Being a host parent requires you to draw on a lot of skills and life experience. Amongst other, you have to be a role model, a good listener, and often the taxi driver. Key skills & characteristics you draw on everyday include patience, open communication, understanding, kindness, flexibility, even more patience and essentially, a sense of humour 🙂

Whether you’re a first time host parent, or you have been hosting for many years, there are always times that you might like the support of others, your local coordinator, the AFS/EIL Office in Cork, or from other organisations. So here are some ideas, resources & advice for when you are out of your comfort zone and need additional support.

Culture Shock

Cultural Shock / Homesickness – “Different from what I expected”

In advance of the secondary school programme participants often have many pre-conceived ideas about what their experience, new culture and host family will be like. In some cases people are on the right track, but in most cases people find that things can be “different from what I expected”. It is important to realise what is happening to them and that it isn’t uncommon for people in new surroundings to have some of these feelings. More important is to do something to help relieve these feelings.

It is not a case of the reality not living up to the expectation, more simply that the experience is different to what they anticipated.
All participants anxious to engage in new culture will experience some kind of culture shock, no matter how short their programme. One of the main ways that culture shock expresses itself is through homesickness. This may start at the airport, or whilst on the flight, or during the first few days / weeks. Sometimes it can strike several months after leaving home. Whenever the feelings of homesickness strike, it is important for them to remember that they are not alone.

Culture shock occurs when they impose their values and expectations onto the new culture, and consequently have difficulty adjusting.

Culture shock can manifest itself in many ways:

          • Homesickness
          • Frustration
          • Stereotyping
          • Illness
          • Re-emergence of emotional issues, concern for safety
          • Negative statements & thoughts irritability
          • Changes in eating / sleeping habits, social withdrawal
          • Crying
          • Boredom

They will not wake up some morning and say, “I feel homesick today”. They will wake up and feel tired, unmotivated, perhaps thinking about home a lot and frustrated at their new surroundings. Some people have the classic symptoms of homesickness like crying or difficulty sleeping. Others may have more subtle changes in their behaviour, which over time can make them difficult to be around. There will be people and events at home that will trigger homesickness, missing birthdays etc. Everyone suffers from homesickness, no matter their age or previous travel experience.

Simple strategies for dealing with culture shock 

          • Be prepared: they are likely to encounter culture shock and most likely feel homesick
          • Avoid telephoning home – they will feel wretched afterwards
          • Keep busy and try to get involved in the community
          • Be flexible and open to new ways of doing things
          • Allow them time to settle in – get them to talk about how they are feeling
          • Do not allow them to spend too much time by themselves
          • Do not judge them too quickly
          • Take things step by step

Some other symptoms of culture shock: 

          • Becoming more shy and quiet
          • Becoming more rowdy or doing things that they normally wouldn’t do
          • Withdrawing and feeling sad
          • Feeling frustrated often, even in situations which are not new
          • Becoming very critical of their host country; everything seems better at home
          • Clinging to a host family member or friend instead of reaching out to others
          • Feeling tired or ill all the time; stomach aches or headaches are common.

Over time, things will get better, and the host family is usually the key to success in getting over these hurdles. Sometimes age is not a factor. 14 year olds are as easily effected by culture shock and homesick as an 18 year old. It just takes time, support and understanding to help get them through the difficult days. If you are very concerned, always let your coordinator know.

Hosting LGBT Students

LGBT  – Diversity in Ireland

With an openly gay Taoiseach and same-sex marriage law, Ireland has now grown to be an open place in comparison to the country of a generation ago. Irish schools have changed too, welcoming more  and more students from all over the world. We are part of this growth, creating greater diversity in the classroom, exchanging of cultures and adding to the education of all students. LGBT students are also becoming a more visible group in Irish schools, with growing resources available to support them coming out and thriving in school.

Similarly, over the years AFS/EIL host families have welcomed about 200 LGBT students into their homes – these experiences have been as successful and as positive as any homestay experience. “They made me feel loved and welcome. Leaving them was the hardest part of the exchange”, Eva, 2016.

We understand that a host family who doesn’t have an LGBT person in their close family or friends circle may like to receive some support or guidance on hosting an LGBT student for the first time. Your AFS/EIL Local Coordinator will be happy to sit and chat with you, support can be provided from AFS/EIL Head Office in Cork or take a look through the below resources for further information.

Being gay is Ok : Advice for Parents & Friends – BGIOK is a UK-based non-profit project run entirely by volunteers from the LGBT support charity.

A Guide for Friends & Family  – FFLAG  is a volunteer charity in the UK for Families and Friends of Lesbians & Gays – FFLAG is dedicated to supporting parents, families and their gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans loved ones.

LGBT Students & Schools –  10 Things to know about LGBT students & 5 things to support them in schools – GLEN are an Irish charity based in Dublin – It’s a NGO which aims to deliver ambitious and positive change for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people in Ireland, ensuring full equality, inclusion and protection from all forms of discrimination.

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