Helping Your Student Adjust

Your student’s experience in the United States depends in large part on you. From the moment you meet, he/she will look to you as both a surrogate parent and a cultural ambassador. Welcoming your student as a member of your family is vitally important. Remember that culture shock and homesickness are perfectly natural, especially during the teen years. Your student has taken a big step out into the world, perhaps for the first time. It may take a while before he/she feels comfortable. A little patience and understanding goes a long way.

House rules: Setting expectations

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When students sign up for CIEE High School USA, they’re asked to “live as a member of your host family, respect the rules and customs of your host family, and accept the responsibilities given to you.” You can see the official rules given to every student in the Student Support section.

Additionally, every household has its own rules and customs. It’s important to sit down with your visiting student and talk about these early to avoid misunderstandings. Things that your family takes for granted might be new to him/her. To help get you started, we’ve created a house rules and expectations worksheet. We recommend you use this as your starting point.

We ask you to treat your exchange student as you would your own child, with the same expectations and the same consequences for breaking rules. It may be hard to “ground” a guest, but remember that you’re a host parent, not just a host.

Your student’s loved ones are relying on you to be a caregiver and protector. If your student wants to go out, you should require advance notice of who he/she will be with and what they’ll be doing before you give permission. Set clear expectations for staying in touch and about curfews.

Making the connection

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When students first arrive, it’s common for them to want to spend a lot of time in their bedrooms or talk with their friends and family back home. This is perfectly understandable – they miss their loved ones.

Take it slowly. Encourage your student to come out of the bedroom for a certain time each day and talk with your family, play a game, watch television, or help with dinner. Ask how the student feels, and let him/her know that you’re available to talk.

Gently helping students let go can be a good thing. Encourage your student to call home only once per week, and discuss how talking with friends or family from home too much can cause homesickness.

Easing the transition

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When a person is plunged into an unfamiliar environment, culture shock is common. At first everything is great – it’s all fresh and exciting for both the student and the host family. But before long, reality sets in. Cultural differences start to show, sometimes in unexpected ways. It can be frustrating for everyone. Students start to evaluate the new culture, deciding what to change, what to keep and what to reject outright. Sometimes, conflict can arise.

It takes time to get through these adjustments and there’s no fixed schedule. It can take a few weeks, or a few months. There may be setbacks. All during this time, your student is learning – but once he/she has adapted, you’ll both be much more settled and happier.

Open communication is key. If you find your student isolating him or herself, struggling with house rules, or having difficulty accommodating cultural norms, sit down and talk about it.

See these documents for more detail on cultural adjustment:

Technology: When to pull the plug

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If ever there were a double-edged sword, today’s technology is it. The Internet is a fabulous tool, but music, video, gaming and social media also can be a consuming distraction. When home is just a Skype call away, it might be tempting for your exchange student to isolate him/herself. And too much contact can make homesickness worse than it already is.

You should encourage your student to take photos and videos and write blogs to document and talk about the adventure of living in the United States. CIEE regularly runs contests to encourage students to reach out and share what they’re doing. Some of the results are wonderful!

Technology is also a great way to get to know your visitor. Use it to learn more about your student’s home and way of life.

Set limits on technology usage. It should never come at the expense of participation in an activity or family interaction. We recommend a limit of one hour per day, and that students not be allowed to take their electronic devices into their bedrooms. This way, if they want to surf the web or play a game, it’ll be where they can still interact with you. If that’s too restrictive, ask them to keep technology out of their bedroom after bedtime so they can get enough sleep.

Sit down with your student to discuss this.

Academics: School comes first

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Every CIEE High School USA student must maintain a C+ average or better to stay in the program. If your student is having difficulty, it’s important to take action early and help him/her as much as you can. You also might consider engaging a tutor to help. Talk to your Local Coordinator and your student’s guidance counselor at school.

You’ll find great study tips in the Student Support section. You can help, too, through support and encouragement. Remember, your student may not know how to ask for help. Try some of these suggestions:

  • Write assignments on a calendar so you can both see what’s coming up and plan for it.
  • Designate at least an hour every night for study or review.
  • Take an interest in what your student is learning. Ask questions to start discussions. One of the courses CIEE students are required to take is American History. What a great opportunity to talk about your culture! Make sure that homework assignments are being completed on time.
  • Encourage your student to ask questions in class and seek extra help from teachers if needed.
  • Make sure your student eats right, gets enough rest, and balances schoolwork with other activities.

Earning credit for schoolwork

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Credit for study at an American school can be earned but is not always transferred to the student’s home school. The transfer process is called convalidation, also known as Apostille.

While it’s not your responsibility to follow this process to its completion, you can do a lot to help. Students generally are required to submit official, signed and sealed school transcripts certifying their grades as authentic. These grades then can be provided to the student’s home high school for transfer credit. You can assist by helping to obtain the transcripts and facilitating the submission. Your Local Coordinator can tell you more about how this works.

Community service information

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One of the very best ways for students to build relationships and enjoy their stay is to take part in school and community activities, sports, and volunteer projects. Encourage your student to sign up for at least one sport or after-school activity, and take part in events like homecoming and prom.

We believe volunteering is important, both for individuals and communities. It’s a terrific way to grow, build character, get involved, make friends and have a good time. All CIEE High School USA students are required to complete at least eight hours of community service per semester. Many options are available to make sure your student finds something that aligns with his/her interests and goals. You can take part by talking to the project supervisor to understand what students will be doing, making sure they get to the project, and helping them document what they’ve done so it can be shared with the world!

You’ll need these documents:

The evaluation form and essay must be sent to CIEE for your student to successfully finish the CIEE High School USA program. Email or mail completed forms and essays or send them to:

Community Project Coordinator
CIEE
300 Fore St.
Portland, ME 04101 USA