Challenges when hosting an international student & how to overcome them
Hosting an international student is rewarding on many levels – from the opportunity for cultural exchange to the chance to change a young person’s life – but you may also face some challenges. We are here to help you navigate them.
Your student becomes homesick
First of all, remember that it is perfectly normal that a student may become homesick and make sure you do not take it personally! If your student becomes really homesick and upset, remind them that it is normal to feel that way and that they are allowed to be upset for a little while. Try sitting with them and asking what their favorite things about home are. Let them talk about home and family, and make sure they have regular contact with them.
Next, suggest something fun and new they can do, either together or on their own, that will help remind them of all the amazing and exciting things about being somewhere so far away from home: a day trip to a local landmark, a walk in the countryside, or suggest they invite over a friend from school.
And remind them to take loads of photos to share with family and friends – this will help bring back the focus on the new things they are experiencing, not the things they are missing out on back home.
Your student doesn’t like the food you cook
Sometimes one of the biggest culture shocks can come from finding the food in a different country is so incredibly different to what you are used to back home. If they don’t like the food you cook, don’t take it personally – it is likely just something they have to get used to.
How do you help them get used to the cuisine on offer? First off, it helps if you are cooking the same food for them as for yourself. Eating together, if possible, also helps as this ties eating to something communal and to your culture and family traditions. Check out our post on go-to meals for host families for more ideas and tips.
If they are leaving large amounts of food on their plate uneaten, ask if the portion size was too big. If you suspect they may be too polite to say they don’t like it, start a conversation about what their favorite foods from back home are and how they compare to the food in this country.
If you’re still struggling, suggest that they come help you in the kitchen when cooking so that they can discover what exactly it is you are cooking, but also so that they can bring their own culinary tastes. Suggest you make their favorite dish from back home together, for example. It’s also a great way to get to know each other better and means you’re not left with all the cooking!
Remember, food allergies or dietary requirements are not the same as a student simply not liking their food and should be taken seriously. Make sure you know what these are at the start of your hosting journey.
There’s a language barrier
If there wasn’t some sort of language barrier, they wouldn’t be doing a language course, so do not be surprised if at first there is some slight difficulty communicating!
If your student is shy/quiet when they first arrive, this doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t understand you, but rather that they may just not have the confidence yet to speak in another language. Usually, hosts find that the more they chat to them the more their confidence builds up and soon they will be able to join in conversation. Just remember to be open and welcoming in all the ways that don’t need translating: smiles, pointing out their room and the bathroom clearly, showing them photos/guidebooks etc.
If there are certain home rules or instructions (such as how to make the washing machine work/where a first aid kit is), try writing them down and leaving them pinned up in the house somewhere. This way, students can translate them much easier using an app, rather than having to remember and understand every rule/instruction as you speak to them.
If your student tries talking to you and you struggle to understand – don’t panic. Just stay calm and reassuring and suggest they try speaking more slowly or that they try writing it down.
Host families are always telling us how amazed they were by the progress their student made during their time with them – from arriving and not saying a word, to having a full conversation over dinner about their day by the end of their stay. So don’t let either yourself or your student get frustrated, and learn to just laugh when there are difficulties communicating – it’s all part of the experience.
If it is an emergency or something that really needs explaining clearly, Google Translate App can detect words and translate for you in real time.
Setting rules in the home
This is always something that worries hosts the most: how to lay down the ground rules for your students. In many cases, hosts find that there was actually no need to worry, and that mutual respect, politeness and a few basic rules will ensure everything runs smoothly.
As far as basic rules go, the following are usually useful: to always lock up the house when leaving and when coming in; to leave shared spaces clean and tidy; to be quiet and respectful to others sleeping late at night; and to always let you know if they are doing something out of routine (such as coming home later than normal or going away for the weekend).
Normally, the hardest rule is deciding upon a time by which you expect them to be home at the latest (tip: don’t use the word curfew!). This should be reasonable and will probably depend on the age of your student. Be prepared to negotiate with your student, and chat to other Homestay hosts on our network to see how they decided what time to establish.
If you find rules are being broken, or they are risking the security or safety of the house, or other people in the house then make it clear why what they are doing is not acceptable. Write it down to ensure they understand, and so that you can both refer back to it in case the problem continues.
It is incredibly rare that students do not follow rules set down, or that they are anything less than respectful and grateful, but there are rare occurrences where this may happen. First of all, try suggesting tips to help them remember and leave them on post-it notes around the house (e.g. ‘don’t forget to lock the door when you leave’).
If you think the student is simply not respecting you or your property, then contact their school so we can help you tackle the issue together. And remember to use our network to reach out for tips and support from other host families.