Exchange Students and Technology

Authored By:

High School USA

The Support Team at CIEE fields many questions about exchange student’s technology use and how to facilitate healthier student/family interaction. It’s all about balance! Cell phones, computers, and tablets can help teenagers from all over the map socialize and connect to their world—but how much is too much?

We frequently hear from families and Local Coordinators that exchange students are relying on their phones for a multitude of reasons from translating new vocabulary to visiting with their natural parents via Skype or Facetime. For exchange students, this is a unique challenge because they are forced to manage their time and balance their lives and experiences in the USA while maintaining relationships with natural family and friends at home. Too much technology use can be damaging to an exchange experience for several reasons.

At CIEE, we are committed to assisting students in getting the most out of their study abroad experience; sometimes that means aiding students in “putting down their devices” in order to “pick up” new friendships, languages, and experiences.

What we hear:

“The student I am hosting is on her phone or computer 24/7 either translating new words, texting, or using social media. I am concerned that she doesn’t seem to be interacting with the family, improving her English or making any friend connections at school. I hear her talking with friends or family back home at least once or twice every day. What do I do?”

What we suggest:

Students may not be conscious of how much they are using their devices or how little they are interacting with those around them. Pointing out this behavior directly is a great starting point! We can’t fix what we are not aware of; so kindly, directly turn the student’s attention to what they are doing, and propose working together to find a solution. If the student becomes defensive or defiant, let your Local Coordinator and/or CIEE Support know so we can work together to help motivate the student and get them on the right track.

General Strategies for Host Families:

  1. Establish device rules/boundaries immediately. This way, everything is clear and there is no room for confusion or argument. Include expectations of reasonable consequences so students are aware of what will happen if they break your device rules.
  2. Declare technology free zones or times. For example, if you are dining or in the living room together as a family, you might declare these rooms the “no-phone zone.” Maybe every night from 8PM onwards is time to set the phones or laptops down in order to prepare for bedtime. Many families find it helpful to have a special basket that phones are collected in during these technology free times.
  3. Model healthy behavior. If you want the kids in your home to use their phones less, it is important to model this behavior and use your devices less as well.
  4. Talk about it. If rules and boundaries are clearly established and your student is still struggling with device use or misuse, talk to them about it kindly and directly and propose a solution.
  5. Enforce reasonable consequences. Although this can be difficult, we encourage host families to treat students as they would their own children. Consequences vary depending on the family but may include extra chores, withdrawn privileges/grounding, or having devices taken away for a period.

Need help? Call your Local Coordinator or reach out to the Support team at 1-800-448-9944