Quick Guide to Culture Shock for Families Hosting First-Year Students

Host families need to understand that a visiting international student – like any young person entering a new environment — will experience homesickness and “culture shock.”

Gphomestay families provide a warm, secure and healthy environment for their visiting students, just as they would for their own children. But host families, and really anyone involved with international students newly arrived in the United States, should be aware that there may be some bumps in the road!

As you and your visiting student go through this new adventure and get to know each other, understanding the signs and phases of culture shock will help make the experience a happy memory for your whole family.
Here are the four major stages of culture shock to look out for:

Stage 1: Honeymoon Phase

When your student arrives, s/he will be excited and want to try everything new. The student will be appreciative of new experiences, and new experiences will stimulate and excite them. Typically, there are fewer problems during the first few weeks of the student’s arrival, because this period is full of observations and new discoveries.

While your student is in this state of excitement about being in a new place, make sure the house rules – including curfews and chores – are clearly communicated. Many students may be surprised to be asked to walk the dog or wash the dishes, and to be home by a certain time in the evening. Establishing clear expectations of the rules from Day 1 will help the student overcome symptoms of stage 2, where students may become agitated by cultural differences and act out.

Stage 2: Crisis and/or Isolation Phase

After the first few wonderful weeks of experimenting and exploring are over, your student may feel isolated, lonely and – most definitely — homesick. If you sense that your student is experiencing symptoms of the second stage of culture shock, try to approach your student about the reasons why he or she might be feeling isolated or in crisis. It’s important that you are compassionate about your student’s potentially unstable temperament and over-sensitivity. They are teenagers a long way from home. Try to accommodate and encourage regular emails and a Skype call to their parents once a week to assuage their homesickness.

This is also a time to try to incorporate some of his/her culture into your home in the form of food or observances, like Chinese New Year (typically in late January/early February).

Stage 3: Recovery and Understanding Phase

Eventually, your student will adjust to his/her new environment and accept the differences between home and the culture here. This can happen as soon as just several weeks after arrival, or after six to twelve months after arrival.

The Recovery and Understanding Phase is marked by an improved self-esteem and generally more positive outlook on life. This is when your student will be more open and confident to learn American lifestyles and perhaps share his/hers with you. The student also may start to become more integrated into the fabric of the school community, and in many cases, this seems to correspond with a significant improvement in English proficiency.

Stage 4: Adjustment, Acclimatization Phase

Reaching the adjustment/acclimation phase is the ultimate goal for any international student. Students who successfully reach this stage will display an increased flexibility in dealing with day-to-day difficulties, and will become more adept at navigating their surroundings. Your student will have started to feel completely comfortable in America, and may even begin to feel that they are a part of American culture.

This may coincide with your student returning home for summer break. However, having gone through their first year in America and through the four stages of culture with a supportive host family, your student will return for year two and beyond prepared to succeed.

The Cambridge Network’s team is available to you at any time to help you through this journey with your Chinese student and to give you tips on how to make the semester a positive experience for you all.