Cultural Adjustment: Understanding What Your Student Feels

Authored By:

High School USA

In past installments of the host family newsletter, we have provided tips and advice to help you manage cultural adjustment issues during the holidays; now, we would like to tackle the same issue from the perspective of empathy. By understanding what your international student feels and why, you better position yourself to make a difference.

You may have noticed your international student is on what we call a “culture shock journey” – the process of adapting to a foreign culture. This journey can be illustrated as follows:

Photo for blog post Cultural Adjustment: Understanding What Your Student Feels

This time of year, your student may have reached (or be approaching) the phase where surface adjustments give way to deeper cultural or personal issues. This often manifests as a resurgence of homesickness.

This may seem odd because your international student probably overcame feelings of homesickness weeks or even months ago. But try to imagine life from your student’s perspective:

  • They are studying in a foreign country that primarily uses a language they don’t natively speak.
  • They live with a family who also (most likely) speaks only that language.
  • A new semester is starting. That means new classes, new classmates, and perhaps new teachers – all of which requires additional adjustment.
  • Your student is still making friends and learning social norms they are not used to (all the while using a language they may still not feel entirely comfortable speaking).
  • Though the holiday season is often an exciting time for international students, now that the holiday season is over, your student may be missing the holidays they would’ve celebrated back home.

These are just a few of the reasons your international student may feel mentally and emotionally drained this time of year. If your student is experiencing these feelings, don’t take it personally. Remember, this is just part of the journey!

Understanding that is the first step toward making a difference. The next step is utilizing the skills you’ve developed as a host parent. Validate your international student’s feelings. Try to keep them involved with the family. Talk as much or as often as necessary. Reflect back on earlier stages of cultural adjustment. Talk about how your student overcame those initial challenges; offer words of encouragement as they must overcome them again.

More than anything, remind your international student that they are not alone. They have you. They also have a Local Coordinator, who is trained to help.