The Nations at the Lunch Table

2021 n03

You wouldn't notice if you passed them in the courtyard, but their outdoor lunch table is a study in cross-cultural acceptance. These Iraqis and Americans see nothing strange about sharing a meal every weekday. (The one time in the school day, by the way, when they take off their masks.) Some of them have been friends for years and some have joined the table in the last few months.

Among the young men at the table, you’ll find an American named Joe,* who grew up overseas and finds himself naturally gravitating toward others with global experience. Issa sits there, too. He came to Knoxville as a refugee with his father and brother. In 6th grade, these two met through a mutual friend (also an international but from yet another country!) and rose through the ranks of middle school band together. Now they are best friends. They both march in their high school band, and they choose to sit together in class whenever they can.

2 young men laughing

What’s natural for Joe (befriending people of other nationalities) may not be natural for everyone but take a bit of advice from this high school freshman: “People aren’t actually that different.” Joe treats Issa just like he treats everyone else, and Issa has opened his life to Joe, whom he now trusts implicitly.

The international person next to you at school, at work, or in your neighborhood wants to be treated the same way Joe and Issa interact: just like everyone else. Why not invite them to sit with you at lunch? Sure, you’ll have to get used to an accent, but you may find a new friend more easily than you thought possible.


KIN can equip you to more confidently befriend your international neighbor, either formally (through ESL, for example) or informally (through events, question suggestions, or background information). Start the conversation by emailing!

*Names have been changed for privacy, but the story is true.

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