The ease with which we can communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime using smart phones and other personal electronic devices is remarkable. Friendship, business, education, even romance, are all open to new opportunity that was unimaginable to most people just a generation ago. Today I am able to say goodnight to my children face to face and show them real-time video of where I’m staying when I travel away from home. Friends scattered throughout the world are literally just a click away when we wish to reconnect. Never has communication been more convenient.
The ability to bring friends and family with us in our back pocket wherever we go presents a new challenge for homestay participants. It is now possible to instantly retreat from the stress of a cross-cultural homestay into the comfort of friends and family back home. No plane, train or automobile is required -- just a smart phone. In our experience with homestay students at Sojourn.Life we’ve learned that this technological crutch can isolate participants within their familiar virtual world and send them into a downward cycle of homesickness. That’s why we no longer allow participants to bring personal electronic devices to our homestay programs (homestay families can allow participants to use personal electronic devices in their homes; however, students may not bring their own personal device).
This decision was made because we’ve learned that encouraging children and teenagers to be fully engaged in their new environment is the most humane way to pull them through homesickness. Long, tear-filled conversations, and constant communication with loved ones back home prolongs and aggravates the stress of crossing culture. On the flip side, embracing the many opportunities to learn and experience new things offered in an adventure abroad quickly helps participants to overcome the anxiety associated with leaving home. It also helps them to quickly overcome any language barrier that exists and language learning is often the main reason people choose to participate in a homestay program. Years of experience has shown us that one phone call per week with mom and dad is just right for a homestay student.
The topic of encouraging homestay participants to be fully present with their host families also leads to a question for families: Is the family fully engaged? As a host family will you choose to retreat into your virtual world or to spend quality time with the new member of your family? Retreat is easier, especially when your guest is in the process of learning a new language and communication is labored. But it’s rewarding to press through those difficulties and watch as your homestay student’s eyes are opened to a new world.
Everyone involved in cultural exchange is best served by putting away the things that distract us from the individuals sitting beside us. Play a game. Go for a walk. Cook a meal together. Do fun activities that encourage communication and you’ll be much less likely to have a homesick homestay student.
Xue making tea with her homestay sister during the Winter 2016 Sojourn.Life Homestay Program.
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