Hosting Chinese exchange teachers and students in our homes and schools

  1. What are some things that our host families need to know to help our exchange students and teachers feel at home?

Remember that their guests may be in jet lag when they arrive and that it may take several days for their sleeping and eating schedules to adjust. (There is a 12-hour difference between the U.S. and China.) Americans might notice that Chinese visitors are struck by the blue sky, green yards, the individual homes, and the small number of people compared with their neighborhoods. Although they have read about American diversity and seen television programs about it, they are often surprised by it and cannot really imagine living among such a mix of people of different ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds. They will find themselves experiencing different tastes, sounds, and smells, which will quickly become familiar.

Families will want to offer a warm welcome and introduce their guests to all family members and pets, and to the home and its facilities. Fewer families in China have pets, so it may take time and encouragement for your guest to feel comfortable. While giving a tour of your home, show them where to store their clothes and how to use the shower. Remind them that toilet paper goes into the toilet, but not sanitary napkins. (In China, toilet paper goes into a trashcan beside the toilet.) Be specific about what computers or other equipment they are welcome to use and when.

Provide hot meals together as a family. Be specific about what snacks are there for them to eat. Certainly at first, they will not be comfortable going into your refrigerator or pantry to help themselves, even if you invite them to.

Explain the family routines and welcome them to be a part of the activities. Explain that everyone in the family helps with chores, and invite them to be a part of the family by helping out. For example: show them how to rinse the dishes and put them into the dishwasher, take out the trash, or walk the dog. Also, when they go out, ask them to let you know where they will be, and how and when they will return. They will be pleased that you care, just like their own parents. Expect the students to follow the same rules you expect of your own children.

Show them around the neighborhood and introduce them to friends and neighbors. Show them the way to pubic transportation, to school, and to nearby shops. Give them a house key, so that they can feel independent in coming and going. Give them your telephone numbers and a spare cell phone, if you have one.

Schedule a regular time for host parents to check-in, share stories, and help solve any problems that may have come up. They will appreciate the support.

  1. What will our Chinese guests like to eat while they are here?

All will enjoy hot meals heavier on vegetables and lighter on meat/dairy. Our Chinese guests are used to small pieces of meat easily eaten with chopsticks and often are not sure what to do with a large piece of meat. Rice and noodles are popular. Soups are a good bet. Orange juice, eggs and toast or hot cereal are welcome for breakfast. All will appreciate having Chinese food from time to time at any meal. Desserts are far less commonly eaten in China. For drinks, you may find that your guests prefer drinks that are hot (tea, hot water) rather than the icy beverages many Americans tend to consume. Recently, coffee has become popular in China as a special drink. Know that Chinese people may be very polite and take small helpings and decline seconds. They are being polite. A Chinese “no” may mean a polite, “Oh, I really shouldn’t”. So remember to offer more three times and don’t hurry to take the food off the table. Be sure to be specific about what fruits or other snacks are for them. They may not help themselves otherwise.

  1. What sort of medical care will our guests expect if they are ill or injured?

Your Chinese guests may expect to go to a hospital when they are ill, as hospitals are where doctors’ offices are located in China. They may be surprised and may feel somewhat uncared for by our attitude of “wait and see.” They will probably have brought medicines for headache, colds and flu that they are familiar with, or may be willing to take over-the-counter medication that we feel safe offering. Assure them that if they become seriously ill or seriously injured, hospitals and doctors will be available to them. They will have at least basic medical insurance when they arrive.

Chinese people generally prefer hot drinks (hot water or tea) hot soup, and hot meals, especially when they are ill. They tend to believe that cold food is generally not as healthy for them. They will probably wear warm clothing and use blankets to stay very warm until they feel better. Just give them your kind attention and have them stay in touch with others in their exchange group. Remember that homesickness is most common when one is ill.

