International exchange programs: Preparing for the farewell

When a family opens their home and hearts to a youth in an International exchange program; preparing for the farewell can weigh heavy on the hearts. Here are some suggestions to prepare for the departure.

Many Michigan families participate in the 4-H International ExchangeSaying farewell to an international exchange student. programs. These include year-long inbound and one month summer inbound exchange programs. The States’ 4-H International Exchange Program has a mission of “Enhancing world understanding and global citizenship through high-quality 4-H international cultural immersion and exchange programs for 4-H aged youth.” Youth are learning about the cultures, customs and lifestyles of Americans by living with host families through a home-stay program. These international youth exchange programs promote cross-cultural understanding through the development of personal relationships between members of different countries and cultures.

When a family opens their home and hearts to a youth in an international exchange program; preparing for the farewell can weigh heavy on everyone’s hearts as this new family member prepares to depart. The book Host Family Survival Kit by Nancy King and Ken Huff states that “although sadness and tension should not be dismissed or minimized; the pre-departureFriends who met through an international exchange student program saying farewell to each other. stage is not a negative.” The departure can be a time to put a wonderful ending to an overall rewarding experience for everyone involved. It is suggested to exchange personal thoughts, feelings, tokens of appreciation, and special mementos of the experience. Finding a special note or memento hid somewhere later; like in one’s suitcase, can bring back a flood of special moments and show appreciation in a personal way.

The Sarah Lawrence College international and exchange programs and other university’s’ study abroad programs support the importance of experiencing a meaningful goodbye. Here are some suggestions:

  • Spend time gathering and sharing memories of the experience
  • Collect mementos that may include: Photographs, postcards, a journal/diary, special recipes, etc.
  • Exchange contact information or create an address book
  • A farewell celebration that fits your needs – large or medium sized going away party, family evening dinner, etc.
  • Do something special together – souvenir shopping, scrapbooking, cooking a favorite meal, beloved movie, etc.

Some other steps to prepare for departure should include understanding feelings and everyone sharing those feelings. A few common pre-departure feelings the student may display could include defensiveness, sadness, mood swings and withdrawal. Recognizing some of these symptoms of pre-departure anxieties and discussing them openly will decrease any hurt feelings. Make sure to continue the lifelong friendships made through various forms, including social media, mailings and even if possible, in-person contact.

Through Michigan State University Extension, Michigan 4-H is currently recruiting host families interested in opening their home and hearts to international youth. The Michigan 4-H International Exchange Programs website contains information on this life changing experience. There is also a Facebook page that you can check out. Contact your local 4-H program coordinator and fill out the Host Family Application to get started.

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