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YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Filtering by Tag: Parent resources

Doing Nothing is doing Something

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Even during their time away, you will have a great influence on your child’s exchange experience (positive and negative).  A big part of this influence is how you react to your child’s experience with their host family and their reactions to adjusting to another culture.

It is important to remember that your child is living with a family who has their own customs.  It is very likely that their rules and ways of doing things are different than in your household.  As discussed earlier in the “I never thought of it that way” blog post, there will be many things that your child will be getting used to. Your actions and reactions will influence their adjustment.  Let’s look at the three areas of which students say they felt the most pressure from home: communication, the wishing to visit, and the emotional support structure.

For more information on these topics and others, take time to read the Study Abroad Parent Handbook including the sections on “Preparing Your Child and Yourself” and “Appendix V” on Policies and Procedures.

COMMUNICATION WITH YOUR CHILD

Allow your child to set the amount of communication—which may require patience on your part.  This can be difficult when you want to know what is going on in their life.  Yet, the less you hear, the better things are most likely going.  Think about it - the more involved s/he is in making friends and participating in host family life, the less time your child will have communicating about it.  Let them be in the present.

In your communications with your child, be upbeat and ask questions about their activities and host family (even though you might not get answers quickly).  They may be feeling conflicted about  the choice  of going away from home for a year or semester,  so don’t use phrases that will increase that conflict like—how everyone wishes they were at a certain event.  Your child can’t be in two places at the same time, so encourage them to enjoy the choice they made and the opportunities that present themselves because of that choice.

VISITING YOUR CHILD

While your child is living in another country, it may seem like the perfect time to plan an overseas vacation.  It may be hard to imagine not seeing your child for a year or semester, and you want to see where you child is living.  While this may seem like a convenient opportunity for a trip, you are not doing your child a favor with such plans.

Dividing their attention between the host environment and the home environment is a challenging situation for any student; being confronted with both at the same time is a struggle that a number of students can’t deal with. It may cause homesickness and adjustment issues, sometimes to such a degree that students decide to follow their parents home rather than continue their exchange.

Please don’t put your child in a situation where they need to tell you that they would prefer for you not to visit but grant them this time on exchange as their own chance to grow up. The hosting community could be an excellent destination for the next family vacation after your child’s return as a lot of our students love to return for a visit and are then in a much better place to show of their second home.

If you decide you still absolutely want to visit your child on program, please be aware that YFU requires you to consult with your Support Service Manager before making any bookings. Travel plans will only be accepted at the end of the exchange program and when they don’t interfere with school attendance or host family plans.

BREAKING AWAY - Support System

A large part of your child’s success as an exchange student depends upon his/her willingness and ability to develop a support group in the host country. In order to do this, your child must be ready to break away from the support group that s/he has known and relied on his/her entire life. Likewise, the support group from home must allow your child some space. This will allow the host family and local Area Representative to develop a relationship with your child and be ready to take over the support role that you fill at home. If your child can build meaningful relationships with their support in country (i.e. host parents and Area Rep), s/he will have the necessary resources to succeed.

Attitude can make a difference when going into a new home; learning a new language; and developing a new support network with new friends and new coping skills.  Four things that YFU encourages in its students are sharing, respecting, learning and patience.  By promoting an attitude that encompasses these, you are promoting a successful experience for your child.

 

Learning through Challenges

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As your child begins to quickly realize that “culture” is more than just the food, buildings and art of a country, but it is something that will directly impact their day to day life, they start going through the stages of culture adjustment. Extensive research has been done on cross-cultural adjustment, resulting in a recognized cycle of adjustment which YFU students will experience. Being aware of this cycle may help you understand what your child is experiencing, and thus ultimately support them in a helpful manner.

Not everyone experiences all of the stages nor do they occur in any set order.Also, you might be surprised to know that your own family will also go through an cycle of adjustment without your child living at home for an extended period of time.

The first two stages of cultural adjustment are (1) the Honeymoon Stage and (2) Settling In Stage.  Both are pretty self-explanatory, but it is important for you to know that around the corner is stage three. Your family is likely to feel the difference in your household a lot sooner, and jump to more of a shock adjustment process. Your family might feel as if your child or sibling has forgotten about home.

Stage 3: Culture Shock - 

The name “shock” is a misnomer, in reality cultural shock builds up over time.  This is a stage of fatigue and frustration related to cultural differences reflected as homesickness.  This is very normal.  Sometimes there is a rejection of the culture (“The way we do it in my country is better”), isolation from the host culture, more seeking out of friends of the same nationality, and the “I’m tired of trying” mentality.

As parents it is particularly hard to watch this stage so keep in mind:

  • Culture shock is a normal psychological reaction that nearly all international travelers go through - some in mild or others in extreme form.

  • Symptoms can include depression, difficulty sleeping, homesickness, trouble concentrating, an urge to isolate oneself, loss of appetite, and irritation with the host culture.

  • Moving beyond this stage is dependent on them (on their choices) no matter how much you, as parents, want to fix the problem.

  • At National Pre-Departure Orientation we will be discussing the many choices and efforts they can make to get over culture shock. Encourage them by asking what they think they can do.

During these three stages, it is important to remember that as parents you are also a product of your cultures. As your teenager is experiencing another culture, you are too, through your child’s lenses.  You may learn that they no longer have a curfew, they take public transportation all the time, they eat dinner at 8pm at night, or they spend all their money on coffee.  This may not sit well with you, but it’s important to allow them toadjust to those cultural expectations, listen to their host parents, follow host family rules and feel comfortable without being judged.  Remember that you have taught them values and what is important.

Your teenager will be experiencing a dramatic move and an adjustment process that is actually fairly predictable: The excitement of arriving will wear off and life in a different country will become more routine. Learning to speak the language more fluently and making friends will demand a lot of your teenager. Don't expect every moment to be happy or pleas­ant, but be confident that your son or daughter will manage to get along in the new and different environment.

A good way to work through your and your child's emotions is to understand one another's feelings and expectations before the exchange. Discussing in advance ways to handle moments of homesickness and how you might impact (reduce or reinforce) their experience.

What are your expectations for Communication with your teenager while they are overseas?  How will this help your child adjust?  How will this help you adjust?