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Okay, you’re about to host a Japanese student in your home. What a great decision! I applaud you! Having both hosted many exchange students from around the world, as well as having been an exchange student myself (twice), I cannot tell you enough how wonderful of an experience it is. Hosting an exchange student can give you better understanding of another culture, as well as an interesting perspective on how you live your own life as you try to see it from someone else’s eyes. It can also bring you lifetime friendship, if you do it right.

What NOT To Do

In this article, though, I’m going to go over the opposites. Let’s focus on all the things you could do wrong. How can you ruin your exchange students’ lives forever… or at least leave a bad taste in their mouths?

1. Assume You Know ALL About Their Culture

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Oh, you went to Japan once for a business trip? Then you totally know ALL about the culture. Be sure to tell your exchange student how much you appreciate the art of sumo, and admire the samurai culture that is still so prevalent today. How many of their friends have committed seppuku?

Or perhaps, you spent your ENTIRE summer watching anime, so now you know everything that Kyoto Animation has to teach. Show your exchange student how you figured out your name in Kanji and how you’ve watched all episodes of Lucky Star, so you know what Japanese school life is like totally and completely. Then, when they say they haven’t seen it, freak out and offer them to watch the whole show with them, three episodes a day! They’ll probably be too polite to decline.

The Reality:

Unless you have spent a considerable amount of time in Japan, you probably aren’t an expert on Japan. Even if you are, you don’t know this person’s specific life or their individual circumstances. Of course, definitely share with them your enthusiasm for Japanese culture, but don’t be stuck up about it. Ask questions and learn from them.

2. Assume Their English is Perfect, (Or Nonexistent)

Everyone speaks English nowadays, right? It’s the international language! So of course Riko, who is going to be here for a year, knows English really well and just wants to practice it! Whoops, turns out she doesn’t get anything that you’re saying! Okay, so your normal way of communicating has failed you – the best you can do is use  hand gestures and basic words to get the point across. “America, eat hamburger. Hamburger, cow. Kill cow, eat. Fries, potatoes. We go to restaurant now. You, come?”

The Reality:

Try to take it as it goes. Don’t dumb things down for the student, as they want to hear correct grammar, but don’t overwhelm them. Sometimes, speed is fine, but make sure to repeat and enunciate something only if the student doesn’t understand it at first.

3. Take Them to an Authentic Japanese Sushi Restaurant to Help Them Feel “at Home”

americansushi

Wow, Keiko has spent an entire week at your house in this strange, foreign country, eating bizarre (and heart attack-inducing) foreign foods (If you can call Taco Bell food). I bet she misses her traditional diet of sushi. Wait, you remember that there is a Samurai Sushi restaurant a few miles away! You can help her feel at home with dragon rolls and sushi pizza. To empathize how thoughtful you are, constantly ask her if it’s “just like home?” Surely she’s smiling and nodding shyly, right?

The Reality:

Americanized sushi restaurants are very different from Japanese sushi restaurants. Japanese sushi is much more simple and doesn’t include fried things, mashed things, or sauces on rolls and nigiri. Japanese people don’t even eat sushi as often as you might think. Some Japanese friends of mine really love Americanized sushi, and some hate it. It would definitely be an interesting experience to take them to a sushi belt run by Koreans with Mexican chefs, but don’t expect it to be an experience that would be comforting and home-y for them – it’s just as foreign as Red Robin.

4. Leave Them To Take Care of Your Kids

the-shining-twins

Kids love to hang out with other kids, right? Sixteen year old Hiro will be the perfect playmate for your six year old boys! In fact, you’re sure he’ll be such a good playmate that he’ll never want to leave them alone! Now you’ll never have to pay for the mouth-breathing fourteen year old next door to come over and eat all of your potato chips ever again!

The Reality:

Don’t let having younger children keep you from hosting a student. Actually, a host family with small children is a pot of gold for most exchange students! Just make sure not to make them feel obligated to play with your kids all the time – seriously, they’re not babysitters.

