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.
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.
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.
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.