Communication Lessons You Learn From Your Host Family
During your exchange year, you might live with a host family, in a dorm, or in flat with a roomie. There will be people around you with whom you need to get on well with. It was just like that for me, too. I have been living with a host family for nine months and this period of time has taught me how to live with strangers in the same house.
New home, new habits.
It is no secret that each family has its own customs. What’s normal here can be strange at another place and vice versa. Before I came to Germany I’d heard awful stories about students who had to change families or who were sent home because of their behaviour and, as they said, “their different range of interest” with their new environment. But it seemed to me, that the origin of the problem was just a lack of communication. I decided not to make the same mistakes as they did and to do everything I could to build up a good relationship a with my hosts.
Seek first to understand and then to be understood.
Do you know the story about the man who froze to death next to a stove with a bunch of firewood in his arms? He thought if the stove gave him warmth first, then he would give it a piece of firewood afterwards. It sounds a bit cheesy, right? But it is true. You can’t expect your host family to understand your way of thinking, if you don’t even try to understand theirs.
In the first few weeks I did everything as they did. I observed how things were done and then I tried to integrate. Do not get me wrong here: there were habits which didn’t appeal to me, (like waking up at 6am and arriving always ten minutes before an appointment… Yeah… German precision), but I didn’t try to protest against every little fiddle-faddle at the first turn.
Find the common voice.
I always wanted to make sure if things I had done were okay for them, too. The best way to do this was asking questions. Dozen’s and dozen’s of questions. It is always better to ask obvious questions, than to do something obviously wrong. After a while, I realized that I knew what they would think about certain things, so it made the cooperation easier.
Another very important lesson was about telling my hosts my problems. I learnt that if had an issue with the size of my bed or that huge portrait of a blue banana in my room, I had to talk about them. If there was something which made me feel uncomfortable, I asked them simply to work out a solution. They were always helpful. The people you live with are the ones who are there to help you, so don’t be afraid to ask them to make a change in something. I always did this in a polite way, like I was just asking, but not telling them what to do.
One of my exchange student friends told me this at the beginning of the year: “Martin, if you want to have good relationships, you should not try to change the culture and the people around you; you should change.” I had to come to the realization that, after all, I am only a guest here who gets an inside view of their daily life; therefore, I am the one who has to adjust to them. But it still doesn’t mean that I had to accept everything as it was.
Keep in mind: Only the crying baby gets the milk. If you don’t ask you don’t get.
Observe, ask, understand, tell the problems and find the solution. If you do it like this I can promise you that you will maintain a great relationship with whoever you live.