Short-Timer Syndrome Has Arrived 

 April 24, 2014

By  Laura Kosloff

I’ve been getting a lot of “what is going on in their heads?” reports over the past few weeks from host parents, including:

  • She’s suddenly hanging out with a crowd she knows I don’t like. Why?
  • She’s not telling us where she is going or who she is hanging out with. She knows how important this is in our family.j
  • He’s never been great about picking up after himself, that’s true; but . . . . seriously, it’s getting out of hand recently.
  • He has been getting along so well with his younger host siblings – until Spring break. Now, he’s ignoring them!
  • We’ve begun to see and hear a lot more of what you might call normal teen behavior: not really wanting to talk to us, and asking why we want to know this or that. This is not how she has behaved before.
  • We’ve been hearing more door-slamming, and she seems to be annoyed more often. We haven’t seen this before in the last eight months.
  • He seems to be withdrawing from us all of a sudden, as if he doesn’t like us, and doesn’t seem to want to go places with us anymore.

Do you see the pattern?

It’s All in the Timing

With the arrival of Spring, all students suddenly see the end of the school year. Seniors are counting the days until graduation; students everywhere are beginning to talk about summer jobs, summer vacation plans, and their dreams of hanging out and not having to think about algebra, English composition, or history class.

are you ready 461264393 Our exchange students, too, have become “short timers.” They can see how much they have accomplished during their exchange, and they are happy at how comfortable they are in their host family, school, and community. It’s a great time of year for them . . . or it was, until they saw the end in sight.

The short-timer syndrome causes them to focus on the sadness of soon leaving their new families and friends, on the anxiety of wondering whether they have changed too much for their friends back home, and on the fear that it will all feel foreign when they return. Their mixed feelings cause an internal conflict that teens often do not know how to resolve. So they withdraw, or act out, or forget to do the things they certainly do know how to do – because it’s easier to leave, isn’t it, if someone is mad at you?

Remaining Focused on the Here and Now

While the mixed feelings are normal, there is some danger. Withdrawing from your host family or friends can cause conflict in relationships and make everyone unhappy at a time of year that should be a positive one for all involved in the exchange relationship. Host families can help their student to remain focused in several ways:

  • Think about how to make the rest of the year be special. Are there places on your student’s “bucket list” where you can go as a family?
  • Think about a “mother-daughter” or “father-son” day trip to the beach, the mountain, the golf range, a professional soccer game, or just an afternoon at the mall.
  • Help your student find presents that he or she can take home to family that will be representative of your region.
  • Offer to host a graduation or going away party for your student.

man throwing arms out 179255487I tell my students’ families to try to be aware of what their students are feeling, and I tell the students to examine their feelings and behavior so that they are aware of what they are doing and why. Host families can (and should) have an honest conversation with their student, making it clear that they are sympathetic and that they care, but that certain behaviors are no more acceptable in April or May than they were in August or September. We can understand their feelings, and we can help the students realize they are not alone.


*This post is linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com*

Linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com – See more at: http://www.smallplanetstudio.com/2014/04/25/april-mygloballife-link-up/#sthash.SxdpZvHm.dpuf
  • This is very helpful! My foreign son seems to think that now that school is out he lives at a hotel. I had to postpone a talk with him about not doing his part with chores from last evening to today because he left early for a party without telling anyone. He has been forgetting to discuss what time he should be home before he goes out, leaving chores until “later”, wanting to go out everyday which usually requires us driving at least one way. Last night I woke up about 20 minutes past curfew, he wasn’t home, no text saying he was running late. He showed up a few minutes later. My own child starting complaining a lot about him being annoying the past 2 weeks and finding fault with everything he does though they have been friends most of the time. Helpful to read as I would like to end on a good note. We’ll all be talking tonight and he won’t be going out 🙂

    • Hello Jenny,
      What you wrote is pretty much a duplicate of what many of my host parents (ourselves included) have seen and heard many times. Definitely have a chat with him, and if appropriate ask his coordinator to have a talk with him. Remind him how much you care, and certainly let him know that you understand what’s going on in his head. You *know* he’s excited about going home and that it’s hard to pay attention to all the “rules” when you’re about to leave. But he’s still a member of the family, and you want him to always be a member of the family. I find sometimes that just talking about it upfront can help a lot — maybe he won’t be perfect in the time left, but once he’s aware of it I’m going to guess he’ll make more of an effort.

      • Thanks Laura! I wish I had found your blog earlier in the year. Could have helped with another ongoing issue with him socially. Will keep in mind if we host again(this was 2nd time). Reading this I think my daughter’s complaints may be preparing for him to leave, he’s annoying I will be glad when he’s gone mindset. Her siblings are out of the house and she prefers to have one. They have been a real brother and sister most of the year. My husband is of the mindset, why take on extra problems with another child so can’t complain too much or he says not again. I think overall the good outweighs the bad.

  • This is so interesting to read, given my background as an exchange student. I remember a few unintentional problems cropping up after several months, when I finally felt comfortable enough with my family to say ‘no’ to things (e.g., going somewhere), waited a little too long to clean up the kitchen after having friends over, assuming I had more freedom than I really did, etc. To me, I was finally relaxing into being myself because I finally felt so comfortable with my family – to me, this was a big (positive) milestone. To them, I was probably becoming lazy, rude, and slobby! 😉

    Thanks for participating in the #MyGlobalLife link-up!

    • Hi Cate!
      I can only imagine how it feels to read some of this stuff if you have been through it! You’ve hit on a key point, I think — the “unintentional” issues. Students certainly do not intend to cause a problem, and sometimes they bring habits with them that don’t work in their host family. Working with them to get through that and helping them to adjust is a key part of the process.

  • I’ve been sharing my favorite quote from Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.”

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