5 Tips On Engaging With Your International Student

Getting your international student to open up, come out of their room and make an effort to be a part of your family can be a difficult feat, especially because they are teenagers living in a country completely foreign to them. We’ve compiled a list of activities you can do with your international student to help them open up and feel more welcome in your family.


Mealtime can be a huge point of contention with international students, especially those who are unfamiliar with United States food customs. For example, in China, it is customary to eat three hot meals a day. Cold foods like sandwiches and cereal are completely foreign to Chinese students, even though they are staples of breakfast and lunch in the United States. To overcome these differences, get your international student to cook his or her favorite recipe with you, and vice versa. You’ll both learn different food customs and have fun while doing so! Here is a great dumpling recipe you can try, and here is a recipe using a rice cooker!


Reading out loud is a great way to become more fluent in a foreign language, and is an activity you and your student can do together. Find a book that interest’s both of you and start reading! Keep a notebook on-hand to write down any words that are unfamiliar to the student so you can look them up together afterwards!

Listening to Podcasts

Podcasts are a great tool for English Language Learners because they are convenient and educational. You can listen to one together while you make or eat dinner, or use it as an after dinner activity. We’ve compiled our favorite podcasts for English Language Learners here!

Watching Television

If watching television as a family is something you do regularly, invite your student to watch with you and turn the English subtitles on. Looking at the words while hearing them out loud helps with word recognition and as well as syntax and conversation skills. This exercise can also help your international student feel more included in your family, and may feel less inclined to spend the whole evening in their room.

Understanding Communication Styles

While learning to do different activities with your student is important, understanding how they communicate is more important. East Asian students are taught to “save face.” This means that students may agree with you and say “yes” even if they do not agree with you because an open confrontation is considered rude. A way to overcome this challenge and make your home more conflict free, avoid asking yes or no questions, because the student may not answer truthfully. For example, if you notice your student is not eating very much, instead of asking whether he or she likes the food you provided, ask her what food he or she prefers. This allows the student to answer in a more direct manner, without admitting that he or she may not like what you’ve prepared.

Humor is also different in East Asian countries. For example, in Mandarin, many words are homonyms, so word play and puns are very popular. There are also clear boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate context for jokes. Jokes in East Asian countries are not focused on personal relationships, politics, or money because these topics are deemed inappropriate. Lastly, because of the hierarchical nature of East Asian culture, it is not appropriate for a younger person, like a student, to make jokes to his elders out of respect.