Photo: Noor hikes through a forest in the Pacific Northwest with her host family.
By Noor Alaali (YES 2017–2018, Bahrain, placed by AYUSA in Buckley, WA)
Adjusting to life in a new family can be a student’s greatest challenge in an exchange program experience. Deciding to leave your home, friends, school, and family at a young age to go to a new country with a different culture, lifestyle, and even language is a very brave decision for a teenager to make. Although it is the most eye-opening and fruitful experience, there are still many challenges that a student can face when adjusting to a new host family. Host families play a major role in the exchange experience because the student will become a new member of the family for a year.
In my case, I had to adjust to more than three host families. In my first placement, my host mother was a single mother with married children who live in a different city. During my pre-departure orientation, I remembered that one of the instructors said, "Have zero expectations and you will never be disappointed." I started my exchange year with this mindset, and I was able to be very flexible. Having no expectations helped me to be grateful for everything that I received and made me view every situation as a learning opportunity.
I had to move from my first host family when a major hurricane hit Texas; the rest of my host mother’s family had to move in since their homes were affected. I was a little sad to move out because I was just getting used to my new school and city, but I saw it as a learning opportunity. I moved to my second home in a small town in Texas called Friona. This time, the host family was much larger with a young couple and children.
Photo: Noor and her friends and classmates at a goodbye gathering at the end of her exchange year.
It was a major change that I had to adapt to, but I have always tried to step out of my comfort zone by getting to know my host parents. Constantly talking to my host parents helped me learn more about them. For example, I realized that my host dad loves card games like me, so we always played together. Keeping the line of communication open also allowed me to understand the house rules and avoid misunderstandings. For example, I always asked my host mother for permission before choosing a movie to watch with my young host siblings.
The second important thing that helped me adjust well to my host families was keeping in touch with my coordinator and placement organization. It was always comforting to know that I had someone looking after me. My placement organization’s team was very supportive and always wanted to check on me. Knowing that I had this support helped me realize that I could overcome any challenge that I might have faced during my exchange year.
To sum up, the things that helped me adjust well during my exchange year were having the right mindset, being flexible, and communicating frequently with my host family.