Listen Like a Detective!

Your exchange student has arrived – finally! And it’s so much fun to host until…Wham! Culture shock hits. And your sweet student is suddenly homesick. And how about grumpy? If it’s not the fast food, it’s the early curfews; it seems like one complaint after another.

Culture shock is normal and temporary, but it's real. And it can be tough!

teenage girl looking confused

Exchange students are adapting to approximately one billion changes - all at once. It's normal to feel overwhelmed by cultural differences that shock and surprise.


Let’s imagine you choose not to ignore culture shock. (Good choice, by the way.) What are your options? Well, you can listen like a firefighter or listen like a detective.


Firefighter Listening

When Nacho from Spain complained that he couldn’t live in a rural area, I whipped out my firehose and blasted him with stream of good intentions: “Country life in the USA is The Best. You’ll see! You are going to have so much fun! Give it a chance. Open your mind! Try new things!”

When you listen like a firefighter, you have one goal: put out the fire (the complaints).

firefighter spraying water on a blazing fire

There is a time to listen like a firefighter, but not when someone is struggling to adapt to a whole new life so very far away from family and friends. Your student needs to talk to someone - like you - who will listen carefully.


Detective Listening

When you listen like a detective, you also have just one goal: truly understand the other person. Your student’s complaint is a mystery that needs to be solved. What does it mean? What is your student struggling to understand about life in the USA? How can you help?

woman holding hand to hear to listen

When I switched to detective listening, to ask, “What are you worried about?” Nacho opened up. “There is nothing in the countryside. There are no people there. There is nowhere to go, nothing to do. I am very unlucky. This is awful.”

“What’s it like in your country?” In Spain, most people live in cities. Most people feel the countryside has been left behind (as in far, far behind). As Nacho shared clues from his culture, his complaints and concerns made sense. His future in rural Wyoming looked bleak indeed!”

group of smiling teens taking a selfie

Why do so many foreign students fear living in rural USA - only to discover how much fun it is? Detective listening helps students embrace a surprising new lifestyle.

Now that Nacho was sure I understood him, he was ready to listen to me – with wonder and surprise. “Rural schools offer sports, activities, and clubs? My host family goes camping? Other teenagers are waiting to meet me in Buffalo, Wyoming? Teens there have good old American-style fun?” Yes!

“I can try!” Was there a hint of cheer in his voice?

Detective listening is a gift for your student – and for you! Because every complaint is a little window that opens into a mind full of ideas from another country. 

teenage girl standing in front of an open refrigerator

Why do so many exchange students complain that "there's nothing to eat"? Detective listening solves this mystery as you learn about food and eating in their country.

Did you know that many foreign exchange students are culture shocked at restaurants in the USA? It all begins when the waiter brings a tray of ice water! Take your student out, order ice water - and see what happens next.

tall glasses of ice water

Why do so many foreigners complain about ice water in American restaurants? This is just one more mystery for detective listeners to resolve.

Welcome Complaints?

Don’t wait for your exchange student to complain. Start squeezing out those complaints right now. Then whip out that magnifying glass and start digging for clues – both common and cross-cultural.

layered sandwich with veggies cheese and hamWhy do so many exchange students wonder if a sandwich could be considered a meal? Detective listeners might take this mystery one ingredient at a time.

Detective Listening Hacks

Here are just a few ways you can help your student solve the everyday mysteries of American life, one at at time...


Stop Everything

No matter how many times you have heard your exchange student complain about fast food or “early” curfews, drop everything and listen carefully.

Man listening to another personWhy do so many exchange students think American curfews are shockingly early? Detective listeners are genuinely interested in the answer.


Get Curious

This is all about attitude. Drop your defenses (and your firehose) and turn your curiosity to full blast. What can you learn from your student? What can you learn about his/her culture?

teenager with backpack getting into the car

Why are so many foreign teens bewildered when they need a car to go everywhere? A detective listener invites their side of the story before teaching them to find rides.


Keep Asking

The best way to listen – and get valuable clues – is to keep asking open-ended questions and then let your student talk. What shocks, surprises, puzzles, or even annoys him in the USA? Why? What’s wrong? How are things “supposed” to be? Why?

Be sure to ask The Big Question: "What's it like in your country?" And prepare for an earful. That's a favorite topic for anyone going through culture shock.

surprised woman looking through a magnifying glass


Don’t Stop!

Yes. Do stop everything to listen like a detective. But then, don’t stop! Keep on asking and listening until you get the whole story. And just like a good detective, double-check your facts. “So, you feel like life on an American farm could not be fun. Is that right?”

Detective listening is the greatest listening hack of all! Practice on your student, then use it with family, friends, and neighbors too.


Save Time

Detective listening takes longer than firefighter listening. But in the end, it saves you time because you get key clues for clarifying situations before they turn into problems.

Sign on desk says save time


Reduce Stress

Detective listening improves communication and promotes peace and serenity. The people around you feel free to open up. And you feel free to relax and listen (instead of pulling out that heavy old firehose every time).

woman with magnifying glass with question signs


Build Relationships

Detective listening makes people feel heard – and loved. And it’s easier to love another person when you work with them to unravel their mysteries. This also activates your empathy.


Speed Adaptation

You can put your student on the fast track to a life happily ever after in the USA. Detective listening will show you what your student is lacking. Then you can share valuable information about American-style food, house rules, housekeeping customs, chores, curfews, church, carpools and more.

Sad to Happy


Learn and Grow

Detective listeners see complaints as a kind of treasure map. They lead to a wealth of learning and growing no matter who you are listening to. But when you’re listening to a foreign exchange student, it gets even better! You will discover secret doors and passageways into another world where cultural beliefs, values and rules lie hidden. Prepare for surprises!

treasure map with gold coins

Come on Sherlock!

Your exchange student has arrived – finally!

Every foreign student brings a wealth of fascinating cultural baggage. So, get your detective gear ready and enjoy this international exchange to the max.

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