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My Exchange Student Doesn’t Like to Bathe and Has Some Hygiene Problems. What Do I Do?

Hygiene practices are not the same all over the world. Although most Americans shower daily, this is not the habit of people in some other countries. That said, don’t assume that your foreign exchange student will want to shower daily. Instead, they may prefer to shower 4-5 times a week. Even if they shower daily, they may wash their hair infrequently. Should this concern you? Not really unless your student looks dirty or smells. 

Depending upon where the student is from your student may shower less because of a concern about water supply. Water is scarce in countries like Russia and South Africa so they take showers less often. In other countries like India, residents take a bath using a bucket and pitcher. For this reason, American hygiene habits might seem strange to your exchange student. 

Ward off hygiene problems with your student by talking with them about cleanliness in the United States. Begin by asking them about the practices in their country. Be careful not to criticize or make them feel uncomfortable. If they mention something about a water shortage or no piped water in their community, be sure to let them know this is not a problem in your home. Follow up by telling them what you expect in terms of hygiene behaviors in your home. Don’t assume that your student knows about basic hygiene  Some topics to cover include:

  • Hand-washing before meals.
  • Shower or bathing daily or at night before bed.
  • Use soap and warm water with every shower to kill bacteria.
  • Trim nails and don’t bite them.
  • Use deodorant or antiperspirant to prevent body odor. 
  • Wash hair daily or every other day. 
  • Hand-washing after using the restroom. 
  • Wash face in the morning and at night. 
  • Brush your teeth in the morning and at night before bed. 
  • Change undergarments and socks daily. 
  • Cover your mouth with your elbow when coughing. 
  • Take a shower after sports practice or a game. 
  • Brush hair daily to remove tangles. 
  • Change bed linen weekly. 

Show your student how the shower works. If they will share towels with the family, let them know where they are kept and how often they should change towels. 

Exchange Student Hygiene Kit

You can help your exchange student adjust by purchasing them a few goodies that are popular with teens in the USA. Arrange these hygiene products in a basket as a welcome gift. Include these items in your student’s hygiene kit:

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  • Toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Mouthwash.
  • Deodorant/antiperspirant.
  • Body wash or soap. 
  • Body Lotion. 
  • Razor.
  • Feminine products (if your exchange student is a female). 
  • Comb/hairbrush. 

Ask your student if they have a question about any of the products. They may have used bar soap in their country but never body wash. Familiarize your female student with feminine products. For example, here in the United States, pads and tampons come in different absorbencies. They might not have all of these options in their country. You should also talk with them about the proper disposal of these items. 

Set Bathroom Schedule

It might be best to have your student take a shower at night when you can pay a little more attention to them. Set a schedule for them to bathe or shower nightly at a regular time. This can be after finishing homework or a half-hour before bedtime. Initially, you can ask them if they washed their hair or had any problems operating the shower. 

If the morning is better, allow them ample time to shower and put on clean clothes before leaving for school. This might mean getting up a little earlier. 

Clean Clothes

Even if your student showers or bathes daily, they will still have body odor if their clothes are not clean. Set a schedule for your student to launder their clothes weekly. Before they do the first load, provide them with instructions on how to use both the washing machine and dryer. Don’t forget to explain the difference between laundry soap and fabric softeners. If you find your student is regularly running low on items like underwear or socks, encourage them to use money from their monthly allowance from home to purchase them. 

Other Issues

Other hygiene problems like smelly feet or bad breath can also be a concern for exchange students. If your student is showering regularly but still has smelly feet, remind them to dry their feet thoroughly. You can also consider purchasing foot powder for their shoes to help eliminate odor. Similarly, if your student is brushing their teeth a couple of times a day but still has bad breath, make sure they are flossing and using mouthwash. If the problem persists, talk with the local program representative about the need for them to see a dentist for oral care. Although it is not covered by their insurance, the natural parents might be willing to pay. 

Have Another Talk With Your Exchange Student

Don’t assume your student is ignoring your hints about bathing or showering. There might be a communication problem or misunderstanding that is causing them not to respond to your cries for better hygiene. There could also be another reason why your student is not practicing cleanliness or experiencing body odor. It might be necessary to consider these issues if the problem continues.  

  • Depression or severe homesickness. 
  • Health problems like infection, athlete’s foot, diabetes, or a thyroid problem.
  • Poor diet. The student doesn’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. 
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Stress or anxiety. 

In your talk with your student, ask them if there is anything you can do to help.  Be direct, don’t hint or beat around the bush. Let them know that you continue to have concerns about how often they are taking a shower, washing their hair or doing laundry. 

No matter how it goes, be sure your exchange student knows that you care and are genuinely concerned about them. You should also talk with your local program coordinator to let them know there is a concern.

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