Kelly Myers, a New Oasis Student Coordinator, recently wrote to the host families of her students about what culture shock means for an international student. This information may be helpful for any families with students working through culture shock or “homesickness”. Below is the letter written by Kelly Myers:
Kelly Myers, Student Coordinator
“After speaking with several students and host parents, some of the new students are in a season of Culture Shock. You may find some of the second year students also experiencing this as they return and get readjusted. Culture Shock is a real condition. It will start in about the first month and may last into the fourth month. The students probably do not realize what is going on within themselves during this time. The best way for them to describe it is they are homesick for their family, their food, and their friends. So many new things such as school rules, house rules, different methods of teaching, a different way to study for classes, different foods, different religious beliefs, or trying to constantly understand the language are all factors that may cause Culture Shock. All of these changes have been thrown at them in a very short time and it is bound to be overwhelming.
You may be seeing signs of stress and anxiety from all of these changes. Please know this is not a reflection on you as host parents. You can not smile, love, feed or care for them enough to keep them from being homesick or longing to be around familiar surroundings, but your love and support is what will get them through.
Listed below is information that may help your family and help your student cope over the next few months. These ideas are from the book, “Host Family Survival Kit: A Guide for American Host Families”.
What does Culture Shock look like
1. Feeling helpless/dependent
2. Ignoring rules or exhibiting unusual shyness
3. Longing for family and friends who “understand”
4. Lashing out in anger over something minor
5. Retreating to bedroom with tears
6. Excessive critical reactions to host culture/stereotyping
7. Anxiety over going to church
8. Spending a lot of time on the phone with family/friends
9. Spending excessive amounts of time in one’s room
Ways to Ease Students Distress
1. Find some one on one time and talk about Culture Shock and what it looks like
2. Ask open ended questions like, what has been difficult for you, what is your biggest challenge, what do you miss most, share with me some changes you did not expect.
2. Explain Culture Shock is a very intense learning process that can have lifelong benefits as he/she works through this process.
3. Explain it is normal to feel and experience this season and it is temporary.
4. Biggest misunderstanding by students is that this only happens to “weak-willed, immature, or poorly “adjusted” students.
5. Explain that even adults who travel outside their culture also go through the process of Culture Shock.
1. Encourage them to reach out to other friends
2. Have them invite a friend over for a meal, movie, game time etc
3. Take them to a restaurant that has food similar to their culture
Allow for “TIME OUT”
1. The emotional roller coaster of Culture Shock is not continuous
2. When you sense your student is having a bad day refrain from deep conversations or adding new house routines.
3. Give them some time out from communication and learning
4. People do not function well or think clearly when they are anxious. If pushed during these times you may see them become defiant and panic stricken. This is a reaction to so many things happening internally.
5. If your student is spending all of their time away from the family, then a “check in” with the student is needed. Reaching out to the student to spend one on one time and bringing them into the family life is important to make them feel included.
There will be times your student will just need to be alone. They may be experiencing confused feelings, mental exhaustion, or homesick. They may need this time alone to regroup, rest, and process.
Understand your student is not rejecting you. It is not that your student does not love you, it is just a time during this Culture Shock they can not give out; they may not have the energy.
Have your student get some extra rest. Explain that their body needs time to recover from the school day. By getting rest it will help them to have a better perspective of their goals and reasons for coming to study in the United States. Many of the students are working hard to translate and understand all the English words used in class. It is exhausting. They may be better able to deal with the process they are experiencing with some additional rest.
Suggestion: Ask them to turn off their phones and internet at 10pm
No Exit Situations
One of the most tempting, and also one of the least helpful, responses any parent can make to a difficult situation is to issue an ultimatum. For example, if they have been on the phone a lot to home and friends, do not go to the extreme and take all phone calls away. Talk about calling home and friends 3 times a week so that the student can focus on the American family. Explain that constant communication with home and friends can stir up sad feelings or anxiety and will take the focus off the reason they came to America. It also takes away from getting to to bond with the host family.
Just coping with simple things like getting along in the family or doing homework takes energy. Simplify by not putting your student in stressful situations, such as leaving your student home alone for extended periods of time, taking him/her to parties, pressuring him/her to make high grades, prohibiting him/her from calling home or talking with other international students, teasing or joking about his/her culture or their different behavior.
To recap, ask open ended questions and share with them what Culture Shock looks like. This will help them have a better understanding of the process they will have to work through. It will be hard at times to watch them struggle, but with your support through conversations, helping them to get connected, and unconditional love they will grow through this process.”
- Kelly Myers, Student Coordinator
Huff, N. K. (1997). Host Family Survival Kit: A Guide for American Host Families. Yarmouth: Intercultural Press, Inc.