Living Abroad (or Living With Someone Who is Living Abroad): Importance of Communication Never Ends

Or . . . Will Opportunities for Miscommunication Never End?

Just a small thing I thought I would share today …. a reminder that the importance of asking questions in the cause of effective communication never goes away. A small thing, which will take longer in the telling than in the 30 seconds it took for it to happen. But it’s worth repeating.

We're alike . . . but different!
We’re alike . . . but different!

Our exchange student’s family is coming to visit this week from Germany.  They will be here tomorrow, spend a couple of days in Portland, and then we are all going to the beach for a few days to show them our Oregon coast.  Jan, our student, needed to get pre-approval from teachers and the school so that his absence from school this week will be excused.  There is a form, of course, which needs to be signed by teachers and a parent (in this case, host parent), and it must be turned in at least a day before the desired absence.

On Friday, I realized after Jan had left for school that he had not gotten either my husband’s or my signature for his form.  I texted him:

You forgot to ask me to sign the pre-approval absence form! It needs to be turned in today remember, there is no school Monday due to the holiday. Meet me outside after second period, I’ll come by to sign it?

Jan responded:

Sure if you want.  But I was going to stop by and turn it in to the office over the weekend sometime.

How will you know if you don't ask?
How will you know if you don’t ask?

My first thought was the deep sigh of a parent thinking her teenager is nuts and that he just isn’t thinking.  What in the world is he thinking, that teachers and school administrators are going to hang around the school on a weekend? Much less a major holiday weekend? I mean, seriously??!

My second thought followed immediately….that there has to be something here I don’t understand.  Jan confirmed this when I stopped by to sign the form.  “I didn’t know,” he said.  He explained that back home, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to be in the school office on a weekend.

And there it is. Even after 10 months in the United States and 9 months attending an American high school, Jan did not know that the office would be locked up tight as a drum all weekend (and every weekend).  He had never had reason to find out that school offices here are not open on weekends, so it had never come up.  He did not know that the very suggestion of “I’ll drop the paperwork at the office on Saturday or Sunday” would cause someone to look at him as though he was from another planet.  He’s not from another planet, of course — just another country, with enough similarities that we all can be lulled into thinking “we’re alike.”  But there are enough differences to continue to result in simple miscommunications (and by implication, potentially more serious ones, too), even after almost a year.

Keep on asking!
Keep on asking!

So there’s my mini-lesson, one to ourselves as much as to everyone else.  Keep the conversation going…..there is always more to learn.

Photos ©2015
*This blog post is linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at*

Why High School Students Should Study Abroad — and Why We Should Help Them Do It

The article highlighted below, written by , former speechwriter for the NATO secretary-general, is a good piece on the value of studying abroad in high school.  He touches on several topics I think important:

  • Encouraging U.S. students to study abroad: critical, in my opinion, for all the other reasons mentioned below.
  • Making study abroad more accessible to a wider group of potential students.  Study abroad has always suffered from only being available to those who can afford it.
  • Long-term benefits from study abroad: learning another language and culture, improving one’s resume for college and future job prospects, learning about one’s own capabilities.
  • Importance in a global economy of having citizens who understand the world just a bit more.

I also thought this article was, in a way, a nice tribute to the bravery and motivation of the high school students around the world who take the leap and study abroad as teenagers without really having a clue about what lies before them.

As Stephenson notes:

Studying abroad is, first and foremost, an instructive exercise in failure. . . . the lesson you learn — that initial setbacks, patience and work are the prerequisites for eventual success — is more important than an A in Calculus.  That lesson can’t be taught. It must be learned firsthand.  A high school year abroad is a quick and dirty way to discover just how ignorant you are. As such, it’s the door to a lifetime of learning and discovery.


You can read Stephenson’s article here:  Why High School Students Should Study Abroad.

Reading Resource Update: Good Blog Article

Came across a blog post today I thought my readers might like to see:

8 Things I’ve learned as an Exchange Student Host Parent

Photo credit: Beth Markley and Huffington Post, 2015

I especially like #1; it’s exactly why we decided to host high school students when our boys were 9 and 11. But the other items on her list all hit home as well.

Were we busy with running our own company, transporting our kids to soccer, taking care of the family and whatever? Sure. But as Beth Markley, the author of the article says, “Embracing the unexpected, and being determined to make the most of any situation, is the entire point.”