5. Argue With Your Parents

Okay, your stupid mom won’t let you go to Stacy’s birthday party because you didn’t clean your room. But Stacy is like, your best friend, and you are GOING to that party. Don’t mind that Mariko is sitting at the table with you and it’s only her second night here – just start unleashing all the words you never thought you would say to your mother all at once, smash your dinner plate on the ground, and then make sure to cry a little bit. Oh, and don’t forget to scream at the top of your lungs the entire time. That’s really charming.

The Reality:

Just because an exchange student is around doesn’t mean that you have to be completely pleasant 100% of the time, but imagine how awkward it would be if you were stuck in a stranger’s home where the entire family was at each other’s throats all the time. Plus, it’s much less common (although not completely amiss) for kids to yell at their parents in Japan, so it wouldn’t be just rude, it’d be a crazy culture shock, too.

6. Leave Them At Home When You Go Out, They Don’t Want to Run Boring Errands

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Oops, you have to go to the bank and then the mall to pick up a birthday card for your grandma. Then, it’s off to Costco to get some almond butter. Leave Daisuke at home, he doesn’t want to run those boring errands with you, he’s a teenager. You’re sure he’d rather stay at home and watch TV.

The Reality:

In reality, errands can be really fun for exchange students. Banks, malls, grocery stores, and other things you might find mundane are often times a new, exciting experience for exchange students. If you live in the US, be sure to take them to Costco or Walmart. I consider it a must every time I have someone from out of the country visiting. Hey, look, Costco sells things in “American size!”

7. Offer Them Chopsticks With Every Meal

lekue-chopsticks

It’s time to prepare the first meal for Kotoe and Sayoko! So, you whip up some meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and macaroni salad. But wait – Kotoe and Sayoko are from Japan! They use chopsticks! You know that if you were in Japan, you wouldn’t be able to use chopsticks at all, and you would totally ask for a fork. But these poor girls have been oppressed by their culture and taught to be timid and shy, so of course they wouldn’t ask for a fork! So you run and grab your cheap pairs of wooden waribashi that you’ve used a couple times over the past 5 years or so and offer a pair to each of them. You’re so thoughtful!

The Reality:

Although Japanese people use chopsticks for Japanese-style meals, they also use forks, knives, and spoons for Western-style meals. Some kids even pack a fork instead of chopsticks in their bento lunchboxs on a daily basis. So, unless they ask for chopsticks, they don’t need them.

8. Treat Them Like Special Guests

Honored-Guest

Mika is here! We must treat her well! She doesn’t have to do any chores or anything – she’s our special, Japanese guest. In fact, she’s not allowed to do any chores at all. She is our ohime-sama for the month!

The Reality:

Your exchange student is doing a home stay for a reason: to find out what life is like in a foreign country and to be part of a family. If you really want to bond with your student, making them feel like part of the family will help. And what better way to make them feel like part of the family than to make them do chores like everyone else? They’ll probably jump at the chance to help out.

9. Let Them Experience the Language by Watching You Talk to Your Family

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Woohoo! We just picked Ken up from the airport! It seems like his English isn’t that spectacular, but you know that he’s here to observe and get better. So, don’t talk to him at all; you can wait until he gets better at English to talk. Instead, let him listen to you talk to your sisters, your mom, and your boyfriend. He’s sure to absorb things like crazy! Because like, you know, you don’t even know what to talk to him about.

The Reality:

I know it’s hard to have an extensive discussion with someone who barely knows the language, but when you talk with your family at your normal speed, it isn’t so much listening-study time with them, it’s space-out and daydream time. The thing that will allow them to improve their language the most is letting them talk. So ask them simple and open-ended questions. Some good questions to get them talking are “What is your hometown like?”, “Is ___ the same in Japan?” “Tell me about your family.” Usually asking them what they think about your country and asking them what’s different or the same can start up some discussions that go other places.

10. Take Them to Only the Biggest, Touristy Places

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Okay, Toshi has one week with you in your town, so where are you going to take him? Well, we have to hit Mall of America, Multnomah Falls, The Bean, and all the other big attractions you can think of, right? Let’s make sure that he sees every single famous landmark in the area. Sure, that might be all we do in his short stay here, but we must squeeze every last thing in!

