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Helping Your International Student Adjust to American Culture
Helping Your International Student Adjust to American Culture

Tips for host families on how to help your international student cope with culture shock.

Updated over a week ago

Many international students will experience some feelings of homesickness or culture shock when staying in your home.

This is completely natural and something you can help them navigate by easing them into your home environment and American culture as a whole.

  • It’s important not to take any negative feelings exhibited by your student personally.

  • Culture shock can often manifest as isolation, anxiety, depression or even anger.

  • These feelings aren’t a result of you or your family and they will subside as your student eases into their new setting. With your help, this transition can be that much easier.

If you have any questions or concerns about helping your international student with these feelings, reach out to your SRS representative for guidance.

Tips for Helping Your International Student Adjust to American Culture:

1. Set Any Ground Rules Right Away

What is considered polite and acceptable in one household may not fly in another. The same can be said about cultural traditions. That’s why it’s a good idea to sit down and talk to your international student about any ground rules you feel are important when they first arrive so they can adjust to them.

These rules can include things like:

  • Having friends over

  • How long to spend in the shower

  • What chores are expected of them during their stay.

Even if it’s something small that your family might find normal, it’s worth mentioning as your student may not do the same things where they’re from or know it’s expected of them. This is also a great time to give them more information about how your home operates as a whole.

  • Are there special family events on certain days of the week?

  • Do you sit down to have dinner at a particular time?

  • Set them up for success so they feel immediately like a part of the family.

2. Offer Them Information About the Area

One of the biggest reasons students choose to study abroad is to see more of the world and explore a culture different from their own.

You can make this easier for them by giving them all the information they need about your city and all the wonderful things waiting for them to experience.

How you provide this information is up to you, but we suggest:

  • Have some form of physical information you can give them or leave in their room when they arrive.

    • You could create lists to print out of places to visit, restaurants to try and things to do in the area or collect brochures from some of the most recommended sights in the city.

Chances are, your international student has already done plenty of research about your city when they decided where they wanted to study. However, as a resident, you know things better than a web search could tell them and that kind of personal touch won’t go unnoticed.

3. Try Something New With Your Student

Along with letting them know about all of the fun things to do in the area, you can experience some of those things along with them.

  • If there’s something you’ve been dying to see or do close by, this is the perfect chance for you to try something new with your international student.

  • Experiencing new things together will help you bond with your student while showing them something unique about America and your city in particular.

  • If you and your family were already planning to try something new, including your student in fun activities will make them feel even more welcome in such an unfamiliar place.

4. Help Them Practice Their English

  • A language barrier is one of the big things that can contribute to homesickness and culture shock.

  • Help your student learn to communicate better in English by explaining what certain things are called and clearing up any misunderstandings while they’re under your roof.

  • When they can communicate confidently in English, they’re more likely to feel more connected to their peers and form friendships during their stay.

5. Invite Them to Join in Family Activities

Having someone new in the house can be a challenging transition to make. However awkward it is at first, make an effort to include your international student in everyday family activities and fun.

  • Eat dinner together

  • Have a family game or movie night

  • Spend some of your free time talking and getting to know each other (be intentional!)

While they probably won’t want to spend every minute they’re not in school with you, it’s important to make them feel included in the household. It’s also a great way to teach them about what American families do for entertainment so they can experience it for themselves.

6. Let Them Share Their Culture With You

When they’re feeling homesick, having a little piece of what’s familiar to them will certainly help ease their feelings.

  • Take the time to listen to their stories about home

  • Ask them about their family and friends

  • Take an interest in the ways their traditions differ from yours when they tell you that they’ve never done something a certain way before

This can even extend to allowing them to cook one of their favorite cultural foods for your family or watching a movie from their culture on movie night.

These things tie very closely to culture and your international student will be more likely to open up to American culture if you are willing to do the same for them.

7. Talk to Them About Anything Bothering Them

If you notice that your student seems more withdrawn than normal or is acting out, make the effort to talk to them about what’s going on. Maybe they are simply homesick and feeling down about missing their family, or they could have had a bad or embarrassing experience because of their limited knowledge of American culture.

Letting them know that someone is on their side transcends cultural differences and that makes all the difference in the world.

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