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Cultural Adjustments → Communication
Cultural Adjustments → Communication

Communicating with your host family is important, but it's not always easy. Here are some tips and guidelines to navigate communication.

Updated over a week ago

Clear and frequent communication with your host family is key to the success of your time in America. Many students from other cultures find direct communication difficult, but in America direct communication is acceptable and expected.

Here are some basic guidelines to help you adjust to American communication styles:

Direct Communication

You may not be used to direct communication, but Americans are usually direct. Americans can be very straightforward.. Do not be offended if your host family is very direct with you, this may simply be how they communicate. American culture is very different and will take time to adjust to.

💡Tip: If your host family tells you something and you don't fully understand what they are talking about, ask them right away to explain a little further. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Simply let them know that you don't understand.

    • "I don't understand"

    • "I am not sure what you mean"

    • "I am not sure what you are asking"

  • Ask for more information:

    • "Can you explain further?"

  • Ask for an example if they are trying to describe something:

    • "Can you give me an example?"

  • Rephrase their request/question in your own words, and ask them if that's what they mean:

    • "<insert your rephrase here> that right?"

      • example: "We are going out to dinner on Sunday night, is that right?"

    • "Are you saying that <insert your rephrase here>?"

      • example: "Are you saying that I need to fold the laundry on Sunday evenings?"

  • Once you do understand what they are saying, let them know you understand and thank them!

    • "Okay, got it. Thank you for explaining."

    • "Thank you, I understand now."

Doing these things immediately will help you and your host family avoid misunderstandings, gain trust and continue getting more comfortable with each other.

Third-party communication

You may not often not speak directly with the person with whom you are having an issue. Instead, you may want to speak to your parents or agent and give your side of the story.

Culturally, this is understandable, but we encourage you to speak directly to your host family first.

  • When you speak to your host family first, the situation will likely be resolved much faster and this will help you practice communicating with them.

  • If something is bothering you, ask to pull a member of your host family aside to talk them. Just say, "Can I talk to you about something?" and you will have their full attention.

Nodding Your Head

  • Students may nod their heads “yes” in agreement when asked if they understand.

  • If you do not agree or understand, try not to nod your head “yes” in agreement.

  • Your host family will want to know that you do not understand.

  • They also want to know your likes or dislikes.

  • Your host family will not be offended if you do not always agree.

  • Continued communication needs to be exercised to ensure that you and your host family understand each other.


Soft language and politeness may not be commonly used in your home country, at least not in a form that Americans might recognize. Americans tend to say “Thank you” and “ You’re welcome” very often.

  • Try to say "thank you" anytime someone gives you something, compliments you, opens the door for you, etc.

  • You may need to be reminded to verbalize your thankfulness.

    • This is just part of your host family helping you adjust to American culture. This does not mean that they are upset.

Speaking in native language

Understandably, you might want to stay in groups with others who speak your language and share your culture. However, remember that one of the goals of homestay is to help you succeed by increasing your English proficiency.

  • Your host family might remind you to speak English when appropriate, especially when you are in the presence of family and friends who only speak English.

  • Students may speak to others in their native language, but should be encouraged to try to use English when in the presence of English speakers.


When meeting you for the very first time, Americans will likely try to shake your hand or give you a hug. You might not be accustomed to giving hugs, but this is a very common custom for Americans. Do not be alarmed if an American tries to hug you—they are trying to be nice!

  • Remember that you do not have to do anything you are not comfortable with. If shaking hands or waving is more comfortable for you, you can try that first before hugging.

Eye contact

You may not be accustomed to making direct eye contact with elders in your home country. In American culture, eye contact is very important.

  • It’s best to look at someone when speaking (or it may seem as though you are being dishonest or disrespectful).


You may be used to smiling or laughing if you feel embarrassed about a situation. Your host family might have no idea that you feel embarrassed at all. This can create a big misunderstanding with your host family, so please try to express your feelings clearly to your host. If something embarrasses you, pull them aside and let them know.


Different cultures put different priorities on honesty. Honesty is a high priority in the USA. You may just be uncomfortable and not accustomed to being completely honest and upfront, but your American host family will expect and respect honesty.


Many students may become overwhelmed with the freedom of choices in the USA.

  • Your host family will help you to navigate choices and help remind you that freedom does come with consequences if wrong choices are made.

  • If you are unsure about any decision, ask your host family for advice! That is what they are there for.

Asking Permission

You may not be accustomed to asking for permission.

Try to keep in mind that it is better to “ask” rather than to “tell” your host parents what you would like to do.

  • It is better for students to make a polite request rather than a demand. This is a common courtesy towards your host family and shows respect. Your host family also will be concerned about your safety.

Repeating Instructions

Students also may be too timid to ask how to use something, especially if your host family has already explained it to you before. It is always a good idea to ask if you do not know how to use something, even if the host family has already shown you! They are here to help and make you feel comfortable.


Americans have a broad and different sense of humor. It may take you a while to get used to this, so try to be patient if you can. After some time, most international students become comfortable joking with their American host family.

Cultural Customs

Try to embrace the idea of sharing cultures and family values if you can! This is an exciting part of the homestay experience.

  • This can include the celebration of holidays, religious activities, food, and other customs or celebrations.

  • Your host family will invite you to join in their customs. This is a wonderful opportunity to engage and learn something new.

  • We encourage you to share your own customs and recipes with your host family.

Foul Language

Loud or foul language should not be used. Please resist the urge yell or curse in your host family's home, especially if they have young children.


In America, you are expected to cover your mouth or nose when you cough or sneeze. This is polite and will limit the spread of germs.

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