The Reality:

Sure, tourist attractions are fun – that’s why they’re so popular! But, sometimes it’s the local things that are the most memorable. Sometimes it’s better to just hit the regular mall, your favorite street in town, or even the park. Those are the things that you can only really do in a home stay. Any old tourist can do the big things.

11. Let Awkward Silences and Drives be… Awkward

awkward-dance

Well, awkward long silences and boring car rides are a given. There’s only so much you can talk about in the car while you sit in the backseat with your exchange student. So, just let it be awkward. It can’t be too bad, right?

The Reality:

Remember when you were a kid and did things like I Spy, hand clapping games, and told riddles during car trips? You can still do that (even in old age)! And what’s even better, Japanese people have their own children’s games, too. Reliving your childhood can be really fun and get those bonding-chemicals rushing through your brains as you laugh at the same mistakes, victories, and thumb-war wins together!

Still Interested?

Well you should be! I hope this article hasn’t diminished your excitement to host an exchange student in any way, as it is both a fun and educational experience. If you’re serious about hosting, check out these programs as well as programs in your local area to see if you are eligible to host a Japanese (or any nationality) student!

  • Rotary (you’ll probably have to contact the local club in your area)
  • AFS
  • CCI
  • EFF

Good luck, and happy hosting!

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  • Mariana

    Doctor Who reference <3

  • Shuji Terayama

    “Did you know that art in japanese means geijutsu? Like jutsu what they’d use in Naruto. Like gay lol haha wtf japanese you’re so crazy”

  • Shuji Terayama

    is that a good thing…???

  • Ryan Bounedara

    That alien in the middle of the dance floor makes everything better.

  • jkdssjkaos

    some of these seem like common sense and makes me wonder how people rationalize it, especially #1, also annunciate means “to announce” while enunciate means “to pronounce in an articulate manner”, but overall great article, keep up the good work ^_^

  • Dan Lovejoy

    Well done, Rachel. Many of these hints apply to any international visitor.

  • Dongle Whopper

    I hate to be that guy but…

    It’s enunciate, annunciate is what you do when you make an announcement or raise alarm.

  • nijimasu

    Add The Laurasian Institute to the list of Exchange organizations.

    http://www.laurasian.org/Programs.htm

  • http://www.tadaimatte.com/ Ashley Haley

    Surprised you missed YFU (Youth For Understanding) on your list – they’re the oldest exchange NPO out there and have a HUGE Japan program!

    Also, I made more than one of these mistakes when we hosted last year…oops!

  • Arterismos

    I think you meant “enunciate” when you said “annunciate”.

  • Xaromir

    I’d love to host an exchange student some day, but i spend 90% of my time in front of the PC an i’m terribly out of touch with most modern aspects of my own culture, so i guess that would totally be fun for someone to visit and stay for an extended period of time. *sigh*

  • Sillysamurai

    Great suggestions!

    Another wonderful hosting and exchange program is the 4-H International Exchange Program. It’s a short-term summer program. American youth ages 10-17 host a Japanese youth, matched by age, gender and interests, for a month in the summer. They arrive prepared to share Japanese culture with your family, including cooking a Japanese meal. American youth experience Japanese culture through a summer homestay in Japan. The exchange program is part of the US Government Cooperative Extension Service 4-H Youth Development Program sponsored by state universities and managed by States’ 4-H International Exchange Programs. You don’t have to be a current 4-H member or to speak Japanese to participate. All kinds of families can host. Exchange programs are a wonderful way to contribute to world peace, one friendship at a time. http://www.states4hexchange.org/

  • MandaMac

    When my husband was in high school, his parent’s made the decision to host two Japanese exchange students for a year. The DH said it was the best time of his life. One of those boys ended up staying a total of two and a half years. During that time, my husband’s parents became friends with his parents and even went to visit them in Japan a few years later for the first time. They have since been to Japan to stay with the family four times. He and the DH have remained very very close since(it’s been 12 years and they still email and FB every day, and since Atsushi-san now lives in Seattle, it’s rare for a week to go by without one of them calling the other.). In fact, since I’m going back to school for my degree in East Asian Studies, Atsushi-san was the one who pushed me to start my language studies early by “betting” me I couldn’t learn hiragana in a month, LOL.
    So you never know. Two people decided 15 years ago to host a couple Japanese students and they and their kids and ultimately their kids wives and kids, ended up gaining friends for a lifetime and having unique and rich experiences they never would have had otherwise.

