International exchange student stages: Pre-departure anxiety
When a family opens their home and hearts to a youth in an international exchange program, there are many stages the student and family will experience. This article will focus on the pre-departure anxiety.
Many Michigan families participate in the 4-H International Exchange Programs. These include year-long inbound and one-month summer inbound exchange programs. The States’ 4-H International Exchange Program has a mission since 1972 of “Enhancing world understanding and global citizenship through high-quality 4-H international cultural immersion and exchange programs for 4-H aged youth.” Youth are learning about the cultures, customs and lifestyles of Americans by living with host families through a home-stay program. These international youth exchange programs promote cross-cultural understanding through the development of personal relationships between members of different countries and cultures.
When a family opens their home and hearts to a youth in an international exchange program, there are many stages the student and family will experience. Since it is that time of year when current international year-long students are within six weeks of going back to their home countries, this article will focus on the pre-departure anxiety stage.
For some students that are well-matched with their families and have become a part of that family, the idea of leaving their families, friends and the community they have become a part of is very difficult or almost impossible to bear. The international students have insightful knowledge of how much they have changed and are concerned about returning home. During this time a student may find themselves in a state of some confusion, as things might feel like, “I am anxious to go home, but I do not want to leave.” Friends and family members may find their international student has become moody, depressed or short-tempered.
The first step is to understand the pre-departure stage feelings and for everyone to share those feelings. A few other common pre-departure feelings may include student defensiveness, sadness, mood swings and withdrawal. Recognizing some of these symptoms or pre-departure anxieties and discussing them openly will decrease any hurt feelings.
These are natural pre-departure anxieties and by recognizing them, they can be addressed in a positive way. Here are a few simple tips to keep your mind occupied and spirit high if you or your international exchange student find your mood to be “in the dumps.”
- Share feelings, fears and reflect upon special moments with family and friends.
- Plan fun and creative ways to show appreciation to those that made the exchange impactful.
- Plan for a farewell day as a family that can be as simple as a special dinner or as elaborate as a festive community “farewell” party.
- Continue to be active and keep your mind occupied; keep healthy, uplifting spirits rather than down ones.
- Make sure to continue the lifelong friendships made through various forms including social media, mailings and, if possible, in-person contact.
The book “Host Family Survival Kit” by Nancy King and Ken Huff states that although sadness and tension should not be dismissed or minimized, the pre-departure stage is not negative. The departure can be a time to put a wonderful ending to an overall rewarding experience for everyone involved.
Michigan 4-H is currently recruiting host families 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.