Recognizing cultural differences when hosting 4-H international exchange youth

Explore how to reach a balance between two cultures in a home with an exchange student.

The adjustment for international exchange students can be difficult in many ways. They come into an environment that requires them to think in a way they are not prepared to do. It is no wonder that they cling to what they know and try to cope as best they can.

Host families can best help in their student’s adjustment to a new culture by, first, not judging the student by American standards. Secondly, by trying to see the situation from the student’s point of view, and thirdly, host parents should give the situation a chance to work itself out, meaning giving it time.

It is helpful to the student for host families to understand that people see the same thing from different perspectives. What may not be appropriate in one culture is expected and ordinary in another. For instance, in some cultures the individual’s opinion is not as important as making decisions as a group so a student may not be able to answer a direct question and will seem to the host family to not be able to make decisions for themselves. Teenagers in America have no trouble knowing what they want and they are encouraged to make decisions for themselves. We view independent thinking as a needed trait and relying on a group to make a decision as counter-productive to a young person’s growth.

Host families can help by explaining American culture to the student and explaining why their behavior could be counter-productive to their integration in school and American Society. Point out that their culture is important, but they are in this country to learn the different aspects of the American culture.

On the other hand, we as Americans have to remember that even though they are in the United States to learn, it doesn’t mean we can’t learn from their culture and be open to changing ours views. Maybe we don’t have to be so rigid; maybe we can be a little more laid back and flexible as some cultures are. It’s not that we don’t know we overschedule ourselves, but do we really think that is the best way to live?

Michigan 4-H Exchange Opportunities include hosting summer month-long exchange student or yearlong exchange students from many different countries.

For more information, a good resource is the Culture Matters Workbook developed by the Peace Corps for their volunteers.

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