  • Jens

    Where? I didn’t see it. Or did I?

  • Wittlich

    It’s less than three good things, from the looks of it.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    ty i’ll fix it

  • Anthony Jaymes Annis-Rastaette

    My girlfriend was an exchange student here in Alaska, so I have some what experience with being a “host” family without actually being a host family. Of course, I didn’t want to make her feel weird and do such things like this, but I was able to learn a lot about Japan from here and what not!

  • Joel Alexander

    What alien?

  • Sugoida

    About the food, I would add to the authenticity section that they didn’t come to your country to eat Japanese-esque food. That would be like an American going to Japan, and they took him to Burger King everyday, making sure he only got burgers which were already available in America. Why bother going to Japan?
    So, just show them normal life in your country, that’s why they came.

  • Jonathan Harston

    I had some Japanese students stay with me 20 years ago (god, is it that long ago?), but just as bog standard lodgers, not as hosted students. They were mostly ok, though my then chinese wife did like to remind them about Nanking. The last one I had to chuck out because he would leave all the house doors open in the middle of the night, leave the burners on the cooker on, dismantled his car on the front garden in the middle of the night….

  • Sugoida

    Do you have an article on how to BECOME an exchange student? Also, are there any “scholarship” type things that help defray the cost of going overseas for a long bit?

  • Mariana

    I don’t remember what I saw..
    why do I have tally marks on my arm
    what

  • Elexhad

    I don’t remember reading this article…

  • Rachel

    Yeah, I agree that they should have an American food experience, but a lot of the time Japanese students I’ve hosted actually do miss Japanese food after a while.
    And like I said in the article, American-ized sushi can be really fun and interesting.

  • Barbara

    It’s at this time that the students I have hosted, help make food from home. They get the food they are missing and I get to eat something new from their country. Win/win…if they know how to cook. Most know how to do something.

  • Tokumei Yamada

    Multnomah Falls Falls? Is it REALLY that touristy? Especially since Portland is right there, I think that would be low on the list of big touristy places to go.

  • Tokumei Yamada

    I don’t remember seeing a Doctor Who reference. I would think that would have stuck out.

  • Happy guy

    Hippoファミリクラッブが素晴らしい!

    I’m happy that I have participated in it. Also, check it out. Hippo Family Club★ ^_^
    Doesn’t matter what your age is old, young or teen you can be a part of it. You can also be married and still participate.
    Here’s the link :

  • http://www.dandelion-cha.com/ アマンダ

    I’d hate to be nit picky, but one thing that annoys me is when someone has to draw Americans, they must be white with blonde hair…or maybe the artist was going for a glowing stereotype there? They’re wearing American flag and bald eagle shirts. Nothing says ‘Murica like that.

  • Sarah

    I love Saturday night live’s J-pop Christmas… it’s the best, THE BEST.

    Also, your article made me ROFL, yo.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I’m thinking that’s probably why it was mentioned, since we’re based in PDX… Voodoo donuts, now that’s a touristy place.

  • Saimu-san

    My parents decided to sponsor a Kenyan boy from just outside Mombasa and our family had a small spare room so they volunteered to take on two of the other boys when the village’s children’s choir was on tour. One was 8 and the other one was 14.

    It was an experience my parents always remember fondly and even though we haven’t spoken to the boys since they left it’s like they’re very distant relatives that we still want to see do well in their lives and check up on them through people that know us both.

    I want to send them all a letter someday but I don’t know how since we’re not meeting up with the same people so much and I don’t have the school’s e-mail. Plus they’re touring other countries now and it’d be hard to catch them on a quiet day.

