DRAFT Training Homestay Families
Homestays can be a hugely rewarding experience for both international students and hosting families. Homestay experiences immerse students in the local language and culture and create bonds that often last a lifetime. However, they also hold unique challenges for students, families, and the coordinators who manage them.
Every family and every student is different, and it’s a hugely personal experience to both live in someone else’s home and welcome someone else into your own. Coordinators face the challenge of trying to simultaneously maintain close communication with both families and students, ensure the institution adheres to the Code of Practice, protect the well-being of all parties, and manage incidents and events as they occur – all with a limited budget and time constraints.
The goal of this module is to make it easier for homestay coordinators to support and train host families, in order to create the best possible experience for everyone involved. By the end of this module, coordinators should feel able to create their own homestay manual and training and to troubleshoot common issues that arise.
We would like to thank Lara Buchanan (James Hargest College), Rachel Fenton (Auckland Grammar School), Lynda Lidgard (Rangitoto College) and Linda Clifford (Tauranga Girls’ College) for assistance with this module.
Managing the stress of adapting to a new culture
All students will likely undergo culture shock to some degree, and it’s crucial that you help host families understand what to expect at each stage, how to recognise any concerning symptoms, and how to help support their student through the process. There are numerous sources online for more information on culture shock, but here are some key points that you could consider including in your homestay manual and/or training.
Is culture shock a thing?
First identified in the 1950s, culture shock was attributed to a person adapting to a new cultural or social environment. People often don’t identify that they are going through culture shock, and people may react differently to the changes. Many sojourners adapting to a new culture may not experience a state of shock. However, studies have shown that many students transiting to new cultures experience four broad phases of adjustment, often called the U-Curve of Adjustment.
These phases (Honeymoon, Frustration, Adjustment and Adaptation) do not necessarily happen at the same time or in the same sequence, and some students won’t experience all phases. One study of 2,000 AFS students (Demes & Geerart, 2015) found that the majority of students did not experience the U-Curve. There were different trajectories for different students. Still, it is helpful to keep in mind these four phases as they are likely to be variably experienced by your homestay students. For example, a student may not experience a honeymoon phase, but may still experience a level of frustration or anxiety 3-6 months after they have settled into their homestay.
Phase 1: Honeymoon
The initial period of euphoria, where everything seems new and interesting, may last anywhere from one week to a few months. Students may feel excited and still close to everything familiar at home.
Host families should recognise that this phase will inevitably end. If the family starts to notice that their student is becoming frustrated or angry, or withdrawing, they may be entering the next phase (‘negotiation’).
The honeymoon phase, while students are still settling in, is a good time for families to discuss a number of things with students to avoid later misunderstandings. Here is a downloadable checklist of questions that you could encourage host families to discuss with their students.
The questions below can be downloaded and used as a PDF document
Here are some areas that you may wish to discuss with your student during their first few days with you.
a) The home:
g) Family and friends:
Phase 2: Negotiation
Differences between the student’s home and new culture become apparent and excitement may give way to frustration and anger – or withdrawal. Often students feel lonely and homesick. The language barrier may become a major obstacle. The student may start to idealise life “back home,” and may feel that New Zealand culture, language, and food are inferior to what they’re used to.
Practitioners should ensure that they keep close contact with families during this stage, and that they ask families to keep their eyes open for signs of irritation or withdrawal. This will be a critical stage to wrap support around the student and ensure they understand these feelings are a “normal” part of the cultural adjustment process. NauMai NZ has some great resources to help students who may be feeling lonely or homesick.
Phase 3: Adjustment
After some time (often 6 to 12 months), the student will likely grow more accustomed to New Zealand culture and develop routines. Things become more “normal” and they begin to understand why things are done in a certain way. The student begins to feel more comfortable in their new environment and begins to have a more positive outlook and regains their sense of humour.
Note that cultural adjustment is not a linear process, and so some students will cycle between the negotiation and adjustment phases for some time. Families should not assume that students no longer need support once they seem to have started adjusting to life here.
Phase 4: Adaptation
Students are able to participate fully in the host culture. They feel comfortable, confident, and capable of making decisions. They no longer feel alone and isolated. They start to feel at home.
For many students, adaptation may only occur towards the end of their international education experience, depending on how long they are in New Zealand.
John Berry, a Canadian cultural psychologist, identified four different adaptation strategies employed by migrants or minorities (2011):
(i) assimilation – casting off one’s heritage/home culture in order to completely embrace the new;
(ii) separation – withdrawing from the majority host culture and largely opting out of contact;
(iii) marginalisation – frustrated participation due to external factors such discrimination or limited opportunities to socially engage; and
(iv) integration characterised by a willingness to participate in wider communities/institutions that are broadly diversity responsive.
New settlers/minorities who successfully ‘doubly engage,’ that is they internationally maintain their heritage culture while participating in the host culture, are well placed to integrate and experience better outcomes in terms of social connectedness, personal growth, wellbeing, and employability.
