By Ellie Bucciarelli: Greenheart Exchange High School Programs Student Counselor
Your journey has begun! You have started a new chapter that will be like no other. We hope host families and participants are settling into their new routines. For some, this may be your first experience with an exchange program. For others, while you may not be new to exchange, each year offers unique experiences, growth and special memories. The first month of the exchange can be so exciting: meeting new people, trying new foods and seeing new places. Yet it can also come with challenges such as homesickness, student’s English not being as strong as expected and cultural differences. You all took a huge step making this commitment for the upcoming year. Sometimes Host Families and students have big expectations for how they feel the program should go. My best advice is to leave those expectations alone and focus on the here and now.
Many people say the first month of the program is the “honeymoon” stage. Both Host Families and the student are starting to develop a relationship and all is new and exciting. Usually there is a lot of activity. To help with the transition into starting school and a normal daily routine, it’s helpful to keep communication open from the start. Talking about house rules, expectations and routines will set guidelines for the year. Putting them in writing helps for referral later in case something is forgotten. The first few days can be a blur. For students, ask questions if something is not covered and communicate any concerns or challenges you may have to your Local Coordinator or Host Family. Try to avoid calling back home too much. It actually increases homesickness and makes it tough to adjust. If you feel you need additional support beyond your Local Coordinator, you can reach out to your Regional Director or your Student Support person (Ellie Bucciarelli or Karen Hilgefort).
Everyone’s lifestyle will change on this journey. For some Host Families, it may be your first time with a teenager in the house. For other families, it may be a new year with a new student or another teen getting engaged in activities. Coordinating meals, organizing rides for students and adjusting the family schedule can take work and some getting used to each year. For students you may love your new home and family, but still miss the familiarities of home, have to adjust to very little to no public transportation and different foods. It can be overwhelming at times and that’s okay. It’s all part of figuring out how to navigate new challenges and along with that comes growth and independence.
This is a transition period for both the Host Family and Student; so be kind to one another during challenges and patient with yourself.