Meet Your Local Coordinator: Susan Greenhorn
As a host family with CIEE, you probably have now spent some time getting to know your local coordinator. Susan Greenhorn is a local coordinator who lives in Mitchellville, IA, and has been working CIEE for over three years. Those of you who have met Susan know that she is extremely passionate about her work with exchange students.
As you know, September and October are significant adjustment periods for both students and host families. Susan has graciously agreed to share some important words of advice for host families to keep in mind throughout this initial adjustment period. Read on to learn more about ways to make this period of transition and adjustment easier for both students and host families:
What are some things that host families can do prior to their student arriving on the program to make them feel more comfortable living with their host family?
Before students arrive, some families have taken the time to decorate their student’s bedroom. For example, one family studied their student’s profile carefully, and saw that the student really enjoyed basketball. The student’s host mom added a basketball pillow case and a poster of Michael Jordan to personalize the student’s bedroom. There are little things that you can do to really make the room warm and inviting for the student so that they feel less stressed.
As a host family, what is some advice to keep in mind to help your exchange student adjust?
Remember that they are a teenager. That is going to be the heart of the issue. Nothing beats communication. Families can sit down together with their student and ask questions about their home country. Let the student know that you are interested. Show interest in their culture by asking, “how” questions to discover what the meaning is behind a particular custom or phrase. Keep away from yes or no answers.
When you encounter differences or issues with your exchange student, how can host families solve these?
Try to see these differences as opportunities to learn about the student and to learn about themselves. For example, one host family was not helping their host family with chores, and this caused hard feeling between the student and their host family. The family sat down with the student and created a list of what the student is responsible for. The student simply did not know that they were responsible for completing these chores.
Any advice for students who are having a difficult time making friends?
Step in and introduce your student to neighborhood kids. Be willing to open your home to host a gathering, or allow other students to visit. Suggest to your student to invite a friend along if going to the movies, or on a day trip.
What can host families say to students who are experiencing homesickness?
Acknowledge that you understand your student. Compliment your student for participating on this exchange program and for trying something new. Don’t deny these feelings of homesickness or make light of it, it hurts for these kids. Relate with your student, but don’t dwell on these feelings of homesickness. Support students by visiting them during the activities they participate in, such as a sports practice. Go to events with students when they are invited.
Some helpful phrases:
“I really understand that you’re experiencing some homesickness. We are here to help you get through this.”
Do you have any additional tips or words of advice to share with our host families?
- Try to learn as much about the culture of your student before they come on the program.
- There are always two sides of a story, and sometimes a third.
- Even if you want to scream, just breathe.