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First months of exchange

Exchange Example Stories, Exchange Student Problems, First months of exchange, Host Family, Mid-Exchange, Study Abroad, Uncategorized

I hated my host family

This guest post will be shared anonymously, but I think it´s an good read for those who are experiencing problems with their host families.

Just for the record; I had two host families during my exchange year. And I hated both of them.
There was a difference, though.

It had always been my wish to go on an exchange, partially because of the ´living with a host family´ experience. It just seemed so exciting to me to have new brothers and sisters, that were different but you could do all sorts of fun stuff with. A family you can call your own family. One you can send letters and cards, and visit with your real family and then have a slightly weird and awkward family photo. Not that I don´t like my real family, au contraire, but the idea of cultural exchange + having a new family just seemed really exciting to me. We had even hosted students before, which had been hard sometimes but in the end always a lovely experience. I expected my experience as a host family would make my experience a little bit easier because I knew how hard it could be for the family as well and I promised myself I would do ANYTHING to make it work out with mine.

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When I arrived at my first host family I was extremely excited. It took a while for my exchange organisation to find me one, which was extremely nerve-wracking (you must understand this struggle). When I finally got to meet them it was the first time I had heard about them, and also the first time they heard about me, which was a little odd. When getting the news they were allowed to host an exchange student, they didn´t even know what gender I was going to be. I had a sister and a brother and our house, even though it was small, it was truly amazing. It seemed everything I had hoped for.

Yes the weeks passed by and these little things weird things came up all the time. They ignored the fact that I had already been learning a lot of the language. From all of the arriving exchange students, I was one of the most advanced when it came to language, yet whenever they had a chance they would remind me that I wasn´t good at all, that I couldn´t understand anything. And not as a joke, or as constructive criticism. They also tended to be confused on where I was actually from, even after one month and me repeatedly telling and explaining them. It sounds silly, but it feels so bad when people don´t know or don´t recognize where you are from. When you go on exchange you get so confronted with your nationality and your identity, and when people don´t see that it´s like you are some ghost. A weird ghost that doesn´t fit in there, but apparently also doesn´t have a clear home.

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There were more things, some of which are maybe better not shared on the internet, but all these little details made that I felt more and more uncomfortable. I cried so many times, and I didn´t even know why. I didn´t miss my family, I didn´t want to go home, I just didn´t feel comfortable with them. As days and days passed by, I realized I truly hated being with them.

So I changed families, something which I had sworn not to do. I felt terrible because I knew how bad my family felt whenever we had problems with an exchange student, and I didn´t want to hurt my host family. After all, they were kind enough to take me into their house, to share their lives with me! But somehow I could not stay there any longer.

When I arrived to my second family they also didn´t know what gender or nationality exchange student they were getting, but they were a little bit more understanding when I explained where I was from. Again, I had a brother and a sister. A sister whom I shared a room with. The material situation had definitely not improved. The house was smaller, and I had to share a room with my sister, but I didn´t care at all as I was just happy to have left the first family.

And with my new family everything went well. We had an amazing first month, they took me everywhere, I got to meet the rest of the family. Of course we had our problems, maybe even more problems than I had with the first family, but I felt like they were also trying to solve these issues, something I hadn´t felt with the first family. Months passed and I got into a huge fight with them. It was about something silly, as it always is, but I truly hated them at that moment. It was a different kind of hate though than I had felt with my first host family. It was the kind of hate you have when your mom tells you you can´t go to that concert in London because teenage girls aren´t supposed to travel to rock concerts alone kind of thing. It was as if they were my real family.

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I am writing this post for all exchange students who are struggling with their family and are thinking about changing. Remember that even with your real family you get annoyed, you get angry, you wish you could disown them at times. But they are your family, so you don´t. Looking back, I think my first family just wasn´t fit for being a host family. My second family was. And even though it wasn´t always easy and they maybe didn´t even feel like ´real´ family yet, I realized that the source of my annoyance was not a reason to change family, and you will never find the ‘perfect´ host family. All my friends who were sharing the most lovely photos of their happy family were the ones who eventually changed. When thinking of changing families, try to realize it is not all going to be perfect and think whether your annoyance is temporary, or it´s a longer standing issue. If so, try to talk to them first. Tell them you are uncomfortable or not yet used to the way they do things. A solution has to come from both sides. In case one of both sides is not willing to cooperate anymore, then think about changing families.

This guest post will be shared anonymously in order not to offend any of the families involved.

Exchange, First months of exchange, Study Abroad, Study Abroad 101

Why Making Local Friends Abroad Might Be Difficult

“I am going to go on exchange and it is going to be awesome and I am going to make lots of friends and learn about the culture and the language and everything is going to be amazing”

That pretty much sums up what I thought my exchange was going to be like. Naive, but a great aspiration. Sadly, in reality it was not that easy.

The truth is, making friends is always hard. Whether you go to a country where people are open or to a country where people are more reserved, it is always going to be a struggle.

In the beginning people might (or might not) be interested. But people won’t stay interested forever.

Yes in the first weeks you might get lots of attention. The rumor spreads that an exotic foreigner is in town. People come up to you. You get 27893 Facebook friend request a day of people you don’t even know, or at least you don’t remember their names. People constantly greet you and come up to you with strange questions.

But after a while people have asked you everything they want to hear and they go back to their own group of friends while you are left being the only person that doesn’t speak the language and you realize, it ain’t all rainbows and sunshine.

There are a couple of reasons why making friends in your host country is difficult. The first one is: they don’t need your friendship. Local people already have a life of their own with their own friends and own family. You want to meet with them on Friday? Sorry, that’s when they have baseball practice. How about Sunday? Sunday is family dinner. Their lives were probably filled before you came in and as interested as they might be in you, there is no necessity for them to keep in touch or do something. You, on the other hand have nothing to fall back on and are left alone in your room on many occasions because of this. Usually a friendship is born out of a mutual balanced effort but because you are foreign, the balance is different.

The second reason why making friends is hard is because you don’t know how the culture works. In your country you might meet your friends for coffee after school, but maybe in your host country people usually meet at someone’s house to watch a movie. These types of differences in customs can make it very hard to make friends because you don’t know what to ask for. You keep inviting them for coffee and they are turning you down because they already have plans to go to the beach, because that is what people in that country do.
It’s like watching puppies and kittens play for the first time. It is not that one is less playful or willing than the other, they just have different ways of playing with each other, and that can be very hard.

And yes, it´s so much easier to connect with other foreigners.

Because they get you like nobody else. They might be from a completely different culture but they know the struggles you are going through, and that unites you. With them you can talk about the quirky habits of your host family and about the weird questions local people have asked you.

Before I went on abroad I told myself I would only make local friends. I wasn’t really interested in making any exchange friends and talking English all the time, because that was not the reason for me to go to Panama. In the end, 70% of my friends were exchange students (foreigners in Panama but also Panamanian returnees) and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Being on exchange is such an indescribable thing, but with your exchange friends, you don’t have to describe it because they already understand.

Nevertheless, this should not discourage you from making local friends. They might not get you as perfectly as the exchange students, but that doesn’t mean their friendship is not going to be as good. It will be different for sure, but looking back I wish I had made more attempts to make local friends. I tried, but not hard enough.

But it is not too late for you. So don’t be that person that comes back home and realizes they only made international friends. Because even though those friendships are amazing, it is a waste to be a in a country without getting to know it and it’s people. So go out there and make some local friends!

Do you want to make local friends but don’t know how? Click here for tips!