Helping international exchange students cope with culture shock

Host families are essential in helping their exchange student through the process of culture shock.

Culture shock is real and can be debilitating for those travelers trying to adjust to new surroundings, language and people. Host families are essential in helping international youth get through what can be a very difficult time by understanding the symptoms and developing procedures that can help the student cope.

So you are hosting an exchange student and you find they are having a hard time adjusting after the first few days or weeks. The first few days most students are extremely excited because everything is new. They are fascinated by the language, the food, the outdoors, the cars, trucks, homes and community. Their curiosity seems to have no end. They are being bombarded with people trying to show them everything American. This is called the “honeymoon stage.”

The differences in culture can make it difficult for people to adjust to new surroundings. We all feel better in our comfort zone. When we are completely removed from what makes us feel safe, thoughts go back to home, family and friends. Signs of culture shock include not interacting with people who are different they you, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, trouble concentrating, feeling left out, criticizing any differences from his/her own culture, frustration, homesickness and a feeling of being tired all the time.

Not all these characteristics may be evident and can range from light to severe.

The best way to deal with this stage of behavior is to keep your student busy and discuss with them what they can do to help themselves. Encourage them to make friends. Work with them to learn a new skill or take up a new sport. Get into a sharing routine such as discussion at dinner, going for a run together or shooting some hoops together. Have them tell you about their home, family, school and town and have them show you pictures. Encourage them to do presentations for classroom, clubs and service organizations or for the library. Include them in family chores, hobbies and family activities.

At the end of this phase of their exchange experience, they will understand what a positive attitude can do to help them through difficult situations. As the host family members, you will be rewarded in seeing your student make the best of their experience. As a host parent or sibling, patience, sympathy and understanding go a long way in cushioning the road to a happy and confident exchange student and special family member.

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