  1. We want our China exchange group to feel properly welcomed. What suggestions do have?

We like to welcome our Chinese guests in typical American ways. A potluck dinner is an American concept. Everyone brings food, and it is delicious, plentiful, and inexpensive. Within the first few weeks of arrival, the exchange Steering Committee members can invite host families, Chinese visitors, and school administrators to a potluck dinner to meet and welcome the new Chinese exchange students and teachers.

Soon after everyone has settled in, the superintendent and principals (with the help of the exchange committee) can host a more formal welcome reception with speeches and official school gifts. Invite administrators, teachers, host families, members of the community, the media, and the mayor and other town officials. It is an excellent opportunity to invite the school system and the entire community to meet the Chinese exchange students and teachers, and learn about the activities of the exchange program. Ask the mayor, the superintendent, a former exchange teacher, and a returned American student participant to speak. Chinese visitors expect a formal welcome. This also provides an opportunity to publically thank host families and have the exchange featured in the media and on the school’s website.

One should note that Chinese visitors are often not treated as guests in American schools as they are easily mistaken for Asian Americans, while the American students in China are more conspicuous—even if they are ethnically Asian. Schools should make extra effort to introduce their guests to the student body.

  1. What are some recommendations for placing Chinese exchange students in our high school classes?

Give the students an opportunity to work with a guidance counselor. American high schools offer many choices of courses and levels, but the Chinese exchange students are not accustomed to choice and find it very difficult to decide what classes to take. A mix of academic classes with some non-academic electives, such as cooking, art, or music works best.

Because English is their second language, careful consideration should be made in placing the Chinese students in the appropriate track. While the material in lower-track classes may be easier than they are used to, reading and completing assignments in English will increase their difficulty. Mid-level classes are generally the best fit for English and history courses, while upper level classes are generally better for math and science. Adding an ELL class will also provide some extra academic support and counselors should check in with the students periodically to make sure the classes are a good fit.

  1. How can we use our Chinese teachers effectively in our schools? What can we provide that will benefit them professionally?

The Chinese teachers will need a regular schedule of work for the duration of the exchange. They can be very helpful in teaching Mandarin, assisting ELL classes, and teaching about Chinese life, history, and culture. Of course, they will appreciate co-planning and co-teaching with American teachers and will need adequate time to prepare. Attached are suggested activities for teachers organizing presentations by the Chinese exchange group in local schools.

  • Suggested Classroom Activities for Elementary Classrooms
  • Suggested Classroom Activities for Middle School Classrooms
  • Suggested Activities for High School Presentations

In addition, the Chinese exchange teachers may teach a special Chinese language class for the group of Americans who will be going to China, that will meet at the convenience of the group. This class provides time for oral language practice, learning about the Chinese partner school (school rules, dress code, expectations), family customs, etc. and allows time for the two groups to bond.

Many Chinese exchange teachers are English teachers in China. Observing classes and assisting in ELL classes exposes them to new teaching techniques and interesting new materials, which they can use when they return.

  1. We want to share the Chinese teachers and students widely in our schools. How have other schools have done this successfully?

It is very advantageous to schools to have exchange teachers and students visit a variety of classrooms, especially those classes that are learning about China. It is important to prepare the exchange students and teachers for classroom visits by helping them plan some interactive presentations about Chinese culture that are appropriate for various grade levels. Once prepared, the Chinese guests do a fine job and make their presentations lively and fun. American students of all ages are quite delighted to see their presentations and answer their questions. Schedule them for “Open Campus” presentations in high schools, special programs in middle schools, and perhaps a reenactment of a day of school in China at the elementary level. Draw from a range of possible activities: morning exercises, brush painting, martial arts, calligraphy, music, stories, counting, and interviews.

  1. How can we help our exchange teachers and students understand more about what they are experiencing in our homes, schools, and communities?  

