The key to a student having a fantastic, enriching study-abroad experience is embracing all the new experiences and the culture that their new city has to offer. Missing their hometown and pining for the comforts of home (homesickness) can prevent them from fully embracing their study abroad opportunities.
As their host family, you can have a huge impact on their happiness and help them through homesickness, so that they can embrace their stay. Here’s how:
1. Give them a little time to miss home
A day or so of feeling homesick is natural; for many students this is their first ‘big’ time away from home. Allow them to embrace their feelings in their own space for a day or two (perhaps provide ice cream or offer to rent their favorite movie?) and give them the much-needed chance to process and deal with their feelings. They’ll be up and excited again as soon as they get used to the idea of being away, and see it for the adventure that it is.
2. Establish a routine
Setting up a weekly schedule and helping your student plan their routine can help them feel ‘at home’ and established much quicker, while a lack of routine can leave them feeling lost and, you’ve guessed it, prone to homesickness. Make a habit of going out for Sunday morning coffee or make Tuesday movie nights a thing.
3. Dine together
Sitting down around the dinner table together as a family is a sacred experience across the world. There’s nothing quite like sharing stories, cracking jokes and catching up with the day’s events over a steaming pile of ‘Grandma’s secret recipe’ pasta to create a sense of belonging. For more ideas about planning mealtimes together, read our go-to meals for sharing your dinners with students.
4. Encourage them to keep in touch
Hand over the password to your WiFi and remind them to Skype their parents or FaceTime their friends on the regular. Keeping in contact with everyone they love from home ensures they still feel connected to home and the goings-on of their old life, meaning they are less likely to suffer from FOMO – also known as ‘Fear of Missing Out’ – which can trigger homesickness.
5. Share your culture
Involve your students in your family traditions, as well as the classic experiences or cultural traditions associated with your home country. This can help them connect quickly with their new environment and vanquish feelings of being an outsider, as well as helping to give them the most enriching study abroad experience they could have.
6. …and embrace theirs
Encourage the cultural exchange to go two ways; the newest member of your household might have plenty to learn about your country, but you too could be fascinated to learn about theirs. Keep them connected to their roots to side-step homesickness by allowing your students to cook their own traditional cuisine with you or to share their personal favorite treats from home with you. Often international supermarkets are never too far away; a little research to find one and the offer of taking them shopping is a simple but powerful gesture.
7. Keep them busy
Boredom is a key trigger of homesickness, especially in the early days of a student’s time abroad. So, while they’re still building up a circle of friends to socialize with, plan lots of activities to keep the student you’re hosting busy. Taking them to explore your town can help them orientate themselves and help them settle in sooner, and you’ll watch them grow in confidence as they feel ready to become more independent and comfortable striking out with their new classmates. The trick is keeping their minds from thinking about home, as the more free time they have to think, the more chance they’ve got to miss it!