Family Life In The U.S.
Many High School USA students say that living with a host family in the U.S. is one of the best parts about the exchange experience. Not only do you get a home away from home, but you also get to experience a new culture with people who are excited to share it with you!
The guidance below will help you make the most of this experience.
Every family has its own household routine and expectations regarding the responsibilities and behavior of family members. Parents may require children, including exchange students, to seek permission before going out with friends or participating in an unsupervised activity; they may also require advanced notice of plans. As a member of your host family, it is your responsibility to adhere to the family rules and routines. It helps to be open and discuss all rules and expectations upon your arrival in the U.S. (and throughout the year, as needed).
In many American families, children participate in housework; this is also known as “doing chores.” Chores are considered part of routine daily life. You will likely be asked to clean up after yourself. This may include cleaning your bedroom, washing dishes, or doing your own laundry. If you are unaccustomed to such tasks, pay careful attention to the instructions provided by your host family. It helps to be open and discuss expectations regarding chores upon your arrival.
Your host family may establish curfews for their children and/or exchange students. A curfew is a time, usually at night, at which you are expected to return home. As with other family rules and routines, all High School USA students are expected to adhere to curfews set by their host families. That means planning all activities so that you will be home at or before curfew.
If you are ever late for curfew, call your host family and tell them where you are, why you are late, and when you will be home. While it may not excuse you from consequences, it will alleviate their worry and anxiety.
Please note: Curfews will vary from family to family. In addition, curfews may be different on weekdays than on weekends. (However, this is not guaranteed.)
Most High School USA students become good and fast friends with their host siblings, if they have them; however, sometimes problems do occur. For example:
Sharing a room with a host sibling: At times, sharing a room can be difficult. This is especially true if you are not used to sharing a bedroom in your home country. You may have less privacy or less time to spend alone. Instead of getting angry and frustrated, try talking to your host sibling to reconcile any differences. Don’t forget: You can also ask your host parents for help resolving any conflicts!
The Joy (and Occasional Frustration) of Having Younger Host Siblings: If your host sibling(s) are much younger than you, they may constantly seek your attention. They may want to talk, play, or always be in your presence. While this can be annoying at times, it can also be a lot of fun. Take this attention as a compliment! If necessary, you can always ask your host parents to set limits with your younger host siblings.
What to Do When You Need Help
Frustrating circumstances arise in every family; it is a very normal process. If you ever feel frustrated with your host sibling(s), take the time to speak with them and your host parents. Be prepared for sacrifice and compromise. This could mean remaining in a shared room after expressing your frustration or being asked to include your host sibling in certain activities. It always helps to be understanding an open-minded when resolving conflicts.
Contact your Local Coordinator if you need further assistance.
As mentioned above, host families will have rules and routines they expect you to follow. CIEE asks host families to keep these rules reasonable and understand that both academics and cultural exchange opportunities are important to you. However, host families can enact consequences like “grounding” (restricting the student from certain activities or associating with certain people) or an earlier curfew for disobeying family rules.
The most important thing to remember: Talk about rules and expectations upon your arrival. Make sure you understand what your host parents expect of you. If you are ever unsure if there is a rule or what the rule means, be sure to ask your host parents.
Every culture has different standards regarding what is considered clean. For example, bathing once per week may be considered socially acceptable in one country, but not in another. In the U.S., people tend to bathe daily or every other day. This, in addition to shampooing hair and washing clothes frequently, will keep your body free of odor, which some Americans find offensive. As such, we suggest bathing regularly, washing your clothes often, and using personal hygiene products such as deodorant on a daily basis. Such products are widely available and can be purchased at stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens, CVS, and more.
If you ever feel sick at home, talk to your host parents right away. They may have non-prescription medication that will help. Alternatively, they may decide you need to see a doctor. If you ever feel sick at school, ask permission from your teacher to visit the nurse’s office. The nurse will decide whether you can remain at school or if you must return home or see a doctor. There is usually no cost to visit the school nurse, but the school nurse may be limited in what medication he/she can provide. Also understand that you are not allowed to leave school because of illness unless the school nurse or your host parent approves of your absence.
