In less than 24 hours, Ana, our new exchange student from Brazil, will be here. When Chuck and I first got Joop, we were a little naïve and didn’t know what we were getting into. By now, we’ve got more of a handle on things, but teens always find a way to throw you for a loop. Initially, we believed there were some rules we thought were kind of stupid, but have since decided were pretty amazing ideas. Some, we still think are stupid.…
The biggest rule we allowed Joop to break ended up being the rule that he wished he had been given. He says it’s one of his biggest regrets for the year.
Most exchange agencies suggest that you don’t allow your student to call home more than once a week and that they don’t talk to friends at home. As millennials, Chuck and I didn’t understand how this would even work with social media and technology.
To remove the temptation to call home more often, the agencies suggest that tech usage is strongly monitored and that phones, iPads, etc., are confiscated at night. At first, this seemed really strict! I mean, I get monitoring your kid's internet, but keeping them off social media, or preventing them from calling their significant other, or Snapchatting with friend groups, and then removing all tech from their rooms at night seemed mean.
Now that I’ve been doing this for a couple of years, I realize the wisdom behind this rule, which has less to do with internet safety than it does with helping the students acclimate faster to the American culture. As my community rep, Amy Ovalle, says, you can’t fully integrate into American culture if your mind is back at home. One of the biggest problems early on with exchange students is them staying up most of the night talking to friends and family back home.
I had no problem at first with Joop talking to his Dutch then-girlfriend almost every day. And often every day. But it wasn’t till after they broke up and he was no longer calling home all the time that his year here took off. He started football, made friends at the local school, felt better about America, and all around got better acclimated to American culture.
He now says he wishes he had tried to get into American culture more quickly and that he had spent less time talking with people back home. So I decided that the next time we had a student, I’d take their phone and not let them call home.
Because Leonie was sick, I never took her phone. Though I fear I still should have taken it. I’m not sure how much time she spent talking with people back home, adding to her mono with extreme homesickness. I fear the homesickness may have made the mono worse, and lying in bed texting her boyfriend may have been part of what reset her equilibrium to horizontal, so that whenever she stood up she’d get dizzy.
Our third teen was an American student, and she wasn’t allowed to have social media or her own technology. And the quick ease that she fit in with us proved my point. I know she was an American, but without access to social media or friends from home, she had to talk with us. She had to make friends here. So when Ana comes, her phone will be mine at night. And lucky for her, she doesn’t have a boyfriend back at home either.
Side note: I know this seems harsh, but exchange students, just break it off with your boyfriend or girlfriend at home. Otherwise, your heart will always be back home, and you won’t get the most out of your year. Live fully in the moment in America. In 10 months, you’ll go back home, so don’t waste a moment of it.
Smart phones and social media can quickly rob an exchange student of their time here. Most, almost all, of the students who come really do want to get into the American culture. They are here to become bicultural. As a social-media-loving, tech-savvy millennial, I know the near addictive draw of it all. I’m an ambitious, self-retrained 34-year-old woman, and I have a hard time putting my phone down, quite often. I know I shouldn’t be on my phone just before bed because it disrupts sleep patterns, but so often I find myself scrolling through Instagram or playing some mindless game 30 minutes after I should be asleep.
If I was 16, living in a new country, and homesick with the means to talk to those I miss the most in my hands 24/7, you bet I’d use it. Even if I knew it wasn’t good for me.
Some rules will still be bent, but this one will be strictly enforced this year. Y’all didn’t really believe I’d follow the letter of every single rule? Nah....
I live in Athens, Georgia, with my son, my husband, and an ever-revolving list of exchange students, who are a never-ending source of entertainment and writing material.