I sometimes tweet a “tip of the day” for exchange students or host families. Here are my tips from January for students, with some thoughts on each. I’ll post more tips from time to time, both for students and for families.
Have a meaningful conversation today with someone in your host family.
Start a conversation on something you think might be interesting. Don’t agonize about this, just do it! Talk about something that happened at school, even if it’s a small thing – the goal here is to get the conversation going. “Meaningful” does not mean profound or wise; it just means a “real” conversation. Are people dressed differently at your high school as compared to back home? Was there an assembly? A fire drill? Talk about how good the food at school was today – or how awful it was! Pick a subject from the newspaper, and talk about that. Ask your host parents something about their country or the local community. Is a new bridge being built in your city? Ask about the bridge’s history. Is a new store being built? Ask what was there before. Does your high school look new? Ask your host parents or host siblings how old the school is. Tell them about your school back home – how big it is, how many students, is it in the city, how long does it take you to go to school.
Learn a new word in your host country’s language each day.
Think about words you need to know in your classes at school, words that would be helpful in talking about your favorite sport or activity, or words that would help you talk to your host family about something they do in their daily lives. Put a word on the refrigerator every day in your host language. Post your new words on a bulletin board in your bedroom. Ask your host parents what this means and what that means – don’t worry, you won’t offend them!
Offer to make dinner for your host family one day a week.
Parents LOVE not having to cook dinner. It’s not that hard, either, you can start with something simple. Spaghetti is easy to make and everyone loves spaghetti. You could make some soup, chili, or super-duper sandwiches. Talk to your parents back home and get some recipes and make something from your home country.
Ask your host parents if you can take the dog for a walk — it’s a small thing but they will appreciate it.
Most exchange students have a few chores here and there – putting dishes into the dishwasher, cleaning up the kitchen, doing your own laundry, vacuuming, and so on. Offer to do something you’re not required to do once sometimes — it will work wonders. People really appreciate it when you volunteer to do something! If the family has a dog, taking the dog for a short walk is a great way to make friends with the dog. Are you supposed to help out with feeding the dog at mealtimes? No? Offer to do it! Clean the cat litter! Shovel the sidewalk or driveway if it snows! Rake up the leaves in the yard! (You get the idea!)
A tip for when you go out with friends in the evening: Tell your host parents who you are with at all times. It’s hard but it’s important!
Being an exchange student isn’t all fun and games, as those who have been here since August now know. So this is a more serious item. This “rule” is hard for exchange students coming to the U.S. from many countries to both understand and accept. Many students in Europe, for example, are used to much more personal freedom in their daily lives than teens in the U.S. So it comes across as strange to European 16 and 17 year olds to have to tell their parents they are leaving Joe’s house to go to Nancy’s house, or asking permission to go from someone’s house to the movies. If you are one of my students, I tell you “it’s not better or worse, it’s just different.” We know that getting used to a different way of life is tough, especially if the rules seem stricter than what you are used to back home. But we also know that it’s important for our students to follow these rules. You’re here as a guest of the U.S. government, so you have a special status. Your host family has taken on the responsibility of caring for you, and they take that seriously!
Never be afraid to try something new. That’s why you are living in another country after all!
Things my students have done this year that they have not done before:
- Air ballooning
- Target shooting
- Scuba diving
- Acting in a high school play
- Carving a pumpkin at Halloween
- Learning Japanese
I’m sure when my students read this they will remind me about all the things I haven’t listed — because there’s a whole lot more, and we’re only halfway through the exchange year. If you’ve done something while on your exchange that’s not listed, let me know! Take risks (well, reasonable ones!). Do something you’ve never done before! Be brave!