The exchange begins! After weeks or months of waiting, the exchange student is finally here. It is such an exciting time for both the student and host family!
The early days and weeks are also a pivotal time that can determine how quickly and completely the student integrates and adapts. The track you choose now will eventually lead you closer to—or further away from—the goal of a rewarding, enjoyable experience. Here are a few tips:
For Host Families
- Teach your student the rules and routines of your family so they can engage in family life with confidence. Use the Home Sweet Home handout, which will guide you through topics and questions to discuss.
- Establish clear limits on electronics usage, and determine the location outside the student’s bedroom where all electronics will be left after bedtime. Exchange is mentally tiring, and your student will get better rest if they don’t have the distraction of electronics at night.
- Having reasonable limits on contact with their home country is important to your student’s successful adaptation to life in the U.S. ICES recommends that students establish a specific hour each week for communication with family and friends at home. Work with your student to find a time that will work for your family and your student’s natural family.
- Address issues as they arise. Most students are highly motivated to adapt, but it’s not always obvious to them when they make cultural blunders or cross the line of normal family behavior. Communication is essential to helping your student integrate and adapt.
- Use the behaviors and attitudes you see in your student as a springboard for discussion about how our cultures are similar and how they are different.
- Consider yourself a teacher of American culture to your student. Customs that are “common sense” to you may be brand new and confusing to your exchange student. Help your student understand what most Americans consider common courtesy and normal behaviors.
- If issues or challenges arise, contact your Local Coordinator sooner, rather than later to get advice or assistance.
- Make sure you understand the rules and practices of your host family. If you are unsure, ask questions. Becoming a real member of the family will take effort, but it will be worth it!
- Limit your contact with home to one hour per week maximum. This includes all forms of communication—phone, Skype, Facebook, email, texting, etc. Focus on meeting people at school and in your host community, making friends, getting involved, and participating in your host family’s daily life. These are the things that will help you create the experiences and memories of an awesome exchange year.
- Spend lots of time with your host family and get to know them. Join in their conversations and participate in their daily activities. Don’t stay isolated in your room, except to sleep.
- Get involved. Look for opportunities to participate in school, community, church, and host family activities. Not only will this help you make friends, but it will also provide you with new experiences and special memories.
- Consider joining one of your school’s sports teams, even if you’re not athletic. Past students say being part of a team is one of the very best ways to make friends.
- Smile, be friendly, and reach out. If you are a little shy, ask your host family to help you plan and practice a few conversations at home so you will have confidence reaching out to your peers at school.
- Be adventuresome! Try new activities and new foods, and speak English even if you’re not sure it’s correct. This is how you will learn and adapt.
- Accept invitations to activities and events, even if the activity sounds boring to you. This is your year to experience new and different things, and many exchange students discover new hobbies and passions during their exchange year that they continue to pursue after they return home.
- Be enthusiastic. If you don’t know that word, look it up using a translator. This is the most important word of your exchange. If you will play, work, and learn with enthusiasm, you are sure to have a good exchange experience!
- Trust the advice of your host family and Local Coordinator. They understand American culture and can help you make good choices.
- If you are sad, homesick, or need help, talk to your host family or your Local Coordinator. They are here to help you!
Adapting to a new family, school, city, and culture takes some effort and time. As you go through each day, keep in mind the goals you have for your exchange and make decisions that will help you reach those goals. The more effort you invest now, the faster you will adapt and feel comfortable and happy. You can do it! 😊