Exchange students accomplish many things during their cultural exchange year: adjusting to a new culture, learning different school expectations, building relationships with a new Host Family and making new friends. What an exciting time!
One way that students can help themselves build relationships on program is to spend a minimal amount of time contacting family and friends in their home country. This will help them focus on the present task of getting to know people in the USA rather than focusing on their familiar relationships at home. Phone calls to parents or friends one or two times per week should be sufficient to share updates about life in the USA.
It is a cultural norm these days to build and maintain friendships through social media sites and/or text messages. Ideally, students will learn how to balance time spent online and/or on other devices with real life conversations and attempts at building relationships. It is completely normal that they may need gentle reminders from time to time to step away from their device(s) and interact with their Host Family and friends with real life encounters.
It is possible that the social norms for building and maintain friendships and dating are different in the USA than what the students are used to in their home country. For example, American students will come across as friendly and polite upon meeting exchange students but this does not necessarily mean that a friendship is made. Exchange students may need encouragement and reminders that building a true friendship will take time. Support students with ideas on ways to spend time with American students outside of school: host movie/T.V. series nights, meet at a coffee shop, participate in community theatre, host an international potluck night, etc.
It is much easier for exchange students to make new friends if they participate in at least one after school activity. Mention to the student that school activities are quite varied- ranging from agriculture club to music to sports, etc. If they choose not to join an activity- encourage them to attend school events or concerts so that they can get the feel for their school community and spend time with their classmates outside of the classroom.
Host Families and/or friends who attend church, will often invite students to attend Youth Group at a local church. This is a fairly common way for teens to socialize in the USA which would expand the exchange student’s social circle and include the opportunity to participate in teen-centered activities.
Encourage exchange students to keep their friend circle large and varied if at all possible and to spend their time in groups more often than one-on-one situations. The purpose of a cultural exchange is to get to know as many people as possible and fully immerse themselves in the culture!
Occasionally, students may decide to date someone while on program. If they choose to do so they are still expected to follow any and all Host Family rules about dating plus balance all of their program responsibilities accordingly. It is also important for students to be reminded that the exchange year is a temporary time and that they will return to their home countries once the exchange year is complete regardless of their dating status.
Please remember that no matter what the student’s relationship status is, sexual activity of any sort is not allowed while on program due to the complicated legal matters of age of consent, the possibility of STDs and/or pregnancy. Students are made aware of this NOD rule before they depart their home country and are reminded of it again upon their arrival.
Finally, remember that the relationships made during the cultural exchange year will last a lifetime! Enjoy making memories together! Questions or comments? Please contact Student Advising: firstname.lastname@example.org.