In a New Zealand schools context, the 2007 film Waves (Tao. Li. (2007). The diaries of Chinese international students in New Zealand profiles six Chinese students adapting to life in a New Zealand school. The six students each have unique personalities and different adaptation strategies. Rose embraces Kiwi life and enjoys a rich set of experiences with her homestay family. In contrast, Jane opts to leave her watch on Beijing time, and is described by the filmmaker Li Tao (a Victoria University of Wellington international student graduate) as ‘Jane at her most triumphantly unassimilated’.
Helping students through to the adaptation phase
Here are some ways that homestay families might help students navigate the phases of cultural adjustment:
How can you help families identify a student’s cultural values?
In addition to culture shock, it may also be helpful to give homestay families resources that will enable them to identify and compare cultural values. You may want to introduce them to the Iceberg model of culture, which explains that just as the bulk of an iceberg is hidden under the water, so too is much of our culture hidden beneath the surface. Obvious things like different food, dress and languages are easy to see, but things like values, how people communicate and how they handle emotions may be harder to figure out.
Understanding this model will help families appreciate how much more there is to culture than we sometimes imagine. It’s really important that homestay families do their best to understand as much about their student’s culture as possible to help them adapt to life in New Zealand.
The Cultural Atlas is an Australian resource that has comprehensive information on a range of cultures, and could be a good starting point for families. Your institution may have other partnerships or resources that will support homestay families in better understanding their student’s culture. The Cultural Atlas is also useful for New Zealand families to critique their own culture and exercise self-awareness. What do they think of the description of New Zealand concepts, etiquette, and “dos and don’ts”?
How can you help families build intercultural competence?
Understanding and recognising cultural differences is one thing but being able to effectively communicate and have relationships with people from other cultures takes additional skills.
Intercultural competence is the ability to interact effectively and appropriately with people from different cultural backgrounds. It includes exercising humility, self-awareness, open-mindedness and readiness to attentively observe different cultural behaviours.
Being effective means that you achieve your goals, while being appropriate means to do it in a way that is respectful of other people’s values and beliefs. For example, if you are trying to sell a product in a different culture, you would demonstrate effectiveness if you manage to sell it but you would only practise appropriateness if you have adapted to sell it in a way that makes sense for the people of that particular culture.
The upcoming Intercultural models for education contexts topic has a simple survey that you could also give to homestay families to help them understand their current level of intercultural competence, as well as exercises that you could give them to help them improve their skills in this area.
How can you help families build intercultural communication skills?
Intercultural communication is one aspect of intercultural competence, meaning those who can effectively and appropriately communicate and interact with people whose culture is different to their own. Culture and language are closely intertwined, so miscommunications can result not only because of language barriers, but also because people’s cultural understanding of what they are saying may differ.
The SCORE communication model is a useful resource to share with homestay families to give them strategies for communicating well with their homestay students. This includes simple tips like keeping your sentences short and using your hands and gestures to reinforce what you’re saying. It also includes a self-assessment tool that families can use to measure their own intercultural communication competence and to track improvements through time.
What else should be in your homestay manual and training?
In addition to the quite broad and important topics like culture shock and intercultural competence, there are a number of other topics that your homestay manual and training could cover. These may include:
Other tips for supporting homestay families
A manual and training will help prepare host families to welcome their student and create a successful experience for both the student and family. Here are a few other things that you can do to help support host families:
Case studies: Common intercultural challenges
The following case studies describe situations that commonly occur in New Zealand homestays. You can use these in your training materials for homestay families. Have them read the case study and take time to think about how they would resolve the situation. This can be a useful exercise for families to do as a group, to compare and discuss perspectives and potential options.
Then read on to learn some actions that we suggest families think about. Note that these are only suggestions and they do not constitute an exhaustive list of all of the actions you might need to undertake, depending on the particular circumstances.
Rice with that?
You’ve been told that you do not need to prepare special meals for your international student from China, so you prepare her lunch including sandwiches, fruit and a muesli bar, just as you give to your own children. Your student has not commented or asked for anything different, but you notice that she almost never eats her sandwiches, sometimes not even touching them. She’s starving by dinner time.
You ask the student if she is happy with sandwiches and she says she is, but you aren’t sure she’s being honest.
How might you resolve this situation?
International students from some cultures are inclined to expect a hot meal of vegetables, meat and some form of carbohydrate (such as rice, noodles or pasta) for both lunch and dinner. For many Asian students, they prefer rice and are generally not used to eating a lot of bread. Sandwiches may not be considered sufficient for lunch.
Sometimes an Asian student will compare rice to meat and expect meat at all three meals. You may want to politely explain that bread in New Zealand is the equivalent to rice, not meat.
Leftovers are an easy way for the student to have a hot lunch as microwaves are available for students to use at school. You might also want to give her money to buy her lunch from time to time. Try taking the student to the supermarket to get her to help pick out foods she likes or have the student help make her own lunch so she is more likely to eat it.
When first greeting a student, ask the student what foods they enjoy. Of course, part of the experience of living and studying overseas involves adapting to new and different ways of doing things. This process can take time though, and many homestay students will appreciate – at least initially – eating meals that are similar to what they have been used to in their home country. Although you do not have to cook rice every day, your student will appreciate it if you serve rice occasionally.
