How to Have Tough Conversations about “Rules” with an International Teenager

For our Gphomestay parents who have raised children themselves, the tips in this blog post will hopefully come as no surprise. However, it’s important to be aware of the cultural nuances that will influence an international teenager and his or her obedience to the rules and expectations of your home.

It’s important to remember that the international student that you will be hosting this year is a teenager. Adolescence is a difficult time period in any person’s life, and an international teenager studying abroad will experience an additional layer of difficulty as he or she adjusts to life in another country during his or her adolescence. Gphomestay students are brave for studying in a culture so different from their own, and ultimately, they will become resilient and open-minded to cultural differences because of the experience. However, that outcome typically appears after a journey of overcoming cross-cultural obstacles and challenges.

As you welcome an international student into your home, you want him or her to feel comfortable. But, you want the student to respect the rules of your household and family. In this post, we will cover how to establish your own expectations of having an international teenager in your home, and best practices for gentle verbal and written reminders for students.

1. Examine your expectations of becoming a host, and the expectations you have of your own children.

The first step in being able to communicate rules with your international student is to examine your own feelings about having a new person in your home. Be honest with yourself when setting household expectations, and make sure that you do not have any additional expectations of the international student from your own children if you have them. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are my expectations of the new person in my home?
  • What are my expectations regarding cleanliness in my home?
  • What am I flexible about, and what am I not flexible about?
Hosting an international student is an adjustment, and should be viewed as such.

2. Review household rules within the first few days of a student’s arrival.

We strongly recommend that you create a checklist of expectations in writing and review them with your international student and household members so that all are in understanding and agreement. We have learned from our most successful host families that this process eliminates many opportunities for misunderstanding throughout your international student’s homestay. Gphomestay hosts will find Sample House Rules in the appendix of the Host Family Handbook.

Almost all students will need some time to become comfortable with their conversational English regardless of their proficiency level or past experience. Students may not feel comfortable admitting that they do not understand and may say “yes” if asked even if they do not understand. It may be helpful to use simple English to ask students to confirm their understanding of important information. Remember, students are not deaf, so speaking louder to make your point will likely be ineffective. A better way of improving communication is to speak clearly, and enunciate your words.

Communication Tip for Gphomestay

3. Give gentle, verbal reminders of your rules and expectations.

Allow at least two weeks for the student to get acclimated to the house rules. If you notice the student is still struggling in some areas, review the rules verbally. Present the written rules to the student too.

If you sense the student has a problem, but is afraid to voice their concerns…

Remember that students, especially international teenagers, from East Asian cultures will not be used to nor typically comfortable notifying their host parents of a conflict. Those from collectivist cultures will oftentimes avoid conflict in the hopes of maintaining harmony between others in social interactions, and tackling a problem directly could cause someone to “lose face.” So, many students from East Asian cultures will do almost any possible to avoid an obstacle or conflict, like a windy road! If students don’t understand the household rules you’ve established, or strongly disagree with them, some will voice their concerns to their parents abroad instead of addressing the issue with you.

It’s never a bad idea to ask the student to describe any issues or problems they may have with the rules. Establish an environment of openness in your home, and reward the student for voicing their concerns with a positive attitude.

Students from East Asian cultures may do anything to avoid an obstacle or conflict, much the way a windy road curves to avoid an obstacle in the environment.

If the student is upfront about conflicts, but is not polite in their communication…

Some students, however, may feel that they should and can raise concerns with their host family, but will be unaware of how to initiate a discussion about the rules without sounding direct or crass. This is largely due to barriers in learning English as a second language. Sometimes, the literal English translation of a phrase in Chinese is very direct.

Here is an example that we presented to our students at In-Country Orientation for how to be more diplomatic in explaining their wants and needs to their host family:

Chinese Phrase: “我想要吃点东西。”

English Literal Translation: “I want food.”

Polite English Expression: “Would it be possible to make some food for me?”

A Cambridge Network Consultant discusses communication differences with an international parent at In-Country Orientation.

Be patient with your student as he or she begins to understand nuances of English as a second language. Kindly remind your student of how to phrase requests in English, and help your student understand Western “politeness.”

If it appears that students still do not understand your rules, discuss your concerns with your Support Services Coordinator.

If your student is still not following rules after gentle reminders and written instruction, notify your Support Services Coordinator for mediation. If there seems to be a problem or conflict with your student, it may be the case that the student has noticed the problem too, but does not know how to articulate the problem due to cultural differences in communication. Bringing in a third party, such as the Support Services Coordinator, will put the student at ease when voicing his or her concerns, and help you communicate your rules and expectations of the student.