Wry Exchange

Post Completed
05-29-08, 11:41 am
Filed under: Exchange Students | Tags:

Reverse culture shock for host parents is finally up. 

.funny dog pictures
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Reverse Culture Shock, Part 4
05-22-08, 6:51 pm
Filed under: Culture, Inbounds Inbounds | Tags:

   Reverse Culture Shock, Part 4-How to help yourself get through it

As always, keep busy.  I know it’s a cliché, but getting your mind off yourself helps.  First, a few minutes, then a few hours will give you strength for the tough times.

You’ll feel overwhelmed when you return home.  Everyone has to see you NOW.  Your head will be spinning.  That’s normal.  Remember back when you first arrived in FESlandia.  How hard was it to translate in your head before you answered in FESish?  Do you remember the headaches?  The lost words? 

Practical advice

  • Photos Condense your favorite photos into a small album of 50-60 pictures. Most people won’t look at more without being bored. It’s good to keep the small album nearby for you to look at often, or just to know it’s there with you.  Put your favorite photos on your Ipod.
  • Language problems-You’ll speak English without realizing it.  Forget words in your native language. You will be translating from your language to English and back. It takes time, but language will come back.  You may not believe it when people tell you “That wasn’t English, it was FESish.” 
  • Sleep problems-can’t sleep, dream in English for a while still.  Try to keep to a regular schedule for your home country.  Don’t get online to chat with old friends in their timezone if possible.  You are home, and have to adjust.  Try to limit your middle of the night sessions to one night a week.
  • Missed Culture-you were gone a whole year and things changed – dances, fashions, slang
    Parents, siblings, friends, pets. 
  • Vacation  Each year, FES make plans with their friends to go away for a few days or week the day after their return. You owe it to your parents to stay with them your first week. Don’t be selfish.
  • Patience You’ve matured. Have patience with your parents. They think you’re the same kid who left last fall. You’re not the same, you’re still you, but it’s a different you.  Give your parents time to adjust.  They’ll be really shocked if they didn’t visit you during the year.  Your brothers and sisters have grown and matured this last year. Their roles in the family may have changed.   Pets and small children may ‘hate’ you for abandoning them.  Be patient.
  • Friends  You may lose some friends. Look for older students.  You are most likely more mature than your peers.  People will listen to your entire year for about 5 minutes before they lose interest, and want to tell you about their year.   Find other former FES for support.  You’ll need someone to talk with, keep in touch with your FES classmates, but also look for advice from older ex-exchange students.  No one else will truly understand except the people who experienced youth exchange.
    Please read the rest of my culture shock series, part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Reverse Culture Shock, Part 3
05-22-08, 6:50 pm
Filed under: Exchange Students, hosting, Inbounds Inbounds | Tags:

 Host Parents should read the other parts of this series for general information, but should be aware of two difficult situations.  As always the advice is based on my personal experience as a hostmom, and as a longtime volunteer.  It doesn’t mean every student will behave like this. 

Before the student returns home-Your sweet, loving FES will turn into a disagreeable brat.   Think bipolar, PMS mood swings!  Generally, the kids will start picking fights with you, friends, and gf/bf if they have one.  They don’t do it on purpose, and most don’t do it consciously.  I think it’s self-protection; ‘if I don’t care about these people, it won’t hurt so much when I leave.’  Be patient, and talk it out.

If you consider your student real family, and you all love each other, you are afraid ‘it won’t be the same’ once she goes home.  You are correct, it won’t be the same.  Hopefully, your relationship will last.  The first student we ever really felt was our own son was Chef, 10 years ago.  We all remain close.  It’s possible to have a strong long-distance relationship.  You have to trust each other.  It’s not easy, but it’s not rare either.

After returning home-Be prepared for this one.  I wasn’t, and spent about three weeks in bed.  Husband was so worried about me, he bought tickets to visit Chef.  It gave me something to look forward to, and let me see life goes on.   Since then, I’ve seen it over and over with close family/student relationships.   After your FES returns home, and cries herself to sleep because she misses you and free refills America so much, she’ll protect herself by withdrawing.  This phase usually starts after 3-4 weeks after returning home, and lasts about a month or so.   FES will dodge your emails, IMs, and phone calls.  She may even ‘hide’ from you.   It doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you anymore, it’s an unconscious attempt to make the pain go away.  The student most likely explains it away as being ‘too busy’ to keep in touch.  Be patient, and understanding.  I know it hurts you tremendously, but do you really want to force communication?  How can you do it from thousands of miles away anyway?   Just keep writing, and sending photos.  FES will return to your life.

Please read the rest of my reverse culture shock series, part 1, part 2, and part 4.


Reverse Culture Shock, Part 2
05-21-08, 2:51 pm
Filed under: Exchange Students | Tags:

 Reverse Culture Shock, part 2

As hard as reverse culture shock is to see, I feel sorry for the students who don’t experience it.  I can tell one of this year’s students, ‘Zeus’, won’t have culture shock when he returns home.  Why?  We tell the students “You’ve become ‘one of us’ if you had a successful year.”  Zeus hasn’t, he is the same as he was in the beginning.  Zeus knows it, and is proud.  He was happy when I told him he was completely the same as in August. He wasted an entire year.  FESs have to be flexible, open to new experiences, and tolerant.  Zeus is arrogant, and hasn’t learned anything.  Not surprising that he’s had problems making friends in school and with the other FESs, and with host families.

