Two weeks into my home stay in Japan, I came home five minutes late.
To myself — an independent young American woman who has never had a curfew — this was par for the course. To my host family — a traditional, middle-aged couple — my little bout of tardiness was enough to convince them that I had potentially been robbed, kidnapped, or hurt.
I found their complaints against me overly protective and paternal. They had never had children and didn’t understand that I was an adult. They said I wasn’t respecting their culture and the rules of their house. Coming home even a minute late implied that I didn’t value their time.
Every home stay is different, depending on the people involved, the knowledge each side has of the other’s culture, and each side’s level of experience with home stays.
If you’re having a problem with your host family, confront yourself first and evaluate the situation before talking to them. Are your expectations realistic? Have you given yourself time to settle in before making any judgments about your home stay? Have you made every effort possible to become part of your host family, whether that be by conversing with them, helping out with housework, and/or spending time with them?
Maybe, like me, you didn’t even get the chance to think about the problem before your host family confronted you. In this case…
1. Stay calm.
As hard as it may be hear about your faults or some faux pas you unknowingly committed, try to keep a level head. If you were in their shoes, would you be upset? Even if you think they are completely wrong to be angry at you, try to imagine the situation from their perspective and keep an open mind.
2.Talk about it.
Ask them about what they are feeling and why. Then, give your own perspective. Figure out where the problem is, whether it be a cultural misunderstanding or confusion relating to a foreign language.
Apologize for hurting them, and ask what you can do in the future to help solve the problem. Ask them to understand your point of view, and reinforce that adjusting to a different way of life is difficult for you. If you feel there’s something your host family could do to help you fit in better, ask them for help.
4. Fight it out their way.
Speak their language, and adhere to their culture’s social practices. Your host family will see that you are trying to fit in with them, and they’ll go easier on you.
5. Nip it in the bud.
Don’t let a problem fester, or else a simple misunderstanding could turn into a larger, more toxic issue. A friend of mine was having issues with her home stay, but was too afraid of talking about it with them. She didn’t want to be ungrateful and believed her host family would look down upon her.
Instead, her problems with them snowballed, and her relationship with her host mother became incredibly passive-aggressive. Eventually her host mother blew up at her in what was a very painful, personal exchange.
6. Don’t withdraw.
As enticing as it may be to run off to your room and lock the doors, it will only make you homesick or depressed. When a fight is over and there is nothing left to say, let it go. Spend some time with your host family in a happy, pleasurable way that you can all enjoy. Play a game, watch a movie, or talk about something funny or happy.
7. Try to make it up to them.
Do extra chores around the house, offer to make dinner one night, or bring home a little token of appreciation for your host family. Let your host family know you’ve put the fight behind you and that you respect them.
Misunderstandings are bound to happen during a home stay, but if problems are confronted early and handled respectfully, a compromise can be found that gives both you and your host family a deeper understanding of each other’s culture.
In my case, the confrontation with my host family led to me learning about the importance of punctuality in Japanese culture, and in turn they realized that I was an adult and could be trusted.
Just as an argument doesn’t make your parents love you any less, an argument with your host family doesn’t mean the end of your relationship. In fact, I found the mutual respect that resulted from our initial disagreement paved the way for a close, loving relationship that still continues a year later.