Living with an International Student - Part I: Starting off on the Right Foot

We’ve all found ourselves in unfamiliar surroundings either by choice or by accident at some point. The choice variety is preferred (as opposed to the unexpected kind, like breaking down on the side of the road in an unfamiliar place) because we can do a little prep work. For example, we can research the lay of the land and related conditions. We do this for vacations or day trips or even a new job or school. Regardless of how much we prepare, there’s always the reality of experiencing new things that challenge our ability to cope and react without getting too disoriented.

Provide an Orientation

Becoming “oriented” is a big deal. For example, you may have an international student living in your home with all its rooms and furniture and appliances and doors, and everything has its place and purpose. The new students don’t know squat about any of it. Sure, some of it will be familiar. I mean, you’ve got a fridge. They know what that is, but you’ve got your own stuff in there, arranged in a particular way that makes sense to you. In a very real way, having some familiarity can be even more disorienting for your student as they have to unlearn their habits and expectations to make room for yours. So assume nothing - other than your new students need you to show them everything. Yes, they’re going to resent this because who wouldn’t feel stupid being shown how the faucet works? But this is an integral part of welcoming your student into your home and getting him or her comfortable as soon as possible.

Begin with a tour

When your student first arrives, give her or him the “nickel tour” by showing all of the rooms on the way to the student’s bedroom. Once there, name all the furniture: this is your bed, your desk, the lamp (turn it on and off), your closet, bureau, etc. Make sure to say “your” so the student has an immediate sense of ownership. Explain that you expect him or her to put his or her clean clothes in the dresser (another name for bureau or chest of drawers....see how fun this is!) and other functions for the things in the room. You may even want to provide a sticky-note pad, to label things or drawer contents. If you don’t, you may end up with some foreign language sharpie’d into your grandmother’s vintage chiffonier!

Before overwhelming the student with minute, detailed instructions for bedroom decorum involving windows open or shut, lights off when leaving, room inspection schedule, no eating or drinking, etc...lead your student to the bathroom. Here is the most crucial part of the “day-one tour” because “water always wins.” Begin by affirming the adage, “...a room should always look the same when you leave it as when you entered it.” Notice that the toilet lid is down, the absence of puddles on the vanity and floor, towels are hung, dirty socks and underwear curiously missing from the floor or behind the door. And then there’s the shower curtain. While demonstrating how your shower controls work so your student doesn’t accidentally scald her or himself or spend 5 minutes waiting for the water to magically warm on the ‘cold’ setting, demonstrate that the liner goes inside the tub all the time. Explain what will happen if the student fails this test and that, if she or he learns nothing else today besides this (other than not drawing on heirlooms), it will be a big win.

Grab a bath towel on the way back to the bedroom and place it on the bed. Invite the student to relax a little or to take some time to freshen up by using the bathroom or shower. This cooling period is essential. You’ve just given your teenage student a lot to digest. He or she is now processing everything in English and needs some time to let it sink in. Before leaving the student alone, ask if there are any questions about anything with the bedroom or bathroom.

Bread Crumbs

Don’t give your student your wifi password right away. Let the student ask for it. If she or he hasn’t asked already, this will be the inspiration for the student to leave the bedroom for the first time. It may seem insignificant, but this act of seeking you out for guidance or information needs to become a well-worn path that can’t start soon enough or often enough. There’s so much for the student to learn and your new homestay student doesn’t know what he or she doesn’t know. Building and reinforcing your relationship with the student, with you as a mentor and valuable support person in his or her new life, are the foundational steps to a successful, smooth acclimation.




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About the author

Mr. Walker is in his 8th year of working in the International Student industry on the heels of a 17 year career in government after deciding a career singing opera wasn’t an optimal choice. He and his wife, the lovely Susan, have been dedicated host parents to a multitude of students since 2011. Raising 4 daughters and 4 years of experience as a Program Manager for EduHup have uniquely prepared him to now serve as Training and Content Manager.

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