If you are wondering if you are dealing with a student who is experiencing culture shock, know that it is not always easy to notice. It usually builds up slowly and the signs are not always obvious.
Here are some common signs and symptoms associated with culture shock:
- Stomach Aches
- Overly concerned with health
- Feeling tired
- Feeling lonely or helpless
- Distrust of hosts
- Withdrawal from people and activities
If your student is showing some or most of these signs, it is quite possible that he or she is going through culture shock. Apart from calling CIEE Support and your Local Coordinator, there are a few things you as the host family can do to make it through this challenging time.
Have an honest conversation
Be sensitive, but try to have an honest conversation with your exchange student. You could start by saying: “I have noticed you are staying in your room a lot and seem very upset. I understand you are probably very homesick and this must be hard.” Your exchange student is experiencing a flood of emotions right now, and it is difficult for them to navigate through all of this. Often times they turn to friends and family in their home country, because home is familiar and they know exactly where they fit in. Over here, everything is new and they still need to work out, how they can fit into your family and their new environment. They don’t really belong here yet.
While they are navigating through all of this, it is important to try and remain positive. Let them know that you are glad to have them, that you care about them and that you are available to listen to them if they have things on their mind. It is best for your student to cut down on communication with home, so try to remind them of that, but make it easier for them by providing time to talk to them as well.
Don’t take it personal!
This is likely one of the biggest challenges when dealing with a homesick exchange student who is experiencing acute culture shock. During culture shock students often turn against everything new they are confronted with and that often includes your family and even your entire country. It can be very difficult to hear your student’s comments about food or lifestyle in the United States, but as hard as it can be, try to just listen and don’t judge. Instead try to remind your student that things are just different. You are different people and a different family from your exchange student’s, your country is different, with different values, outlook on life etc. Recognizing these differences as part of the process, but you can ask your student to understand that something being different does not mean it is better or worse. Despite all the differences, there are always commonalities. After all, we are just people who like to laugh and share and do activities together. Create experiences you can all enjoy and remember together.
Suggest joining a group or activity
It can be challenging to help your exchange student break out of his or her shell, but be patient and keep suggesting different activities he or she could join. “Are there any groups and extracurricular activities at school you could join?” Sometimes a student fails to be accepted into a competitive sports team at their High School. In this case they might be able to join a community team instead. Being active and exercising will help get their mind off being homesick, it will also help build new relationships and see your community with different eyes.
Offer to join your family – over and over again
It can be hurtful when your new exchange student walks to their room right after you asked them to join a board game with the whole family. DON’T GIVE UP! Keep offering and make it clear that you would love him to join you! At the same time understand that withdrawal is a very normal reaction and should not be seen as a rejection of you and your family. Even if the student appears to be very critical of your family or the area you are living in, this is part of the sometimes “painful process” of adjusting to a new culture.
Smile and take a deep breath J
While it can be difficult for the student or host family, it is important to remember that culture shock is just part of the adjustment process and it will pass. It can seem like an insurmountable challenge at first but, with a little effort, students and host families can overcome culture shock and complete the student exchange experience with a great sense of accomplishment.