We discussed reverse culture shock at our final student meeting.  Husband and I could just see it on their faces as our words hit home.  The arc went from ‘Not me’ to ‘Holy shit!’  We explained to the students it’s the same every year.  A former exchange student in her late 20’s was at the meeting, and she confirmed it’s true, and it’s difficult to go through. 

Reverse Culture shock may be worse than culture shock last August.  That surprised the students.   We said that when they left home, they knew everything and everyone would still be there, pretty much unchanged.  In the meantime, they’ve changed.  They think differently.  When they go home, they may never return to the states.  If they DO return, it won’t be the same.   They won’t all be together as a group ever again, and they won’t be part of a high school group either.  This IS a ‘Once in a lifetime experience.’

People won’t understand why FESs are sad to be home. They won’t understand they’ve left a piece of their heart here.  People don’t understand why they’re mourning the loss of people they’ve known only 9-12 months, because the foreigners are not your “REAL friends and family.” 

We told the students “You are no longer a citizen of your native country, you’re now a citizen of the world. You see the world differently.  You mind has expanded. You’ll always want to travel. Your thoughts about your country might be different than when you left it.  You’ll see there are different ways to do everything.”


Please read the rest of my reverse culture shock series, part 1, part 3, and part 4.

Reverse Culture Shock, Part 1
05-21-08, 12:26 am
Filed under: Culture, Exchange Students | Tags:

 Reverse Culture Shock, Part 1 by Wry
Reverse culture shock is what happens when FESs return home.  Many times, it’s a surprise to the students that re-entry isn’t seamless.  It’s very very important that students, families, and friends realize reverse culture shock is real and serious.
1st few days-You’re happy, busy, it’s great to be home, you’re with friends and family.
2-3 weeks-You miss FESlandia, depressed, have problems sleeping, thinking. You feel alone. “No one understands me” Find other former exchange students to talk with. KEEP BUSY. May be depressed, problems sleeping, thinking. Feel alone like “No one understands me.” Find other former exchange students to talk with.  KEEP BUSY.
1 month-withdraw from friends and family in FESlandia.  Won’t return emails, chat, texts, phone calls because it hurts too much.  You’ll re-connect. Self preservation, may be unconscious.
3 months-you’ll think you’re fine
6 months-you ARE fine

Reverse Culture Shock, Part 1-by the Experts

  1. Disengagement
  2. Initial euphoria
  3. Irritability and hostility
  4. Readjustment and adaptation

Continue reading

What Exchange Students Like About the USA

 Colorblind Cupid asked a question in response to my food post.  She asked if FESs miss more than our food when they return home.  Oh, yes.  A partial list just from this year’s students:

  • They appreciate our willingness to take new people into our lives.  They think that we are much more warm and friendly than they believed before they arrived.   The kids were astonished that people hosted them because they wanted to, not because they had to take them.  All most other countries have mandatory hosting-if your kid goes out, someone comes to your home.  They were surprised that they in turn love some people here after just knowing them for a few short months.
  • They liked the idea of volunteering to help strangers. Just to do good without expectation of any reward was a new concept for many of them.
  • They loved high school sports.  As far as I know, we’re the only country with public school sports teams.  They love the camaraderie, and how important the games are to the entire school or town.   One of the kids said she loved how if the team won, everyone went to the pizza shop, but if the team lost, everyone went home and was sad.
  • They think it’s very clean here, and we don’t have hardly any litter.  (This is mentioned annually, and I enjoy telling telling them that volunteers ‘adopt’ a section of road to keep clean.)  I’ve hit the brakes more than a few times and told a kid to pick up whatever he just tossed out the car window.  I’m mean like that.
  • They like our highway system.  The roads are paved, and not too pothole-y (bullshit.) They like how well-marked the roads are, and that the tenth mile markers are a ‘wow’ invention so that drivers know where they are at all times.
  • They like that buses and cabs stop for them in larger cities.  I got the impression that cabs and buses don’t stop if they don’t feel like it.
  • People here trust other people more.  (Of course we live in Appalachia, so it may be different in other places.)
  • A new reason this year-They like that things work here.  One said it, and the others jumped in.  Utilities are reliable.  The government works, police and postal workers aren’t bribed.  Appointments are set and kept. 
  • They like that we do so much online.  In some countries, bills must be paid in person.  Lines are long, and inefficient, so a lot of time is wasted.
  • They like that people obey unwritten social rules.  We don’t cut in line, we don’t touch other people, we don’t crowd people to get them to move.  They like people saying ‘please’ ‘thanks’ and ‘excuse  me.’  We smile or nod at strangers we pass on the street.
  • People obey traffic rules-stop on red, stay in your own lane,  and as long as they aren’t riding with me, they feel safer here.
  • Stores have plenty of items in stock, cashiers are polite, no one tries to cheat them, stores have consistent, posted hours.

They don’t like our lack of public transportation.  They loathe being dependant on others to give them rides.  They hate wearing seatbelts.  They are pissy that no one permits them to download music illegally.  They miss being able to go to pubs and clubs to drink and dance.  They abhor girls spitting and farting in public. 

They don’t understand sales tax.  In their countries, the price on the sticker is the walk out the door price.  Of course, they have tax built in to the product, but that apparently doesn’t count.  I’ve tried to explain each city, county, and state is free to set whatever tax they want.  The rates and items taxed vary in each jurisdiction. I’d say state sales taxes are their biggest pet peeve.