You’ve packed your bags, bought your plane ticket and may have even started saying your goodbyes to friends and family — but the international exchange adventure is just beginning.
Before you know it, you’ll be spending a big part of your day with brand new family members with different traditions, beliefs, and preferences than yours. This is both exciting and a little scary — but a positive attitude can go a long way. After all, your new host family is just as excited and nervous as you are!
So how can you get off on the right foot with your new host family? Are there any absolute “do’s” and “don’ts” when living with Americans in their own home? These are just some of the most important tips for living with an American host family according to the students and host parents that have been there.
Open your mind and heart to your new family’s traditions and beliefs.
When you chose to study abroad, it’s safe to say that you didn’t expect your host country to be just like your home country. You knew that the food, activities, environment, and values would be different than what you were used to.
In order to set a good foundation with your new host family, take some time to talk about what activities are most important to them. Maybe they always have dinner together as a family, or always go to church on Sundays. Maybe they avoid using their cell phones or tablets in the living room or prefer to spend at least one day a week together at home.
Whatever your new family’s beliefs and traditions, it’s important that you not only understand and respect these differences but openly embrace them, too. After all, your time living and studying overseas is an opportunity to try new things — and maybe even step outside of your comfort zone. Trying new things with a smile will help your host family see that you are open to learning — which will make them feel more comfortable with you and open to learning about your own family’s culture and traditions!
Ask questions — lots of them!
Cultural exchange is all about learning — and sometimes, learning means asking questions even when you feel silly doing so. It might feel easier to simply sit back quietly and do as your told, but asking questions about what is expected of you helps your host parents spot and fix any misunderstanding or confusion. You aren’t expected to understand everything right away, and your host family is always there to help.
This is especially true for things like rules, curfews, and chores. It’s much easier to ask questions about why a particular rule is put in place, versus accidentally breaking a rule later on. So if your host family insists on you coming home every night before 10 pm — but you are used to staying out with friends as late as 2 am at home — don’t hesitate to ask why they have this rule. Maybe city curfew for teens is 10 pm, or they have had another child get hurt after missing curfew.
Either way, asking for a bit more information about a particular rule you might not understand will help your host family keep you safe and healthy during your time spent abroad.
Tell your host family if something makes you uncomfortable.
Just like you are expected to learn about and respect the beliefs and values of your host family, so too are they expected to respect yours. While sometimes it’s up to you to try new things, there are some instances where something might be too far outside of your comfort zone.
In this case, the rule is simple: use your words. Your host family won’t know what you’re thinking and feeling if you don’t tell them, and it’s up to you to communicate with them openly about your thoughts, feelings, and needs. If you are put in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, don’t wait to tell your host family. Try using statements like “I feel uncomfortable with this because…” or “I would prefer not to do this because…” so your host family can understand why you are hesitant or nervous about a situation.
This extends to people, too. If there is someone at your school, in your church, or within your group of friends that makes you feel uncomfortable, always say something. Your host family is here to help you!
Share your culture — but don’t use it as an excuse not to try new things.
Your host family wants to learn about your culture and traditions just as much as you want to learn about theirs, but not when it’s used as an excuse not to try something new. For example, if your host family likes to eat dinner at 5.30pm every night — but you usually eat dinner at 9 pm at home — be careful how you communicate this difference to your host family.
Remember that differences are an opportunity to learn more about your host country’s culture, and the way you communicate these differences can help put your host family at ease. Here’s an example:
What you might want to say: “Well back in my home country, we always eat at 9 pm.”
This might not sound rude to you, but it might sound like you are disagreeing or arguing with your host family (when that’s absolutely not what you mean to do!). Plus, it doesn’t help to start a conversation!
Instead, try phrasing it this way: “That’s so interesting! At home, we eat at 9 pm. Do many American families eat around 5.30pm?”
This acknowledges the cultural difference while opening up a conversation, which can be a great way to better understand your host family and American culture as a whole.
Keep your promises and always tell the truth.
Your host family’s number one concern is keeping you safe, healthy and happy during your time abroad. In order to do that, though, they need to know where you’re going and who you are spending time with. Always maintaining honest and open communication with your host family — and always doing what you say you’ll do — will help your host family trust you as well as keep you safe.
For example, let’s say your new friends at school invite you to a midnight movie that ends at 1.30am, but your curfew is at 11 pm. Rather than staying out past your curfew and simply apologizing once you get home, ask your host family ahead of time if it is okay to go to a late-night movie. It’s likely that your host family will allow you to stay out later as long as they know who you are with and where you’ll be.
Remember: trust is a difficult thing to earn and a very easy thing to lose. By always doing what you say you will do, you can help show your host family that you are responsible and mature enough to do things on your own!
Living with an American host family is a wonderful opportunity to learn about American culture firsthand. With the right tips and tricks, you can create a strong, positive relationship with your host family that will last a lifetime!
We invite you to read more about hosting a foreign exchange student. If you have specific questions about hosting, check out our host family FAQ page. You can also read testimonials from our past and current host families. When you feel ready, complete our host family interest form and our area representative will get in touch with you.
You can also get involved by joining our team of Area Representatives! Help match host families and exchange students and bring the world closer together, while making a supplemental income.