Making friends can take time. There is an expected ritual in the process: small talk, more small talk, exchanging of socials, meeting up for coffee, dinner, and hanging out at each other’s places.
When you are an international student and you don’t know anyone, that can mean repeating this process over a long period of time. This can be extremely challenging and difficult, but if you are Black and you meet another Black person, you can skip a lot of steps and go straight to the point where you have a common understanding with this person.
I have come up with a theory that two Black people cannot be in the same space with other people and not find a way to get to know each other, support each other, and possibly become friends. My experience meeting some of my Black friends — and the support I have received from the Black community — confirms this.
I didn’t know anyone when I came to Canada as an international student. I performed the expected friendship ritual with people I met, but there was a marked difference when I met other Black people.
I met Ayomide outside one of my classes. He walked straight up to me and asked, “Are you taking this class?” We sat together for the lecture and went back to his place at Knox College to continue hanging out. I was so happy on my way home. I had made a new friend.
During our second class, we met Simba. He waved and walked up to us, and sat at our table in the next class. I assumed he was Ayomide’s friend. When I went back to Ayomide’s place to hang out, he asked where I had met Simba. I was surprised: “I thought he was your friend,” I said. Simba had skipped a lot of steps when meeting new people, so the assumption that he was friends with either Ayomide or me was not baseless.
This experience just shows the ease with which Black friendships are formed when Black people encounter one another in the same space.
The same happened to me in another class. I met Keleena there when he asked for my stapler. During the break, a conversation ensued that would also lead to a deep friendship. The theory still holds during the pandemic as I met Ayo online. We were both on the planning committee for a new student society. When the delegation of tasks started, I opted to work with Ayo, and we became friends. The work calls soon became friendship calls. I met her for the first time when we went to the park together with Keleena.
Graduate school can be hard, and I get scared that I might not do well, but my friends motivate and support me. For example, Simba would tell me to keep pushing myself, which would motivate me to try harder in courses I thought I should drop, knowing that I will do well eventually.
Sharing networks is another benefit I have received from my friends. It is very useful if you are looking for information, something fun to do, or a study partner. Ayomide introduced me to his friend who was also taking a difficult course in which I didn’t know anyone. We studied together, and the course became too easy. Sometimes, that is the difference between a hard and an easy course: knowing another person who is taking that course.
At the start of the fall semester there was a large club fair for Black students that I attended online. There, I met Christina, whose friendly disposition toward me during an online game made me join the executive team for the Black Graduate Students Association (BGSA) as its events coordinator. By joining BGSA events, I grew my network as I got to know more Black graduates from different degrees.
There is a comfort in seeing another Black person in a shared space. They are natural allies that come from being minoritized. They will also go out of their way to help if you have a problem, as they have most likely been in the same situation. The online calls I have with my Black friends have kept me sane during this lockdown.
This is not to say I did not make friends with people from other races — it’s to highlight the support and friendship I have received from other Black people for which I am truly grateful as an international student in a new country.