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Friday, February 10, 2006

I am having a difficult time communicating with my students... 

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“Dear Ai,
I am a caucasian Canadian born homestay parent and have two Korean students ages, 15 and 16. I am having a difficult time communicating with them.

In the last five years we have had a number of Japanese and Chinese students and have been able to establish fairly close relationships with them. They learned to trust my wife and I and, with time, came to see us as almost parents to them. Since they have left our house they stay in touch with emails and send photos. We do not try and do not expect to have parent/child relationships with all our students, but if it happens, as it has in the past, it can be a rewarding and fun thing.

In the case of our Korean students, however, we can't seem to get to first base. They are polite and courteous but very distant, even though they have been with us for more than a year. Also, all of their friends are Korean which means that for their entire stay in Canada, so far, they have not allowed themselves to connect with non-Korean culture.

Let me be perfectly clear; if the situation is satisfactory to them then so be it. I would just like them feel comfortable if they decide to explore a little bit of North American culture.

Any suggestion?” Matthew - Canada

“Hi Matthew,

Thank you very much for your question. It is very common among homestay families that some nationalities would match better than others. Japanese students are seen as polite, tidy and curious and many homestay families actually request to their referring schools or agents that they would like to host only Japanese female students because of the above prejudice.

I hear from homestay families from time to time that they are surprised how different these students are even though they are coming from the same culture. For example, I used to stay with a Portuguese family and they had accepted many Japanese students in the past aged 15 to 30’s. They were surprised to see me having a glass of red wine during dinner time because none of the other students had ever said yes to the offer. They had thought Japanese people (especially women) don’t drink!! I am not a huge drinker, but I accepted my homestay’s culture and life style, and now it is part of me.

Sad, but it has occasionally happened that homestay families compare their current students with their past students. Do not assume your current students will behave in a certain way because of your experience with former students. Please treat your students as individuals. They each are brought up by different cultures, and different families within those cultures just like a family from Vancouver may have some differences compared to a family from Newfoundland or Whitehorse.

Looks like your students are having a great time with you and your family since they have been staying at your house for almost one year. Many students move out from their family quickly if they feel uncomfortable, so in your case, they like your family. One of the reasons you may feel distant from them is that they are teenagers. You might think it is because of cultural reasons, but if you think about your own child, haven’t you sometimes felt the same way? Around their age, they don’t like to be controlled and they try to seek and form their own identity. As teenagers, they are naturally going through many changes physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and they are doing so in a foreign country without anything or anyone familiar around them. Another possible reason for their distant attitude is probably they miss their families and friends in Korea. And if both of them are living in your house, they will speak Korean and hang out with Korean friends to fill in their missing parts. But once they are comfortable being independent, they start looking for new friends, new environments, and accept Canadian culture. At this time, they really need your support. Please be patient with them, even if it takes a year.

As you said, being a homestay is a wonderful and fun experience once you develop a parent and child relationship with them. So how can you feel more close to these students? Put yourself in their shoes. If you were them, wouldn’t you like your homestay family to be interested in your culture? Ask them what their favorite meal back home in Korea is, find a recipe for it and cook it for them, or take them to the Korean festival when it comes up this year, and let them show you their culture. Or take a “night school in a day class” to pick up some simple Korean greetings. Making the effort to share some things like this could go a long way in making your relationship closer. And tell them they are like your real family and you would like to know more about them. They will understand you. Good luck to you!”


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