Provide orientation sessions soon after arrival and check-in periodically to build positive relationships. Discuss what it takes on their part to live successfully with a host family, and to deal with many different classes and teachers at school. Be clear about the expectations for exchange students and teachers and tell them that we value their curiosity and efforts to take advantage of opportunities, to make friends, and to try new things. Encourage them to ask questions if they are confused or uncertain, and to ask for assistance if there are problems to be resolved. Help them think about their first impressions and how these impressions and they, themselves, may have changed during their stay.

  1. How can our Chinese exchange students and teachers feel comfortably independent in our community?

Help the group get transportation passes, maps, library cards, lunch vouchers, and whatever other benefits might be available in the school and community. They may or may not already have mobile phones. Ask the host families to show the way to school or to public transportation and to local shops. Provide house keys to ease their coming and going. Some will bring a fair amount of cash. Offer to take them to the bank to deposit money and get bankcards. [Money can be a delicate issue: some of the students come from affluent families; some do not. The teachers generally have low incomes.]

  1. Some of the Chinese exchange students are constantly studying while others do not take school assignments seriously. Why is this happening?

Just like American students, Chinese students are very diverse. Many will be self-motivated to do well in their American courses, while others may not. Some students feel American classes do not prepare them for their Chinese classes and exams back home, and therefore do not put in any extra effort. Exchange directors should be very clear about the purpose of the exchange and help students set personal goals. Encourage them to challenge themselves in courses that interest them and to try a variety of extra-curricular activities. Check in with students and teachers throughout the exchange to make sure workloads are manageable and that they are adjusting well to life in America.

  1. What advice should we give host families about sharing holidays with their Chinese guests?

Our Chinese visitors have heard about American holidays, but find them hard to imagine. They will enjoy experiencing our holiday celebrations and traditions first hand. At Halloween, they will enjoy carving pumpkins, dressing in costumes, and serving candy to trick-or-treaters.

As for Thanksgiving, they may have already heard about the history of Thanksgiving, and will enjoy trying all the traditional dishes that will be new to them.

They certainly have heard about Christmas in the United States with gifts and lights and special foods. Both Christmas and Chanukah provide excellent opportunities to learn what these holidays really mean to American families. Feel free to invite your guests to visit church or temple services, to eat a traditional Christmas dinner, or to light Chanukah candles. These are good opportunities to help them understand more about our cultural heritage, but never urge a guest to attend any religious service if he or she is uncomfortable. Explain that we are not trying to proselytize, but rather to explain some of our own cultural traditions.

  1. Before our exchange group returns to China, we want to know what they loved and found challenging about their experiences with us. What suggestions do you have?

Do take time to gather reflections and suggestions from the visiting exchange group. You will want to improve the experience and opportunities for each successive group, and can expect to find new issues to address. You may learn the most by talking with them informally as a small group and/or individually. Written reflections (in English) may not yield as much information as a comfortable interactive discussion.

  1. Our Chinese partner school has asked for an evaluation of each participant. Is this a good idea, and if so, what might it contain?

Accountability can provide valuable incentive. Some form of evaluation can be a part of the agreement between the partner schools. Written reports for teachers and students should include a comprehensive list of activities, accomplishments, and contributions. It will become part of their permanent records and establish proof of their American experience in the future. Some of the students may use these reports in applications to American schools or colleges. The American exchange students and teachers can expect to receive a similar evaluation from the partner school at the end of their stay.

  1. What suggestions do you have for a memorable, but affordable farewell?

Plan a farewell event at which the guests can thank their host families, teachers, and friends. Because it would be too expensive for Chinese visitors to offer a traditional Chinese banquet in the U.S, and too difficult for them to cook for all the participants, we suggest another “Lucky Pot” dinner that may include contributions of Chinese food from our exchange teachers and students. On this occasion, make time for heart-felt speeches and token gifts for those leaving.

Friends and host families will gather at the airport to say goodbye. Farewells can be very poignant! The fortunate Americans bound for China will see their friends again on the other side of the world in a few short weeks or months.

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