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Quick Guide to Overcoming Cultural Differences when Hosting an International Student?

Overcoming cultural differences

South Africa is commonly known as “the rainbow nation” because of its wide range of cultural diversities. This is engrained in the way it’s people think, as well in its climate and geography. However, today we will focus specifically on Cape Town. With its magnificent beaches and relaxed ambience everyone who visits will leave with a sense of happiness and adventure.

This is one of the very important reasons why we chose Cape Town as one of the destinations for our students to travel to.  Learning a new language while being in a welcoming environment with a host family. However, on the other hand, it is necessary to point out when any human being meets another, there are bound to be cultural and racial differences which could bring some issues when human beings from different countries interact with one another.   It is of the utmost importance to ease those cultural barriers as much as possible as it can block a student’s learning process due to a lack of communication between the two parties.

Ways to ease the cultural differences between students and host families:

1.Homestay Teachers should personalise English courses

Teachers can come up with a lesson that focuses on the similarities not the differences between the South African culture and your student’s culture.

This will help with the process of understanding one another on a daily basis.  Its good to talk!

2. Always keep in mind that each country has its own particular way to express their thoughts and feelings.

For instance, people in South Africa express how they feel in a very open and expressive way while your student’s culture may not be as open and could be  discreet about the way they feel on certain subjects. It is my thinking that the way to resolve this issue is for both parties to understand this fact and not feel offended if one party it is not inclined to talk about their feelings and for the host family not to feel intimidated if the student expresses himself or herself in an open fashion.  Rule of Thumb here is definitely not to force anyone on either side to talk about things which could be sensitive or embarrassing. 

3. Social Behaviour

Now, let’s expand on this issue. For instance, it is your students first night staying at your home, and it is dinner time. He or she cannot eat any more and leaves some food on their plate. Now, your student does not know that you may feel insulted that he did not want to eat anymore. So, the way to resolve this issue is for you as the host not to feel insulted and take into account that your student comes from a different culture than yours where it is not an insult if a person happens not to eat all of the food that is on their plate. After all, maybe they have a smaller appetite and you could ease any potential tensions by asking everyone to simply help themselves to as much or as little food as they wish!  Here it is another example: it is the first time that you meet your student, and you extend your hand to shake his or hers, but your student just smiles and does not shake your hand. The solution to this issue is the same as I mentioned previously, it is to take into account that your student comes from a different way of life and culture, so therefore you should not feel insulted because of your student’s reaction, and understand that it is somewhat overwhelming for a young person to come to a foreign country without their family or friends.  Even if they don’t want to shake your hand – a smile does work wonders and are always given freely!

4. Culinary differences

Now, this is a big issue. As we all know food is of utmost importance within the South African culture. Let’s establish another scenario; your student is from Japan and on the first night together, he or she does not seem to try any of the food that you cooked. The solution to this conundrum is for you to ask him or her if there is an issue with the food or if there is something that he or she would rather eat instead. Maybe it is something as simple as a dietary issue. So, please try to remember always to compromise and find the solution that works for you and your student. Chat to them beforehand and ask if there is anything they don’t like; would prefer not to eat or cant eat for religious reasons.  This will make your students stay far less overwhelming, and it will make it a very enjoyable stay.

5. Etiquette

Here it is another scenario; your student is from Mexico, and when he arrived at your home, he was quite tired and wanted to take a nap. It is dinner time, and you told your student the time when the dinner is going to take place.  You are all sitting waiting for the new student to take his/her place. He or she does not arrive on time. Now, “being on time”, is not a priority when talking about Mexican culture. Nor it is of importance for your student to ask what kind of clothes should he or she wear for dinner time. The solution is again for you to have an honest conversation with your student and explain that it is important for him or her to be on time, and that it is very important to you for him or her to try to achieve this.   At the least, if they cant make it, ensure they have the courtesy to let you know.

And so at the end, it boils down to communicating in a clear and concise way. I believe that for your student it will be not only about learning a new language but learning about a new culture that he or she is not familiar with. If you can keep all of this points in mind, then you will have a friendship that will last a lifetime.

Happy Hosting!

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