If you ever need urgent medical attention, contact your host family and visit the nearest emergency room as soon as possible. If the condition is life-threatening, call 911.
Please note: If you go to the doctor, urgent care, hospital, or emergency room, you must contact CIEE to inform us as soon as possible. We can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-448-9944. Please also review our guide to CIEE insurance.
[IB1]Link to INSURANCE page in resources
A major part of your High School USA experience is participating in activities with your friends and host family. This is a great way to build lasting relationships, practice English, and experience a new culture – all at the same time!
Many families in the U.S. enjoy spending time as a group: going to movies, visiting friends, going out to eat, exploring their communities, and more. As long as these activities do not negatively impact your school work, we recommend you participate. Please note that if there is a cost associated with these activities (such as the price of a ticket, a hotel, a meal, etc.), you may be asked to contribute. Being open and discussing costs before activities will help you and your host family avoid any financial misunderstandings.
When planning activities with your American friends, be sure to keep your host family informed. Most American parents (including your host parents!) want to know where their children are, who they are with, and when they will be home.
If you need transportation to and/or from activities you plan with friends, be sure to ask your host family well in advance; that will make it easier for them to provide transportation (if they are able) or you to find another source of transportation (if they are not).
Note that public transportation outside cities is not as common in the U.S. as many other countries. If your host community is in a rural or suburban area, you will have to be proactive in arranging transportation to afterschool and weekend activities. Do not be afraid to ask for assistance from your host family and friends.
Your host family may belong to an organized religion and may (or may not) attend services regularly. While CIEE does not require you to attend religious services with your host family, we do encourage you to at least try attending with your host family as a cultural experience.
In many communities, religious services have an important social function. This may involve youth groups where international students like you can make friends. Many religious institutions also offer youth and family activities after service or on different days of the week. Participating in these activities is a great and easy way to get involved with your host community.
Please note: If you decide you are unable to attend religious services with your host family because of your own strong personal beliefs, or if you prefer to attend services of your own choosing, speak to your host family about how you can make arrangements.
CIEE recommends setting limits when using technology, especially when you are at home with your host family. Instead, spend time with your host family exchanging cultures, exploring your community, and developing long-lasting relationships.
We also recommend that you limit your technology use at school. Many schools have rules about when you can and cannot use your phone or other electronic devices. Be sure to follow your school’s rules. Your school might also have programs for technology use in the classroom; make sure you are using the devices appropriately. If you ever have questions, ask your teacher.
For tips on how to use technology appropriately during your time in the U.S., please read below:
- Share movies, pictures, recipes, etc., from your home country.
- Adhere to all rules regarding technology set by your host family and school.
- Bring your device with you only when absolutely necessary; be careful that it is not stolen and/or lost.
- Be mindful of what you download; sometimes downloads turn out to be viruses or other inappropriate things.
- Do not spend an excessive amount of time texting friends, especially those from your home country; instead, spend more time in person with your host family and the friends you make at school.
- Your school and host family may have rules about mobile phone usage; understanding and respecting these rules is important.
- Be careful what you write in text messages; you cannot always control who sees them.
- Avoid sending or receiving any sexually explicit material.
Social Media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.)
- Use social media to connect with your community. You might find events, community service opportunities, and other activities in which to participate!
- Be careful of what you post on social media; you cannot always control who sees it.
- Social media can be a great place to share your experience, but not a great place to express your anger or frustration toward your school and/or host family. If you are having any issues, reach out to your Local Coordinator instead.
- Avoid posting any sexually explicit material.
Blogging is a great way to share an in-depth view of your experience with your friends and family back home; if you want to blog in English, it is also a great way to practice your language skills.
Be honest when you blog, but also be careful what you share; we do not recommend posting negative comments about your host family, school, classmates, or Local Coordinator.
Keep in mind that you are a representative of your country and your blog will shape the opinions of your readers – not just of you, but also your country.