Host family troubles. While being the most feared part of one’s exchange year, it is unfortunately inevitable. Many hours of language camp consists of learning how to communicate, but it can be scary when you finally find yourself in a situation that requires you to do so. As someone who recently switched, I have put together a small guide of what helped me solve problems and how to navigate working from there.
Navigating Troubles and Communicating Your Needs
The end of October starts what I like to call the ‘’Transition Months,’’ where you’ve been in your community long enough to learn it and settle in, but you’re still too new to fully grasp it all. You are probably feeling like you should know more German at this point or some of your host family’s habits might start annoying you. Basically, the honeymoon period is over. Your exchange year is actually in motion- you are feeling the effects of what it means to truly live there. It is completely okay to be overwhelmed, annoyed, or frustrated. It’s now the time to fix your problems before they become overbearing.
1. Identify what is bothering you.
The first step to navigating your troubles is to identify them. Make a list of everything that is difficult for you. Get it all out.
2. Focus on what you can control.
Sort your list based on what you can and can’t control. An exchange year means new lifestyles and being open to change. You won’t be able to control everything, so use your ‘’can’t’’ list to reflect on and work to accept these changes.
Sort your ‘’can’’ list. Are they things you can work on personally or are they issues with your host family? Work to find solutions to each problem.
3. Talk to your host family.
This can be very scary, however, it truly takes the weight off your chest. Communicating your needs can also grow the relationship between you and your host family.
4. Work to change.
Now that you’ve identified your needs it’s important to follow up on them. Things can only get better if you actively work towards a solution.
Identifying the Cause of the Problem
Here is a list of questions that you can ask yourself:
- Can the problem be fixed if it is discussed?
- Would I feel more comfortable here if this problem is fixed?
- How would another family act in this situation?
- Is it a cultural difference I need to adjust to?
- What is their intention behind this behavior?
- Have I put in the effort to make this situation work?
- Is my mental health being affected in any way because of my host family situation?
It is important to identify solutions and discuss them with your host family. It could simply be a matter of miscommunication.
Having a Hard Conversation with Your Host Family
1. Prepare what you want to say.
I liked to write a list of talking points or a complete script. It helped settle my nerves and if you feel too overwhelmed when you go to read it, you can always just hand it to your family to read. If you have a good relationship with your local coordinator, it could help you to invite them to join you for the conversation.
2. Take your time.
Don’t rush your feelings. Allow time to process the emotions.
3. Stay respectful.
As much as you may want to place the blame or throw a bit of shade, be diplomatic. Things will work out easier later if you were the bigger person the whole time. Plus, you still have to live with them.
4. Take some responsibility.
If there are multiple problems you need to discuss, it’s important to not place all the blame on your family. It can help by discussing things you want to target personally so they know you'll be putting the effort in as well.
The Switching Process
You may have come to the choice to switch. However, it ultimately comes up to the organization. There are mandatory steps needed to be completed before consideration from your program. For me, I had to have multiple discussions with my local coordinator, head of program, and most importantly, my host family. My host family was supportive of the switch and I had a very painless move. It's a case-to-case basis on each switch, so I can't say exactly how yours might look if you have to switch. After these steps are taken, the program will decide if it is best for you to switch. (Don't worry, your organization will not keep you in a dangerous situation.) The switching process takes time and consideration, as well as many people, in order to find the best solution.
Making the decision to switch can be very scary. However, most problems can be solved through communicating your needs and working to compromise. Your host family does not have to understand your issues fully, but they still should be making an effort to find solutions. You got this :)