It seems cruel to limit a foreign teenager's contact with family and friends back home. Why on earth would anyone suggest such a thing?
Imagine how reassuring it is for the parents to be able to check in with their child every day. And just think about how happy the student will feel each time he hears his parents' voices.
What if it was your child on the other side of the world? Wouldn't you want him or her to check in with you at least once a day?
Exchange programs limit students' connection with their home country to help them reap the many benefits of full immersion in a new culture.
Fortunately, we can compare youth exchanges before and after the advent of Internet. And guess what: there are many well-known benefits to limiting the contact that teenage exchange students have with people in their home country - including Mom and Dad.
Parents often need help understanding program rules that limit contact with their child. Helping them understand the benefits is key.
We hope these 10 reasons will help you feel good about encouraging your student to disconnect from the home country in order to fully connect with you and your family...
When mom’s face pops up on the screen, your student may brighten up. But beware: this is a quick fix. After the call, your student will be hit with mixed feelings: nostalgia, melancholy, even sadness. And this can become a vicious cycle.
Host families can help students settle in quickly and start the work of adapting to a new culture by limiting contact with home to once a week.
It’s a fact: Limiting contact with home is proven to reduce feelings of homesickness.
What’s the best remedy for homesickness? Keeping busy here and now! That means staying in the common areas of the house, getting involved in family life – and limiting calls home to once a week for a maximum of one hour.
Build Better Bonds
Host families dream of lifelong bonds with their students. Students arrive in the USA hoping their host families will become just like “real family”. But building strong bonds requires…time and attention. And this is why your student needs to:
- Reduce the amount of time/attention directed towards home.
- Increase time and attention directed towards your host family.
Encourage your student to stay in the common areas of your home in the daytime and the evening, doing whatever your family is doing.
Keeping your student busy and involved with the family does not require anything special. It’s as easy as making dinner, running errands, even weeding the garden. Normal, everyday activities are just what your student needs.
Switch Cultural Glasses
Your student needs to stop seeing (perceiving) the world through the glasses of his home culture - and start seeing everything through the lenses of American culture.
Cultural beliefs, values and norms shape our perception. Learning to perceive the world in new and different ways is one of the primary goals of youth exchange.
Well-intentioned family and friends from back home interfere with this process. How? By keeping your student's attention focused on things that are important back home:
- Which foods are your student eating? (How do they match up to what the home culture deems "best" or "right" foods to eat?)
- What is the housekeeping like? (As compared to the way we do things in our country...)
- How are people treating you, honey? (In terms of "our" cultural values, customs and rituals?)
Just when your student is beginning to see things the American way, a connection with home yanks away those beautiful new cultural glasses. It can even scratch, crack or smash the lenses!
Limiting contact with home allows your student to develop a whole new way of perceiving the world. And that is the beauty of living abroad in general, and of youth exchange in particular.
Reduce Culture Shock
Culture shock happens when your student is looking through her old cultural glasses from back home. But the real shock comes from her attempts to decide what everything means!
Anthropologists and cross-cultural psychologists are fascinating by our cultural programing which has been likened to "software of the mind".
As your student grew up in her home culture, she learned so many rules and criteria for deciding what every comment, gesture, object or situation might mean: Is it good or bad? Right or wrong? Strange or normal?
When in doubt about what’s normal or how things should be done in the USA – and in your home – who should your student consult?
- Friends and family back home?
- Or would you prefer she asks you?
This is where frequent contact with the home country can really confuse your student. Limiting contact with home to once a week ensures that your student consults real experts (you and your family) instead of well-intentioned, but ill-equipped loved ones who will simply reinforce the cultural norms from back home.
Speed up Adaptation
Yes, your student needs to switch cultural glasses. And yes, he needs to learn new criteria - Made in the USA - for deciding what things mean. But he also needs to take action!
Adapting to a new culture takes tremendous time and energy. Everything is new: home, family, school, friends, food, language and so much more. Every time your student connects with home, he loses precious time that could be spent adapting to so many changes.
More time spent talking with Mom back home means less time doing the work of adapting to your family and a whole new culture.
Adapting also requires lots of motivation. And that motivation takes a hit every time your student connects with family and friends back home. They take your student back into the old comfort zone. Suddenly all this adaptation feels even more exhausting, overwhelming and maybe even unfair!
