners or migrants and host nationals. Especially college campuses are a prime location for intercultural contact, as students of various backgrounds, unencumbered by family and career obligations, intermingle. As a result, much of the research on intercultural friendship focuses on the experiences of international students studying abroad. With English-speaking countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada, being among the top destination countries for international students worldwide, scholarship on intercultural friendship is especially abundant in these countries. Because differences in cultural values and friendship patterns constitute a major obstacle to intercultural friendship formation, an integrally connected area of investigation is that of cross-cultural friendship patterns (i.e., the comparison of friendship patterns in different cultures). Due to the complex nature of the phenomenon of intercultural friendship, the field is multidisciplinary and includes scholarship in anthropology, applied linguistics, communication studies, education, psychology, and sociology, among others.

General Overviews

Friendship, considered near universal in human societies, has been a popular topic for analysis throughout the ages, including through philosophical treatises on friendship in Greek and Roman times, medieval literature on chivalry, and letters on love and friendship written during the Romantic period. Much of the present-day scholarship on friendship continues to be situated in monocultural contexts and, due to the interplay of social and personal factors, carried out in disciplines, such as philosophy and sociology. Adding culture to the mix heightens the complex nature of the phenomenon and engages additional fields, such as cultural anthropology, cross-cultural psychology, cross-cultural communication, and intercultural communication. Although friendship research in cultural anthropology, cross-cultural psychology, and cross-cultural communication focuses largely on friendship patterns in individual cultures and is therefore not truly concerned with intercultural processes, such cross-cultural knowledge is essential for understanding intercultural friendship formation. Intercultural communication scholarship uses this knowledge as the basis for inquiries into communication processes common during intercultural friendship formation and maintenance. It should be noted that intercultural communication is a relatively young discipline. Following a growing interest in effective intercultural interaction after World War II, the discipline arose from a merging of elements from anthropology and linguistics. The mix of social, personal, and cultural influences makes intercultural friendship a multifaceted phenomenon. As a result, research in the subject is intriguing, but the field is also struggling to integrate multiple and sometimes disjointed tracks of inquiry. Reflecting this struggle, overviews on intercultural friendship are sparse and echo the multidisciplinary nature of the field. Thus, two of the works in this section are by anthropologists, Du Bois 1974 and Hruschka 2010. They have a cross-cultural orientation and compare friendship patterns in a variety of cultures, while making occasional reference to the effect of said differences on intercultural friendship formation. The remaining works are by scholars in communication, education, and psychology. Gareis 1995 is considered pioneering in intercultural friendship research. The systematic literature review by Kudo, et al. 2017 provides an update of scholarship on intercultural relationship development in educational settings. Baumgarte 2013 integrates an overview of the field with a fresh look at one of the most confounding issues in intercultural friendship research, namely the unique nature of US American friendship patterns.

  • Baumgarte, R. 2013. Friends beyond borders: Cultural variations in close friendship. Charleston, SC: Create Space.

    US American friendship patterns are often perceived as wanting by international sojourners. This readable book analyzes the phenomenon and identifies six friendship styles with the goal of explaining US friendships. Included are data on South Korean and French friendship patterns. A special treat is an appendix on the intricacies of cross-cultural research methodology, which should be of interest to students and experienced scholars alike.

  • Du Bois, C. 1974. The gratuitous act: An introduction to the comparative study of friendship patterns. In The compact: Selected dimensions of friendship. Edited by E. Leyton, 15–32. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press.

    This book chapter is an early and exploratory inquiry into cross-cultural friendship patterns. Written from a cultural-anthropology point of view, it asks questions about the universality of friendship, the definition of various friendship types, and psychological as well as other effects on friendship formation (including homophily and heterophily). Despite its age (and somewhat dated reflections on gender and sex), the chapter outlines themes that remain relevant today.

  • Gareis, E. 1995. Intercultural friendship: A qualitative study. Lanham, MD: Univ. Press of America.

    As a pioneering work on intercultural friendship, this book provides a comprehensive literature review, definitions, and a taxonomy of factors influencing intercultural friendship formation. It also examines the nature of relations between international students from Germany, India, and Taiwan and Americans in the United States.

  • Hruschka, D. J. 2010. Friendship: Development, ecology, and evolution of a relationship. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520265462.001.0001

    The book presents the historical development and current manifestations of friendship from an anthropological perspective. Although not explicitly focusing on intercultural relationships, the author provides an array of fascinating cross-cultural and ethnographic data and describes how social, cultural, and ecological contexts affect friendships.

  • Kudo, K., S. Volet, and C. Whitsed. 2017. Intercultural relationship development at university: A systematic literature review from an ecological and person-in-context perspective. Educational Research Review 20:99–116.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.edurev.2017.01.001

    The authors provide a valuable overview over recent empirical studies and—noting the dearth of research on the interaction of the individual and environmental dimension in intercultural friendship development—review respective literature from the perspective of an ecological and person-in-context framework. The review functions as an inventory of intercultural friendship research, calling for a refinement of methodologies and suggesting multiple areas of future inquiry.

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