International exchange student stages: Departure anxiety

There are many stages in an international exchange program that the student and family will experience. This article focuses on the anxiety the student and family will experience just before departure.

2011 Poland 4-H Michigan inbound departure day.
2011 Poland 4-H Michigan inbound departure day.

The Michigan State University Extension article, “International exchange student stages: Pre-departure anxiety,” posted April 1, 2015, provided information on the pre-departure stage in hosting an international student. This article will focus on the actual departure anxiety stage that international students and their families may experience. Many Michigan families participating in the States’ 4-H International Exchange program will be sending their students home within the next few weeks or shortly after high school graduation ceremonies.

During the pre-departure anxiety stage, friends and family members may find their international student has become moody, depressed or short-tempered. The sharing of feelings from everyone is the first step in addressing the pre-departure anxiety. Recognizing some of the pre-departure anxieties and discussing them openly will decrease any hurt feelings; furthermore, it will make the next stage of departure anxiety less stressful.

By addressing and recognizing these natural pre-departure and departure anxieties, they can be addressed in a positive way. The book “Host Family Survival Kit” by Nancy King and Ken Huff states that frequently, family members find themselves vacillating between feelings of loss and gain. A solid friendship has been established (gained) that will endure despite separation; also recognized is the experience of lifestyle sharing will end (loss). The departure anxiety has been described by some seasoned host families to be like one of their natural children going away to college or getting married.

Here are a few simple tips to prepare for the departure that will lessen some of the anxiety:

  • Accept feelings of loss and “let go.”
  • Reflect upon the homestay experience.
  • Say thank you and goodbye to everyone that made the exchange memorable in person, group farewell, special note, small gift or even a “thank you” to be published in the local media.
  • Continue the lifelong friendships.
  • Prepare for reverse culture shock.

Overall, understand that a life changing experience has been completed for the international student, host family and connected community. The experience can be shared and reflected upon with those unable to host or travel abroad.

Michigan 4-H is currently recruiting host families for the 2015-2016 academic school year and one-month summer stay exchanges that are interested in opening their home and hearts to international youth. The Michigan 4-H International Exchange Programs website contains information on this life-changing experience. There is also a Facebook page you can check out. Contact your local 4-H program coordinator and fill out the Host Family Application to get started.

Other global educational opportunities can also be found on the Michigan State University Extension Global and Cultural Education website. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension county office.

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