Constantly consulting with Dad back home will not help a student develop the right attitude for adapting to a different culture where many things seem downright unusual or even strange.
Limiting contact with home will help your student get into the flow of your family and your ways - and stay there, without constant interruptions.
Back home, your student knew the answers to so many of life's questions. Now everything from what to eat for breakfast to how to get good grades requires a new set of answers.
Creativity is really about finding new ways to do things and solve problems. But, your new teenager already has at least two proven methods for solving a wide variety of problems:
There are two basic problems with Mom and Dad (as lovely and loving as they both may be):
A. Their solutions are designed to work in a very different culture. Therefore, when your student has a problem in the USA, many of their ideas will be impractical (or even preposterous).
B. Your student should be thinking out of the box, American-style, with the help of natives like you, your family or even the local coordinator - instead of reaching for trusty old Mom or Dad (or both) when facing a challenge in the USA.
As a host parent, you are the best expert guide to help your student find American-style solutions for any issue she's facing in the USA.
Less contact with parents will spark your student's creativity. What's more: every time she consults you – instead of Mom and Dad – the bonds between you will grow more solid.
Boost Problem-Solving SKILLS
It's one thing to get those creative juices flowing. It's another thing to develop problem-solving skills. And this is another important area where Mom and Dad can ingeniously hinder your student's experience in the USA.
Just like a roller coaster, living in another country is at times thrilling and at other times overwhelming. And just like a roller coaster, once the ride is over, you can't wait to go again!
Living abroad is like a roller coaster with euphoric highs and usually some fairly dramatic lows. So, what happens when your student hits a low point and makes a video call back home? Many parents see a sad face, assume that something must be terribly wrong, flip into alarm mode, call their agent and demand a solution: now!
Connecting with parents in the home country often reinforces feelings of helplessness right when students need to get busy and practice doing what it takes to solve their problems.
If that happens - and it is a very common scenario in this Era of Internet - what does your student learn?
1. "Parents are powerful problem-solvers."
2. "I am not capable of solving my own problems."
When that happens, your student probably won't even try to take action and start developing problem solving skills by starting right now, with this particular challenge.
And this is just one more reason to limit contact with home!
Bolster Communication Skills
Your student is probably keen on improving English skills while in the USA. And guess who instilled this value? Mom and Dad!
But funny enough, just when your student should be speaking for herself, Mom and Dad often come to the rescue.
- Your student might be wondering about your house rules...
- She could have digestive upsets due to changes in diet...
- She might be upset with one of her new siblings...
Whatever it is, if she goes to Mom and Dad first, they will instinctively feel the need to "help" her communicate effectively. And, next thing you know, ding! You've got email! ...Or they are in touch with their agency.
Students need to understand that practicing English is not only for the good times, but also working together to solve problems or resolve conflicts.
Communication skills do fall under the "problem-solving" category, but they deserve a section of their own. Limiting contact with home will help your student communicate more with your family all across the board. And that covers everything from problem-solving, to sharing feelings and to even just talking about their day.
Be sure your student knows that this is how English improves!
Build Self Esteem
What's the surest way for your student to build self-esteem and confidence this year?
The challenges your student finds in the USA are like mountains waiting to be climbed. Each problem your student resolves (without the help of parents back home) will boost confidence, pride and self-esteem.
Let's provide two choices for building self-esteem:
A. Checking in with Mom and Dad every day to get praise, approval, support, ideas, feedback and so much more?
B. Facing challenges head on, one by one, and proving to himself that he is capable to doing things on his own (with the help of local supporters like you and the coordinator, for example)?
More contact with home blocks this important part of the exchange experience. Less contact with home supports this life-changing opportunity!
Promote Personal Growth
Youth exchange is an amazing opportunity for personal growth in all ten areas we've discussed, and many more as well.
When your student limits connections with home to once a week, that's when she will start to grow. And that's when the fun will begin!
It's a well-proven fact: the more your student disconnects with the home country to connect with the USA (and your family, in particular), the greater the rewards will be.
But before we end, let's be realistic. There is a downside to limiting a teenager's contact with home. It will be hard at first... But stick with the plan and before you know it your student will be a happy, fully-functioning member of your family.
And that creates a very different "problem", because...time flies when you're having fun!