There are many ways you and your family can prepare for your upcoming hosting experience.
Attend the YFU host family orientation: before students arrive, you will be invited to attend a pre–arrival host family orientation.
Host family discussions: talk together about what it will be like to add a new person to your home, to your daily routine and busy schedule. Ask your children and yourself what it would be like for one of you to go to a strange new country, to a new family, speaking a new language for a semester or a year. What kind of hopes, fears and expectations would an exchange student have?
Create rules: All families have – and need – rules, the established guides to aid us in living together. We usually think of family rules in terms of money, chores and curfews, but many rules are unspoken expectation of the way we should behave. For example, often there is a long – standing assumption that things are done in a certain way, e.g., the top always goes back on the toothpaste, the youngest family member always sets the table, one asks before bringing friends home or raiding the refrigerator.
Each family also have more subtle rules such as “children should not express anger to their mother.” Your new son or daughter will not know your family’s assumed rules and will probably make mistakes. To complicate things further, the student will also be bringing along an entire set of assumed rules from his or her own family.
When a rule is broken, you might be angry, disappointed, or mildly irritated. Sometimes you might not even be consciously aware of your feelings. Eventually, a gap in communication can develop and widen, sometimes becoming irreparable.
To prevent this process from occurring – to prevent those little irritations from developing into major communication barriers – awareness of your family rules, both implicit and explicit, is very important. This is the first step in the process of adjusting the family system to the newcomer. Below is an exercise to assist your family in discussing its rules. Try to do this together before your exchange student arrives.
“Our Family rules”
All family members sit down together and write down the current family rules. Everyone participates and no judgment or opinions about the rules should be made. This is also not the time to find out who’s following the rules or not. As such a reminder, besides the more obvious rules such as curfews, hygiene, chores, and decision-making, think about the “unspoken” rules, usually having to do with freedom to comment, emotions, and certain types of behavior. These rules are usually more difficult to learn, more “private,” with more feelings attached to their violation. Some examples of “private” rules are:
• In one family one can talk about affection but not anger or aggression.
• In another family one can talk about anger or aggression but not affection.
• The children should not criticize the parents.
• Never challenge the father’s authority
• Never talk about sex.
• Never criticize an individual’s belief.
• Parents always give to the children.
Ask the following questions and all should listen carefully to how each person answers:
• Which of these rules are still up-to-date and which are not really needed anymore?
• Is there an appeal system for changes and exceptions?
• Who is allowed to ask for changes?
• How are the rules made?
• Where do they come from? (Books, neighbors, grandparents?)
• What happens when the rules are broken?
• What new rules are now necessary? Why?
Assume everyone does not know what the rules are. Sometimes rules are unstated or stated with non-specific language. For example, “Call if you are not going to be home by dinnertime” is not as specific as “Call if you are not going to be home to eat dinner at 6 p.m.” Not everyone will have the same understanding that you do about what the rules are.
Talking about family rules is a way to get in touch with your family and learn about your unique family system. The more you know, the better prepared you will be to adjust to that newest member of the family.
Research your student’s country: It will make your student more comfortable if you know something about his or her country. It is a great compliment to your new son or daughter if you already know the basics. Learn about the people: their cultural norms, the population and ethnic groups, the languages spoken, the religions, and the holidays. Learn about the lifestyles: the family, dating and marriage, social and economic levels, diet, and recreation and sports. Learn about the educational system, the land, and the climate: it will be interesting to compare notes with your first hand resource – your student.
You can follow current events and recent trends in your student’s country through your national magazines, or public television programs. Look in your local library for other magazines or books that deal with that country or region of the world. There are many websites you can consult to learn about a particular area of the world. Most countries have websites where you can get economic, political and historical information. Many foreign newspapers have English language editions that are also available online.
Use resource people in your community: Your local volunteer may be able to help you locate some of these people.
Invite a current exchange student to your home. Ask questions like the following:
• What were your first impressions of India? How have they changed?
• What is the value of being an exchange student?
• What were your greatest adjustment problems here in India?
• Are you ever lonely? Have you made friends? How?
• How are you growing as a result of your stay in India?
• How has your perspective on your home country changed as a result of being here?
• What is it like living with a host family?
Invite a former Indian exchange student to talk to your family. They can tell you much about what it is like to be an exchange student and what it is like to live with a host family. You will learn a lot by asking questions like the following:
• What were the experiences that affected you the most?
• What were the hardest problems in adjusting overseas?
• Was it difficult to make friends?
• What was adjustment to your host family like?
• When did you get homesick? Why?
• When did you first feel part of your host family?
• What is the best advice you can give to us as a new host family?
Ask a former (or current) host family to tell your family about their experiences. They have been through it all and have much to share. Ask the following questions:
• What were the biggest surprises you had with your exchange student?
• What were family adjustment problems you encountered?
• What kind of special rules or regulations did you have for your student?
• What did you expect of your student?
• What is the most important skill an exchange student can have?
• How have you and your family grown and learned from this experience?
• What advice would you give to prospective host families?
Call a local college/school‘s International Student Office and ask if the school has a student from the same country as your student who might like to spend an evening with your family to talk to you about the country and culture and the differences between India and the student’s country. That person could become an important resource and support person for your student.
Become aware of who you are. You are a product of your own culture and your student will want to learn about what makes Indians different from other people
Remember they are teenagers: Your student, above all, is a teenager, with all the curiosities, maturity, and immaturity of adolescence. This is true no matter what country he or she represents. Sometimes host families think of their student only as a “German” a “Belgian,” or a “Estonian,” and forget temporarily that they are dealing with a teenager a long way from home.
Prepare a welcome kit: Assign different responsibilities to your family to help prepare and gather materials for a personal welcome kit. If you have young children, they might make a map of the house with all the rooms labeled and a map of the neighborhood with family names labeled on the houses. They might even make a cartoon of all the family members with their names, ages, and interests labeled under each person.
You might want to buy a folder, binder, or notebook, and put in it some local postcards so the student can send news home immediately that everything is OK. It might include a small personal telephone directory with your work numbers and emergency numbers already entered in it. A scrapbook is another possibility, with a photo taken at the airport or upon arriving at your home as the first souvenir.
These suggestions can help you prepare your family for your exchange student. Thoughtful preparation is a key to having a more successful experience. Families before you have prepared well and are unanimous about the positive results.