Studying abroad and living in a strange home can be a big change for a young teen. Early on, your exchange student might feel most comfortable in their bedroom. It will have become their safety zone because when in there they don’t have to make small talk or struggle to speak and understand English. In their room, they can also talk to family and friends back home without someone looking over their shoulder.
Invite Your Exchange Student to Join the Family
As a good host parent, you will have made sure your exchange student has a nice and relaxing room to rest in. For students who have never had their own space, this can be a real treat. For this reason, during the first month or so when they come home from school, they might go directly to their room. Some students will go to their room because they are tired. Meeting students, getting to know their way around a new school, and trying to learn a new culture can leave them exhausted. If your student says hello and goes right to their room, don’t fret. Simply give them their space and an hour to unwind. You can invite them to come out of their room and join the family at mealtime. Coerce them to come out early by asking them to chop vegetables for the salad or help set the table.
Some exchange students will be outgoing and open to trying new things. Others might be more shy and hesitant to come out of their room thinking they are in the way or interrupting your normal routine. Let your exchange student know that the common areas like the family room, sunroom, recreation room, and backyard are open to the entire family. If they are still hesitant to leave their rooms, all they’ll need is an invitation. Invite them to come out to spend time with the rest of the family watching a movie or sporting event.
Schedule Family Activities With Your Exchange Student
Another way to ensure that your exchange student is not in the room the entire day is to schedule family time. Make plans over the weekend that includes the student. Let them know what time you expect them to be ready to go. You can visit a local attraction, go shopping or out to eat. During the week, you can take a walk around the neighborhood or just relax while lounging in the backyard.
Is there a tv show that the exchange student really likes? Plan family time around that show. You can pop a little popcorn and everyone gather around the television to watch the show together. It will be an activity that they will look forward to.
Keep Your Exchange Student Engaged
When your student is out of their room, make it interesting. Talk with them about what is going on in their lives. Encourage them to talk with you about their friends, schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and what is going on with their natural families.
Talk With Your Student About Being in Their Room Too Much
If all else fails, talk with your student about the amount of time they are spending in their room. Come up with a lighthearted and fun way to let the student know that you want them to be with the family a little more. You should also remind them that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. They may never visit the United States again so they want to see and enjoy the experience as much as possible.
Homesickness and Your Exchange Student
Most students will come out of their room more and more as time goes by. If this doesn’t happen, the problem might be homesickness. One of the signs that a student is homesick is that they are withdrawn. Address the problem of homesickness and you might see your student a little more. Here are some tips for dealing with homesickness:
- Don’t make your student feel guilty about being homesick. Assure them you understand and it will be okay.
- Encourage them to talk openly about their feelings.
- Get them involved in activities at school if they aren’t already.
- Introduce them to older family members for nurturing and added support.
- Make a calendar for them that includes activities, upcoming trips and special events that they can look forward to.
- Be sure your student is talking with family and friends at home (but not too often).
Exchange students commonly spend too much time in their rooms making this an all too familiar problem for all host parents. Use your support system to help you with this problem. Talk with fellow host parents in your program along with your local program coordinator. Your program representative will have dealt with this problem time and time again and will have some sound advice for you. This is also a topic that is covered often at the meetings that she/he has with the exchange students.