There is also an intercultural communication issue here, because as New Zealanders, we are encouraged to express our opinions readily, whereas many cultures are more modest and reserved, preferring not to stand out or appear ‘confrontational’. Remember that in the beginning students may not always feel confident enough to ask for what they want.
To help the student understand such an important topic – enjoyable food – refer to the SCORE communication model to ensure that you are communicating clearly and to gauge the student’s comprehension.
Your international student arrived a month ago, and you’ve just received the biggest power bill you’ve ever had! You know that teenagers take long showers, but this student often spends a half hour in the shower in the mornings, while everyone else in the family is queuing up to use the one bathroom in the house.
Your student is having a hard time adjusting to New Zealand, and she clearly does not like confrontation. You don’t want to upset her further by asking her not to take such long showers.
How might you resolve this situation?
Of course, you don’t want to hurt the student’s feelings, but many international students simply don’t understand that electricity is expensive in New Zealand, and in some households water is limited and bathrooms need to be shared. You can, in a kind way, let the student know how long they can spend in the bathroom, and then knock on the door when the time is up. It is best to set an allocated time each day for the student to have their shower, either at night or in the morning, and make sure they keep to this schedule.
Checking in early with your student on expectations is a great way to avoid this kind of misunderstanding. Refer to the checklist earlier in this module for a list of questions that you could ask during the first week that your student is staying with you.
Other bathroom-related issues that you may need to address with your student include:
Use the Cultural Atlas tool for suggestions on approaching a tricky topic with a homestay student. Go to the Communication section for tips on how to ask a student about their preferences in a culturally appropriate way.
You have two young children, and since your homestay student came to stay with you, their behaviour has deteriorated. Your daughter is extra clingy to you now and won’t have anything to do with the student, while your son will not leave the student alone! You keep finding your son in the student’s bedroom, despite telling him not to go in there without the student’s permission.
How might you resolve this situation?
Having someone new come into any home alters the dynamics of the family. Each member of your family will have to adjust to the student and for some, this may take considerable effort and thought.
Young children may feel left out, especially at the start when your student will require a lot of your attention. You may need to explain to your children how difficult it is for someone to come to a new country with new people to meet and new customs to learn.
On the other hand, some families with young children find the student and the children bond very quickly. Students may find it difficult to ask the children to leave them alone for study or time out. You may need to have a quiet word with your children and help them understand that the student’s bedroom is private and they cannot go in without permission. Be sure to let your student know that it is okay for them to ask the children not to enter their room without knocking, and to ask them to leave if they do.
A matter of time
You’ve been really clear with your homestay student that your family eats dinner at 6:30 and you expect him to be home in time to all eat together. However, your student is continually late, even after you remind him several times to ensure he understands you. It doesn’t seem to be a miscommunication, but he just doesn’t seem to be taking you seriously.
You are getting increasingly frustrated, especially because it’s starting to rub off on your other children, who were always on time previously but now are often late too.
How might you resolve this situation?
Rather than the student actively disobeying your request, you might consider this could be the result of a conflict in cultural values. In many cultures, time is viewed more flexibly than it is in New Zealand. The student may not understand that their lateness is causing problems for you and the rest of the family.
Again, consult the Cultural Atlas Communication page to negotiate a tricky situation. Using cultural communication cues, try to communicate to the student that being late can be seen as impolite and inconsiderate in New Zealand, and if you are asked to be on time, it is generally expected that you will be. You could also make sure the student isn’t having any other logistical problems (e.g., with transport) that might affect his ability to make it home in time.
If these things don’t resolve the situation, reach out to your international office for advice. They may also be able to speak with the student and understand why the behaviour is continuing.
You have asked your homestay student to put their dirty clothes in a washing basket and have told her that you will do her laundry for her every weekend. It seemed to take the student a while to understand the process, but most of the time this seems to be working, except the student never includes her underwear. Instead, she waits for weeks and then washes it by hand, hanging the wet garments around her room.
You’ve told her that she doesn’t need to wash her own underwear, and that in New Zealand we wash everything together, but she’s still doing it and you’re not sure what sort of cultural misunderstanding is happening.
How might you resolve this situation?
Some homestay students may be very shy about having their homestay family wash their laundry, and in particular their underwear. Some students are used to underwear and outer garments (or women’s and men’s clothes) being washed separately.
Some students may feel more comfortable doing their own laundry. If this is the case, you should show her how to use the washing machine and where to dry her clothes. If you don’t want the student to hang wet clothes inside, ensure she understands this.
This is a great example of a situation where it may be clear that a cultural misunderstanding is occurring, but you don’t know how to uncover exactly what’s going on, and the student can’t explain it either. In such situations, talk with your international office, as they have likely seen a similar situation in the past and can help you resolve it.
This product has given practitioners suggestions and practical resources to help train and support homestay families. The case studies have provided a range of examples of what can go wrong when cultural misunderstandings occur, and how practitioners can help homestay families navigate such situations by better understanding their students’ cultural backgrounds.
Practitioners can use the resources in this module to create their own training and manual for homestay families, which will help to improve the homestay experience for everyone involved.
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