The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
– George Bernard Shaw
Today’s post describes a not-uncommon situation many coordinators face with new host families.
Dear New Host Parents,
As you know, I am the local representative for your exchange student program. I know you are excited to have your student here, and I’m happy to see that you are keeping him busy — that’s exactly what he needs to get used to the community and not be homesick!
Many new host parents feel that now that the exchange program has approved them as a host family, the program and the local representative should step aside and let you handle parenting for the coming academic year. I know that it can feel like an invasion of privacy when I call and ask what classes your student is signed up for, and how the student is doing in those classes. I know it can feel strange to explain to me as a relative stranger what you did as a family last week, and what activities you are planning in the near future. I know it can feel unreasonable to help me set up a meeting with your student on short notice. After all, if nothing is wrong, why do I need to come over?
I know you may be experienced parents. But I would ask you to remember and understand two things. First, the exchange program is responsible for your exchange student while he or she is in the United States. Also, exchange organizations operating in the U.S. face certain minimum requirements established by the U.S. Department of State for how we communicate with all our exchange students and their host families.
I’m also here to help your student succeed in a foreign environment — and to help you, too. Some of us have worked with dozens of exchange students; we know that hosting an exchange student isn’t always the same thing as raising your own children. For a student from another culture and country and a host family to become close is not just a matter of making sure the student has similar interests to your family. There’s a lot more involved.
Every year, many students have to be placed into new host families. There are many reasons for that, some that are unavoidable (a host parent becomes ill or loses their job, for example). But many problems arise out of miscommunications, and some of those communications difficulties are the result of host parents (or students) not sharing with their coordinator what’s going on in their lives. My communications with you and the student are intended to help nip that outcome in the bud.
I understand that you have the best interests of your student at heart, and I have no wish to interfere in your home life with your exchange student. My goal is for you to have a successful hosting experience and for your student to have a great exchange year in the United States and in your family. Work with me — we’re a team.
Photo credit Christin Hume
I very much appreciated that our local coordinator set up activities and outings for us to do together with our exchange kiddos. We went bowling, had dinner, and hosted a Super Bowl party. That way, we developed a relationship, as well. This helped with the communication aspect each month.
Yes, those kinds of activities are a good way to help students and host families get past the initial awkwardness. For the students, it’s just a good way for them to connect with the other students in their area. Quite often it’s hard to make new friends, and the other exchange students are the ones who understand what they are going through in terms of adjustment. For host families, it can help them see that other students may be having adjustment issues similar to their own student, and talking to other families can be another source of thoughts on how to deal with a particular issue.