How to Avoid Meaningful Friendships by Posing as an Exchange Student—And Get Away With It

16420127780_0caaf5aa5d_k

Photo by Wendy Cope / CC 2.0

It's happened to us all: you're sitting in class, simply trying to enrich your mind and prepare for your upcoming exams, when a classmate engages you in stimulating, thoughtful conversation. This fucking blows. You've got the social capacity to chat about the weather, the syllabus, or maybe even the meme page. But stuff like thoughts, feelings, opinions, and desires? That's more than you signed up for. 

You may think there's no way out of this, but have faith, antisocial butterfly. You can stave off a burgeoning friendship with training and just a little bit of embellishment. Scare them away with the promise that your paths will never cross again, and you'll never have to worry about whether your acquaintanceship will develop beyond small talk.

Here are four easy steps you can take to become the visiting exchange student you wish you were—and get away with it.

1. Pick a country

This is the most crucial part of the process. The location of origin you pick will determine how convincing you are. Don't go too big, but don't go too obscure. Pick a location that's just small and strange enough that your potential non-friend has heard of it but never learned anything about it. That way, they'll know it sounds familiar but won't feel comfortable enough to chat about it. If your country's too outlandish, you run the risk of sounding like you're making it up, which could potentially provoke even deeper conversation. 

2. Learn the accent

You need to be able to talk the talk, and that entails some acting. Once you've pinned down a country, the next step is to learn the accent. Stop speaking American English altogether and immerse yourself in the dialect of your chosen region. The trick is, don't make it too thick; a light accent will keep your acquaintance on their toes, but won't arouse suspicion. If possible, avoid idiomatic phrases at all costs. This will add authenticity, as true polyglots tend to stick to the simple stuff. And, most importantly, use this accent to talk extensively about how much you miss home and how futile it would be to build friendships now, so late in the game.

3. Adopt the culture

The perfect accent is one thing, but you must also walk the walk. Bring culturally-specific foods to class. Become fluent in your region's body language. Get to know the country's politics. Learn their inside jokes, blast traditional music through your headphones, and stuff clippings from your would-be local newspaper in your wallet. Really craft a persona that fits well with the country you've exchanged from. Show your acquaintance that the American lifestyle just isn't for you, and you will likely never visit again.

4. Emphasize your ephemerality

Mention to your acquaintance that you will be gone by semester's end, and don't let them forget it. Repeat it many times if you need to. Reminisce about your time in secondary school many thousands of miles away. Begin every sentence with phrases like, "When I return to my homeland..." and "Back in the country where I spent my whole adolescence and where I fully intend to live out the rest of my days..." Give them no reason to expect that you will ever see or speak to them once you hand in your final papers. 

PennConnects