In yesterday’s article, we talked about the potential difficulties of living with a host family, and some of the issues you may be facing.  These included:

  • Not understanding the family/not being able to make yourself understood (this was more than a language barrier, but also a cultural one)

  • Having unfamiliar restrictions or having to follow rules that differ from those at home

  • Having to do chores that don’t comport with your experience and ideas concerning gender roles.

There are a lot of other potential issues, but most of them, like the ones above, tend to fall under the same umbrella: that of cultural expectations and misunderstanding. You are used to living your life in one way, and they are used to living theirs in another. Luckily, this can be overcome. There are just a few things you need to remember and to do in order to alleviate this.

Host family

Living with a host family is an exciting time to learn about them- and yourself. It’s important for everyone to remember a few things and keep an open mind.
Image from Flickr Creative Commons user InterExchange USA

You’re here to learn

We’ve all been in a strange place at one time or another, and have had that universal feeling of irritation when things aren’t the way you want them. These can range from little things, like different television shows and music (although this is less a problem these days, thanks to the ability to access media on the Internet) to large things like religious norms or food. Food might not seem like such a big problem, but if the menu is strange every day, it can affect your levels of homesickness and even health.

But remember: you are here to learn about a different culture and experience new things. It’s important to go in with an open mind, and a willingness to be flexible. Even if there is something you don’t think you like, give it a try. At the very worst, you’ll know for sure your opinion on something. At best, you’ve found something you really enjoy, that can open up and enrich your world. That said, there may be some things that just won’t work for you. In that case…

Be honest

You have your own beliefs, and wouldn’t be expected to change them. You aren’t expected to conform to the religious or political beliefs of your host family, and they aren’t expected to try to make you. Be honest if there is something that makes you genuinely uncomfortable, or if there is food you just can’t eat. After all…

You’re living with them because they want you there

People who host an international student do so because they are open-hearted people who are genuinely curious about the world and want to help people advance their education in a strange culture. They aren’t doing it to get rich, that’s for sure, and they aren’t doing it because they don’t like having people in their house. They want to make things better for you and to make sure that you have a good and productive school year. They know you can’t accomplish this if you are sad, hungry, lonely, or uncomfortable. And they want to learn from you, so don’t be afraid to talk to them.

Remember, however, you are under their roof

There’s an old saying in America, which every television sitcom father has said to their children, and almost certainly is used in one form or the other around the world: “You’re under my roof, you follow my rules.” The same can be said in your situation as well, to some extent. You are living under someone else’s roof- they have taken you in, and not as an experiment. They are welcoming you into their family, and typically families are going to have rules. You can talk about food, you can talk about things that make you uncomfortable, etc. But when it comes to curfew, TV time, internet rules- in short, the rules that their own kids are expected to follow- those are yours as well. Respect them. It’s all part of the exchange.

Don’t ignore your school’s international center

If problems persist, talk to someone at your school, particularly in the international office.  They are there to help, and if there is a serious problem, they can mediate or intervene. It is important to know that you aren’t alone. That said, don’t exaggerate, either- every family has some issues. Your exchange family will be no different.

Overall, just remember to be patient, open, honest, fair, and polite. These are the qualities that you are bringing to your schooling experience, and these are the qualities that will help you have a wonderful school year and form lifelong bonds with your host family.


The international student experience is both challenging and exciting. Whether you are a student considering studying in America, their parent, the host family, the Head of School, an international coordinator, or even a potential classmate, there are as many opportunities for confusion as there are to learn. The ISPA is here to help bridge that gap, to ensure that this opportunity and adventure is met with the highest level of success.