    The youngest wanted to be a photographer and was fascinated with the cameras we had and both of them liked going swimming, playing with our dog, my guitar and the PS2. They often made jokes about my dad being pregnant and loved my mum’s cooking. They asked for bacon and mince regularly (seems one of their previous hosts had given the younger, Muslim boy bacon by accident and he was now hooked on it) and pretty much every dinner they had was “pasta and small meat” since their choir was locally sponsored by KFC and they were no doubt sick of saying their favourite food was chicken and chips, they friggin’ loved my mum’s spaghetti bolognese.

    Both of them were almost always happy and appreciative of everything… But there was nearwar when my parents did their usual thing of giving £1 to whoever put the trolley away after going shopping (something they did with my sister and I all the time and still sometimes do to this day) and because that’s considered a LOT of money in Kenya they nearly came to blows. My mum had to quickly find an extra pound in her purse so they both got one but it could’ve destroyed their whole stay if it wasn’t fixed on the
    spot.

    Another thing was when they first had a bath and when they first went swimming. They loved their bath so much that they sat on the plug hole to stop the water draining away and they were seriously confused when my parents had to rush out and buy them swimming trunks because they were so used to swimming naked.

    We took them to regular places we went to in the city. Museums (one transport with old trains and buses, one regular with stuffed animals, weapons and armor collections and an attached art gallery), a skate park, supermarkets, KFC…

    The restaurants were always the best places because you could sit and talk while you waited for the meal. The eldest taught me some colloquial Swahili during one of those trips and I still remember some of it to this day (“Mambo!”). They also picked up some Scottish phrases (“See you, Jimmy!”).

    All in all, one of the best periods of my life even though it was brief and sometimes felt slightly awkward for me at the time.
    I had to be careful what I told them and showed them considering that my sister and I were somewhat ambassadors for Scottish teens and I had to avoid playing Bioshock or listening to KMFDM, Rammstein and Hocico for a while. I also didn’t want to show them too much Western excess considering it might upset them how much things were taken for granted in day to day life by our peers.

    My sister got crowded around at the leaving party, though with her petrol blue hair and bridge piercing.
    They’d keep asking her how she got it and if it hurt but were a lot nicer about it than any local kid would be (jeering, throwing stones and the like was a regular thing for her).

    Anyway, the same time this was going on was around about the first time I started seriously considering studying in Japan.

    Six years later I’m still not there but having Samson and Randu around for those few days (about a week and a half I think) has given me a perspective that should help me if I stay with a host family over there. Even though it’s a whole other culture there are some things that carry over no matter where in the word you’re from.

    One more thing I learned? Don’t worry about leaving any food on your plate and feeling guilty about wasting the leftovers.

    The African kids REALLY don’t want it. It’s gonna be too rich for their diet. Lol.

  • watisdisidonteven

    This article is so condescending, it automatically assumes every American family is a redneck and not taking into consideration that all the Japanese population is not a single entity but every kid is different and would want to do things, and be treated differently. If you’re eligible to host a foreign student that means you’re deemed responsible enough to take care of them and were given the proper information for each student.
    The author has probably never host a foreign student and takes things to a whole new level, not even taking into consideration that the majority of people have common sense. I hope they don’t actually believe this and just did it for the sake of a long article.

  • SamuraiAvenger

    It’s just a fun to read. 面白かった、ネタとして!

    But simply, wondering if you have to take such a big commitment to accept international students?

    If you worry, just try older students, I mean, such as university students.

    I didn’t hear so much problems from foreign students with their host families when in the US, at least, from Japanese students.
    Instead, host families had problems: I heard complaints from students, such as “My host mother is on cocaine!”

    I’d say,
    “Hey Americans, YOU have problems.”

  • Ma’alee Holmes

    I think these tips are suitable for hosting all international students not only Japanese students

  • Rachel

    I said on here that I have hosted exchange students about five times, and I WAS a high school exchange student as well. I knew that the tone might come off as condescending, but I was assuming that yes, people have common sense and they would be able to take the examples as a humorous caricature. I’m sorry if I have offended you.

  • Don

    Some people have no sense of humor. Do you even have any idea what a “redneck” is?

  • Vlaix

    If there’s one thing I’ve never heard anybody evoking as a reason to go to the US, it’s the food.

  • Davo

    It should just be how not to host ANY exchange student!

  • please?