What are my responsibilities as a foreigner living with a host family in a strange land?

September 4th, 2011 by | Tags: , | No Comments »

Rachel with a host family in France

Rachel with a host family in France

When I travel and stay with host families, my duties not only include participating in host families’ activities, having good manners, and learning about their culture, but also teaching them about my own culture.  One of my goals when traveling is to teach them information that they could never learn in classroom and/or from a textbook.  I think of this travel experience as a way to build positive relationships between people from different cultures and countries while we are living in a time where so much hatred towards different countries is being portrayed by the media.

Being an American exchange student living in another country with a host family allows me to change their image of Americans, which is usually negative because of how the media portrays us, by not only teaching them the positive aspects of the culture, but also presenting good manners.  One host mother said to me, “Most host families here in France will not host Americans because they think they don’t have good manners.”  Foreigners think Americans are loud, unsophisticated, rude, materialistic and not to mention, have horrible political opinions because that is how the media portrays us.  The media shows Americans believing in war, Tea Partiers protesting against health care and taxes, voting against restricting the usage of oil, and American CEOs racking up maximum profit and not paying enough taxes or donating funds to charities.

In reality, not all Americans are greedy and selfish and many do believe in the common good – many, including CEOs, do donate hundreds and thousands and millions of dollars to charities.  A large number of Americans are not loud and many are the nicest people whom we can meet.  Many Americans do vote for better heath care and higher taxes to improve infrastructure, education and the lives of human beings.  Many Americans ride bikes or walk to work and school instead of driving and are active in recycling.  Americans bring in the greatest innovations that become beloved by many around the world – iPhones, Facebook, YouTube, McDonalds’, and Coca Cola.  This is what foreigners need to learn from me and other Americans.  This is also true for foreign exchange students who come to the US and stay with American host families.  Our view of their countries, constructed by the media and textbooks, is likely very different from what they would share with us.

Aside from breaking the stereotypes of our country, I also share the tales of my lifestyle with my host families by bringing in pictures.  I show them pictures of my high school prom dance, graduation, friends in various social settings, my family and vacations.  By showing them photos, I am teaching them what activities we, Americans, generally do with friends, such as going to school dances and hanging out at Starbucks with friends.  I am also educating them about our relationship with our families and how we spend time together.  Host families also learn about our customs, such as seeing how we celebrate our graduations and birthdays.

I should note that I am not saying that I believe in only teaching them the positive image of our country.  I am also very open to discussing problems that we have, such as high employment, addiction to oil, and lack of quality education for children, after all, every country in the world is not perfect.  When sharing the negative aspects of our country, I explain to them why the issues exist and what Americans and I think about how we should solve the problems.  As a result, host families learn that we are not ignoring the problems and how we want to combat them.

In a nutshell, our responsibilities in being an exchange student include:

  • Share the positive image of our country.
  • Present good manners.
  • Bring in photos and share with them to teach about our culture.
  • Be open to sharing issues.

Above all, being open to answering questions host families may have is critically important.  Host families are not just there to provide us a shelter, bed and food.  They are also there to learn about a whole new world.

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