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How to Successfully Bring a Different Culture into your Home

Each family has a set of beliefs about how things should be and to relate to each other.

It is influenced by the structure of the family, number of children, personalities and experiences.

Each family has a set of beliefs about how things should be and to relate to each other. It is influenced by the structure of the family, number of children, personalities and experiences. Cultural background impacts attitudes towards communication, education, hierarchy, and values. Your exchange student gets immersed in uncharted territory when becoming part of your family and your family structure is altered at the same time. Understanding how family dynamics work and the awareness of this change will help you to adjust faster to this change.

Let’s imagine for a second that your exchange student comes from a “circle” environment and arrives to your family which is a “square” environment…

Cultural differences

This can illustrate how different the world he or she is coming from is and how it may be difficult to integrate into your environment. How does the “circle’ adapt and communicate with the“square” members of the family? How does the student adapt and behave in a “square” environment?

Your current family dynamics…Those are defined by the individual member’s relationships with each other. Family members share bonds and a sense of history and endeavor to meet each other’s needs. Those will be affected with the entrance of your exchange student. Roles, alliances and boundaries will be affected.

The culture the student brings with them...

In addition to the family dynamics changing, the student will bring his/her cultural baggage that may differ substantially from your culture. Culture affects the way we communicate, think and behave.

Culture is often compared to an iceberg which has both visible and invisible areas...

The presence of a different cultural background can negatively impact the success of a Host Family/Student relationship if an awareness of those differences is not known and understood.

Cultural misunderstandings occur when we expect other people to behave like we do, but they don’t or they expect us to behave the way they do but we don’t!

Magic steps to help you and your student to go through this process:

  1. Spend some time reading ETC Cultural Guides. The more you know about the cultural background of your student, the more you will be equipped to understand their behavior.
  2. Remember that the student has to adapt to a new family dynamic (yours) that may be very different to his or hers in their home country. Ask questions about their family and find out the differences. Understanding it Key to Success!
  3. The student will have to create a new support system, help them by providing resources and ideas (join a club, participate in activities, etc.)
  4. Do not expect the student to know how your house hold works at first! Take the time to explain your routines to them such as rules and expectations (it is extremely to review the Expectations Work sheets as many times as necessary with them.)
  5. ETC also provides toolboxes and materials to understand the process of adaptation an exchange student may go through, for example culture shock and homesickness.

Some practical examples of cultural disconnection:

  • Your student seems distant and barely smiles… if the student is from Germany, they do not normally smile to express politeness as it is common in the United States
  • Your student may not be used to follow curfews, do chores at home, as boundaries at home may be very different. This should not always be taken as unruly behavior.
  • Most Asian students are very pressured at home to academic success and therefore may spend many hours in their room studying. This should not always be taken as a lack of interest in your family. Encourage them to participate in the family activities.
  • European students are raised more independently than American teens. This may lead to some rebellious attitudes. Always remind them the rules and the importance of following them.

These are just a few examples that can explain some of the behaviors your student may display and are not always related to a lack of respect. As a host family, it is important to differentiate those “cultural behaviors” from “typical teenage behavior” or even “inadequate behaviors. “This difference will help you to know what to do next to fix whatever needs fixes. Be sure to always discuss these items with your local coordinator and your student. Discover the differences and never make assumptions!

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