August – the time of excitement and glamour as the exchange students arrive in the U.S. and elsewhere for their semester or year of adventure. What could be more fabulous than … wait, sitting around the house and watching TV?
We have two exchange students who are starting the year with us. Viet Anh (Germany) is temporary; we’re his “welcome” family, and we’ll be looking for a “regular” family for him. But in the meantime, we’re his host family. He has arrived, and I suspect he is a bit bored – I’m working this week, my husband is out of town, one son is at lacrosse camp, and the older son is taking summer classes. That doesn’t leave much room for exciting trips across the state – our level of excitement is taking a dog for a walk into town. Our other exchange student, Pim (Netherlands), arrives next week; he is probably jumping up and down counting every minute and driving his parents crazy until he boards his plane for the U.S.
Is this a fundamental difference between the two teens? Not at all. With no school in session, no local friends of their own, and most parents working, students can get bored in August. Host parents who can’t take the time off will feel guilty if they have to work – if you are reading this, try to get over that! Check with your exchange program and see if your student can get together with one or more nearby other students for “play dates.” That’s what we’ll be doing over the next few days (OK, we don’t call it a “play date” – not out loud, anyway….). Even if the teens are just hanging out being bored together, it’s more fun, and they can exchange the few stories they’ve begun to gather and see that there are many different versions of a “typical American family.”
Over the next few weeks, the rest of the exchange students will begin to arrive at their host families. For at least a few weeks they will feel like guests, and act like guests – quiet, polite, hesitant around the house. Host families are excited and want to show the students around their community, their town, and the state, and we will hear reports of some interesting trips and excursions. But we will also hear stories of students playing hours of X-box or watching a lot of TV. We can’t entertain them all day, says a parent. You’re absolutely correct, we tell them. It will even out over time. August – the time of contradiction, of too much excitement and too much empty time.
So, while we have this empty time, we try to make the most of it. We give our students a copy of the school’s curriculum book to start choosing classes (did that today in our house, everyone!). We print a copy of our house rules (ditto! I’ll report back on what he thinks about them, ha!). We suggest they read the local newspaper and report back in the evening on a story they read (next on my list). We take them with us when we walk the dog and get them talking, asking them about their family back home and what their school is like. We ask them questions about how their parents expect them to manage money and try to get a sense of their financial situation. Some will have unlimited budgets, some will be on tight budgets – we want to find out if they have shown up in your household with a debit/credit card (nice) or a wad of cash (not so nice). We teach them to use the local bus system (haven’t done that yet, although Viet Anh was asking about it!). Maybe he and others could go somewhere on the bus while I’m working, we’ll see.
We try to get the students to use the time to practice their English. Watching a lot of TV isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many students will be in shock that their English is not as fluent as they thought it was, and they may panic when they cannot understand the conversation around them. For a few weeks, they may nod at anything and everything said by the people around them. They will refuse to answer the phone and have trouble understanding the English if they must talk on the phone. So let them watch TV – it will help them recognize different voices!
August – the honeymoon phase of the exchange experience. So let’s enjoy the time, boredom and all, before the boundary-pushing “what do you mean I really have to follow the rules” phase sets in!