Holiday Thoughts 2014

It’s the time of year for musings and contemplation of the past and the future. Today, I’m thinking about the past few months for my students, and the upcoming first half of 2015.

For the academic year 2014-2015, we are supervising 12 high school exchange students. (The number varies from year to year, depending on where we find host families and school slots.) As the regional managers, we’re also indirectly keeping an eye on 20 other students in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington. We have quite a varied crew, both in terms of backgrounds, interests, and the life they are living here in the Pacific Northwest.

185926036 hellosThis year, our region’s students are from Austria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Thailand. Just like our host families, they come from all walks of life. Some live with one parent; some live with two. Some have host-brothers or sisters; some do not. Some are used to a big city and now live in a small town; others come from smaller villages or towns and are now living in suburban or urban areas. Some have plenty of spending money; some are on a tight budget. Some are energetic and outgoing; some are quiet and introspective.

They have one thing in common. They are all teenagers who were brave enough, about four or five months ago, to get on a plane and head into the complete unknown. While we were comfortably sitting on our decks in the sunshine this past summer, walking a dog, going for our daily coffee pick-me-up, and heading to work on our usual and predictable schedules, they were getting up in the dark at 4 AM, leaving their homes where they may have lived all their lives, and flying across the ocean to live in a strange land and with people they didn’t know. How many of us could have done the same when we were 15, 16, or 17?

They are now halfway through their exchange year. They’re all past the guest phase.  They are no longer quiet, ultra ultra-polite, or hesitant around the house. Most of them talk a lot more than when they arrived. Their English has improved dramatically. They squabble with their host siblings and moan like any teen about school or chores. They leave clothes around the house and forget to empty the dishwasher. They’re at home now.

I was going to write “it’s been a pretty uneventful half year so far,” since in the scheme of exchange year experiences, our group has not had many “dramatic” events outside what we consider normal. But I’m not sure that’s accurate. Perhaps from the perspective of adults who deal with teens every year, it’s true; we haven’t had major behavior problems, medical emergencies, or life-threatening events. No one in our group has been sent home early for alcohol or other illegal activities. No one has needed surgery or had major medical issues.

But from the perspective of 32 teenagers, it’s been quite eventful. The two girls who thought they had appendicitis probably considered those ER visits rather major. The three students who have had to change host families certainly have been through some emotional ups and downs. And there are the normal events of American life, which for these teens is pretty abnormal and new; as 2014 winds down, they have been able to:

  • visit other U.S. states such as California, Arizona, New York, and go out of the country to Canada.
  • see such beautiful places as Seattle, Washington; Crater Lake, Oregon; Bend and Sunriver, Oregon; and the Oregon and Washington coasts.
  • take classes not offered in their home countries such as Japanese, ceramics, psychology, cooking, and marketing, as well as community or city class offerings such as ballet or martial arts.

    Our son, Marcus, and Alex, from Germany, with their Christmas presents to each other
    Our son, Marcus, and Alex, from Germany, with their Christmas presents to each other
  • become fans of American college football teams such as arch-rivals University of Oregon Ducks and Oregon State University Beavers.
  • go to NBA Trailblazer basketball games and MLS Timbers and the Portland Thorns soccer games.
  • become athletes themselves and play sports they’ve done before, or new sports: American football, soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, or join the cross-country or ski racing team.
  • go camping in the mountains, stay in a yurt, or go surfing on the Oregon coast.

There’s also the usual normal assortment of American holiday experiences: trick-or-treating on Halloween, and carving pumpkins; eating turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving; lighting the candles for the eight nights of Hanukkah; and decorating the host family home and tree for Christmas.

Julia from the Netherlands with the winning pumpkin
Julia from the Netherlands with the winning pumpkin

This is kind of what it’s all about: sharing experiences with young people from other countries and cultures. We try to show them that the United States is not just the Hollywood sign or McDonald’s. We show them what we like and what we do, and by doing so we show them by our daily lives that for all our differences, people from different countries and cultures still like many of the same things.

Of course, there have also been tears. But they’re surviving, and they are succeeding. The hardest part of the year should be past them now, and they can focus on enjoying the second half of their exchange year. And we can enjoy it with them.


Photo credits: ©2014 and ©2014 Laura Kosloff.
*This blog post is linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at*