It’s the holiday season and for many American families this time is full of hustle and bustle: tree trimming, holiday parties, and excitement.
‘Tis the season. There’s so much fun to be had during the holidays, but for many exchange students this part of the year can be filled with challenges. In orientation with CHI we talked about the adjustment cycle. For many exchange students the hardest part of their exchange year is happening right now.
The Academic Year Program handbook describes this time as “Cycle III: What am I doing here?” It suggests that for our students, “You may feel somewhat lonely, isolated, or homesick and depressed with the approach of the holidays. You may miss your friends and family and everything familiar.”
These feelings are normal, but they may create or add to conflict when host families are experiencing their own holiday stress. If your family experiences no stress and November through January is pure bliss in your home, well… that’s pretty cool. I, however, experience some stress around the holidays and hope that this post will be helpful to host families and students whom may also be having some bumps in the road.
In the excitement of the holidays it’s easy to lose sight of these issues. In many many ways this is a season of wonder: full of new experiences as exchange students take in the traditions of their American host families. In other ways the holidays can be a bit of a challenge. I’d like to offer some pointers for working through our challenges to enjoy these times together.
Firstly, I ask you to reach out to each other. Host families might reach out by saying to their student: “This time of year can be hard for a lot of people, this might be especially true for you (exchange students) who are far from your own family traditions. How are you feeling and can I do anything to help?” Exchange students might reach out by saying to their host family, “I see that this is a busy time of year for you. How are you feeling in the middle of all this?” We can express caring for each other by giving importance to one another’s feelings. One way to do this is to ask and listen.
Secondly, I ask that you share your feelings with consideration of the feelings of others. Some times people that care about us hurt our feelings. It’s important to talk about these experiences. If you don’t share with your host family, or student, what’s bothering you it is impossible for them to do anything to help resolve the situation. Some times it is best to wait until we’re in a calm space to address the issues in order to communicate respectfully. I think of the platinum rule in this case.
Dr. Tony Alessandra describes the platinum rule: “The Golden Rule ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ implies the basic assumption that other people would like to be treated the way that you would like to be treated. The alternative to the Golden Rule is the Platinum Rule: ‘Treat others the way they want to be treated.” What I like about the platinum rule is that it prompts us to reach outside of ourselves and not to assume others want what we want. The platinum rule acknowledges differences and these may be differences of personality, preferences, or culture. In order to know what others want we must tune in to them.
Thirdly, I ask that you not make assumptions. When your own stress level is high it’s easy to take things personally. You might assume that a family member’s tone of voice, busyness, lack of attention, lack of communication, or all-out tantrum is a personal rejection. Such an assumption is likely false. These behaviors do indicate that a family member is stressed out. At this time: both for host families and for students, stress is a normal experience. When the time is right (feelings are not freshly hurt and tempers are calmed down) it’s important to share your observations and how you felt in the situation.
Finally, I ask that we give unsolicited kindness. Leave a note of encouragement. Give a hug (if your family member is a hugger) or a high five. Say, “You’re awesome!” Make one on one time. There is a tradition of gift giving for most American families on Christmas day (I recommend students ask their host families about their traditions so they can participate) but the gift of kindness is not limited to a particular day and is something that everyone needs and deserves.
Exchange students and host families are kind of a big deal. Both roles demand a leap of faith to go outside of one’s comfort zone. Host families are volunteering to include their student as part of the family, adapting their lives to include another person and meet their student’s needs. This sort of volunteering demonstrates a tremendous generosity. That’s awesome. Exchange students are thousands of miles away from home, speaking every day in a language other than their native tongue, living in a culture that is in many ways completely different. This sort of willingness to go FAR outside their comfort zone takes a tremendous amount of courage. That’s awesome.
Remember that they (your host family or your exchange student) are awesome. I hope you’ll consider that this may be a particularly stressful time for them and that by reaching out, sharing your feelings with consideration of their feelings, not taking things personally, and giving unsolicited kindness we can create supportive environments for each other.
It’s easy to get wrapped up (like a present) in the hustle and bustle and holiday preparations, but I encourage you to take a time out and check in with one another.
In the spirit of the season I wish you laughter, fun and joy.
Be jolly. Be merry. Be kind.