Just as students expectations vary, so do host family expectations. As with students, not all host family expectations are realistic. We hope the following information will be helpful. Some common host family expectations, both realistic and unrealistic, are mentioned below.
The student will be just like his or her biographical data sheet: it is only natural that you expect to meet the student presented on the biographical profile you see before they arrive. Of course, even at best, a written summary is a very limited picture of a person. In addition, the students applied to the program nearly a year before. The student naturally has changed during that time. In some cases, the student may not have felt his or her English was good enough to fill out the application alone; there may have been misunderstood questions or some liberal interpretations taken by the person who helped fill it out.
Also, a student may have though it wise to write what he or she thought you would want to hear; this is only polite – not dishonest – in many cultures. It is also common to expect your student to be just like the student living with friends or like a student you have known previously. It is natural to base one’s perceptions on a known quantity. It is unlikely that your mind, just as your family is not likely to fit the picture in your student’s mind.
The student will be mature and “perfect”: some host families lose sight of the fact that their student is a teenager. Some students will be very mature, but the majority will be no more mature than Indians of the same age. Indian teenagers are not perfect, so why should we expect exchange students to be so? The student will come to you with his or her own strengths and weaknesses, just like your own children or other teens have.
The student will fit into our household right away: it is a beautiful thought and occasionally it happens! More likely, however, there will be a period of adjustment when you are teaching your students what it is like to live as an Indian while you are also learning how everyday life in India differs from that in your student’s country. Though many students really are committed to living completely and enthusiastically like Indians, it is not easy for them to do so. You can and will be helping the student along these lines during the entire stay with you. Remember that both of you have pre – existing routines which will likely have to be adjusted.
The student will become our children’s best friend: whether or not this expectation turns out to be true for your family will depend on many things, including the ages of your children and the age of the student, whether there are feelings of friendship or rivalry between the children and the student, the student’s cultural norms, and their personality. Being best friends with your children is not necessary for the experience to be a growing and learning one for everyone.
The student will speak fluent English: English language abilities vary depending on the type of language teaching and standards in various countries. It may be that your student has studied English but does not speak or understand it very well. You may learn the great value of nonverbal communication or what is often called “ body language ” – facial expressions and gestures – if your student’s spoken English is weak when he or she first comes to stay with you. Be creative! With a little effort by both parties, you soon will be able to communicate effectively.
The experience will be a “rose garden”: More than one host family has told YFU that the experience of hosting an exchange student was much tougher than they expected, but was nonetheless worthwhile. Usually, the learning situations that mean more to us in the long run are those that have had their difficult parts. At the end, most families feel that having a student was a very positive learning experience, even though it was not always a rose garden or the roses had a few thorns.
Trying to set realistic expectations is not easy. You and your family are looking forward to a great adventure, as is your student. One purpose of this handbook is to give you ideas on how to prepare your family for your student’s stay.