We always hear the old saying “communication is key,” but what does that really mean? It can mean getting to know the people around you or calling your friend over the phone, but even more so to exchange students and host families, it means that communication is essential when issues arise or have the potential to.
Our student advisor, Ella, shares her wisdom of communication and how to maintain a healthy relationship between students and host families.
When it comes to being or hosting a foreign exchange student, communication (or a lack thereof) really can make or break the experience. Open and honest communication is what keeps any relationship healthy and balanced, but this is especially true when dealing with cross-language, cross-cultural relationships between a host family and a foreign exchange student.
There are several challenges that cross-language and cross-cultural communication inherently bring to a relationship. Among other things, there is always the threat that you will be misunderstood. Many times, a student whose native language is not English may not have the vocabulary to fully express themselves, or express themselves the way they want to. Questions or requests may inadvertently come across as demands, and bluntness resulting from a simple lack of linguistic knowledge may come across as impoliteness. On the other hand, sarcasm and dry humor (characteristics of advanced or native linguistic capabilities) may come across as mean and cold. The use of second person to speak generally can be misunderstood to mean the student specifically. When language barriers exist, it is incredibly important to be sensitive about your tone of voice and body language, as these may become communication crutches. Remember to keep your language and tone polite, calm, and respectful, and make sure your body language matches what you are trying to say.
Poor communication can cause a lot of problems. It is easy to let the “little” things go, but if you let too many little things go, or let them go for too long, they can easily become big things. If something bothers you, say it, politely and respectfully. That way it can be addressed when it is still small and simple and easy to fix. Additionally, both students and host families can get offended when concerns are brought to natural parents, foreign partners, local representatives, or the NOD national office before being brought directly to the other party. One person may not even realize there is a problem until it is being brought up to them by someone in another state or another country – and in the time it took to communicate that problem through all those various sources, it could have been resolved if the concern had been brought directly to them.
To make a long story short: communicate, communicate, communicate! Let your student or host family know what you are feeling and why you are feeling that way, whether it is positive or negative. Let this lead to a calm and respectful discussion in which you work out a solution or compromise together. This may be uncomfortable early on in the program, but the more you get used to communicating with each other, the stronger your relationship will become!
To learn more about effective communication, get in touch with Ella.