18 November 2014

Contact with Home

Congratulations to all the exchange students who've made it through a quarter of the year! If you're in the US, you've already experienced homework, homecoming, and Halloween, and most of you probably cannot wait for Thanksgiving break!

How's it going?

Seriously, how are you doing? Take a minute and think about it.


I hope you're having a blast and learning a ton. I hope you're making great friends, getting involved in clubs or sports, and getting along with your host family. A lot of you definitely are! Keep doing what you're doing!

But not all of you are having the times of your lives.

A lot of you in the US are really, really cold right now. Winter came early this year for a lot of the country. You're probably also bored. You're probably not a "new kid" at school anymore, and things might not be so exciting. Maybe you've met everyone in your classes, you're you've already tasted most of the food you're served, or you're sick of your host family yelling sports that you don't care about. Maybe you're already thinking about Christmas, New Years, Hanukkah, and wishing you were going to spend them with your family at home.

This probably isn't what you pictured. Even if you're having a great time, it's probably not exactly what you thought it'd be. Hopefully, you're happy with that! It can be really, really frustrating when you're not happy though. Sometimes there doesn't need to be a big problem to be unhappy- your host family is fine, school is fine, your English is fine, the food is fine, fine, fine, fine. But you're sick of sharing a bathroom with your host brother, eating corn at dinner, stupid questions about your home country, or any other little thing. Or things. And if you don't feel like you can complain to anybody here, you're probably doing it to someone at home, or from your home country.

Sometimes that's fine. It's OK to talk to your family, and other exchange students are awesome because they understand what you're going through. If you're doing this every week, every day, or more than once a day, I want you to stop and think.

If you're sharing something with someone at/from home before someone from the US, why?

How many hours per day are you connected to home? Not just how long do you spend on Skype or whatever app you're using, but how many hours are you able to receive messages from home?

Very few people have tons of super close friends at this point in the year. It's hard to build a lot of trust with someone in just 2 or 3 months. It's normal to not feel so close to your new friends yet, but if you're not careful, you're never going to get there. New friendships take time, but more than that, they take effort. If you're choosing to spend your time talking with people from home instead of people in your host country, you're wasting time building up new friendships.

I'm not naïve enough to think that never ever going on the computer or using your phone makes sense for most people. That's probably how people in your host country communicate too. That just means YOU need to limit YOURSELF though. Turn Facebook chat off. Delete the Messenger app. Disable notifications on your phone for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, whatever it is that you use. Spend some time organizing your Facebook friends, and set your newsfeed to only show posts from people in your host country. Turn off the computer/phone at 10pm. Or 8pm. Or 6pm. If you can't hold yourself to it, ask your host parents to help. Make it harder to interact with people from home.

Talking to people from home is hurting you in the long run, even if it makes you feel better right now. It makes you feel better because it's comfortable. It's easy. It's familiar. Of course that's what you want when nothing else seems comfortable or easy!

But why are you here?

Did you want to make friends? Improve your language skills? Become a family member? The ever-so-vague "experience the culture" that we all wrote about in our applications?

That's not going to happen if you leave one foot in your old life. Of course it can be uncomfortable, difficult, and strange sometimes. You need to confront it though. If you let it keep being a little uncomfortable while relying on home to get through it, you're not going to have time to make great friends, speak fluently, integrate into your family, or truly "experience the culture."

I know it's hard, and I know you might not think it's a problem right now. I did the same thing. In retrospect, I spent WAY too much time online that I should have spent talking, studying, walking around town, watching TV, literally anything would have been better than sitting on Facebook.

If you can relate to any of this, please consider the following:

  • Put your phone away unless you're using it to talk to people you met in your host country.
  • Keep pushing new friendships. You need to keep trying to make plans. 
  • Get involved. If you don't know who to make plans with, join a club or team to meet new people. Ask a teacher if you don't know how, and don't be afraid to try something totally new. Dance, stage crew, swimming, volunteering, why not? 
  • Stop posting so much in your native language. If over half of your Facebook is in your native language, your new friends can't interact with you! 
  • Make contact with home a treat. Set up a weekly or monthly Skype call with your parents or a best friend. Write down things you have to tell them so you don't forget in the mean time. 
  • Write a weekly or monthly blog or newsletter to tell people what you're up to. If every seventh grade classmate and second cousin is sending you messages asking how you are and what it's like, you're probably wasting a lot of time repeating yourself! 
  • Unless it's a true emergency (your health or safety is threatened) wait a little bit to tell someone. Try to solve/get over it by yourself, and if it's still bugging you in a day or week, *then* tell someone about it. 
  • If your host parents have set rules about when/where you can use technology, it's because they see this as a problem now, or it was one in the past. They want to spend time with you, but you're on your phone/computer. Don't ruin your relationship with them over some Facebook messages!
  • If it's your family/friends back home who won't leave you alone, you need to talk to them about why they can't contact you so much. If you need to, ask a volunteer in your home country to talk to them as well. 
  • Remember that host parents, liaisons, volunteers, etc. are there for you. Most of them would be more than happy to talk with you when you're feeling homesick or unhappy. 
  • And for the love of god, GET. OFF. NETFLIX. Unless you're watching it with someone else, you should barely be on it!

Your friends from home with either be your friends when you get back, or they won't. What you do now probably won't change that. You have the rest of your life back home, if that's what you want. This is your only time to be on exchange.You're 1/4 of the way done with your year. Don't wait any longer to start to change something you're unhappy with.