Troubleshooting before a long-term home stay: Preparing exchange students and families

Alison von Dietze J.F. Oberlin University, Tokyo


Quick guide

  • Key words:Home stay, problem solving, daily routines, cultural differences
  • Learner English level:Low intermediate to advanced
  • Learner maturity:High school and university
  • Preparation time:None
  • Activity time:50 minutes
  • Materials:White board, paper for students to brainstorm


Most students embarking on a home stay have never experienced living in another person’s home. They have little idea of the variety of common problems that arise and even less idea of how to solve them without jeopardising the new and fragile relationship they are trying to build with their host family.

Often both host family and exchange student are too polite at the very beginning of the stay, with the host family making comments such as, “Just make yourself at home. Be one of the family. There are no strict rules.” Similarly the student will usually be all too happy to appear flexible and easy going and will go along with whatever is said.

What the host family and student don’t realise is that they both do, in fact, have very clear rules in their lives. These are the entrenched, taken for granted cultural rules or patterns that have governed their lives since they were born. 

This activity firstly makes students aware that their idea of what is normal in daily life may be vastly different from the “normal” they find in their new host family’s home. It then provides students with a concrete method of solving common home stay problems before they occur.


Step 1:Write the heading, “When you do a home stay, your normal is not normal” on the board. Explain when students do a home stay, it is they who must compromise most. Therefore, upon arrival, they should actively try and find out the daily life patterns of the host family in order to understand the context they will be living in.

Step 2:Draw a Venn diagram (two intersecting circles) on the board. On one side, create the identity of “Ayano” by asking students to answer questions such as:

  • What time to you get up?
  • Who makes your breakfast?
  • Who do you usually eat with?
  • When do you take a shower?

The students’ answers become Ayano’s daily life. On the other side, describe the identity of someone from another culture, such as an Australian host family living on a farm. Using the same questions, I write their contrasting answers on the other side of the diagram. Of course similarities go in the middle.

Step 3:With the above in mind, divide the students into groups and ask them to brainstorm as many questions as they can to ask the host family about their daily life. They can also ask questions about how they can fit into their existing routine. For example:

  • How long do you usually take in the shower or spend in the bathroom?
  • Who does the cleaning? What chores can I do to help?
  • Do you watch TV while you eat dinner?
  • What do you usually do after dinner?

Step 4:Collate the answers as a whole class. Type them up yourself, create a handout, or put them on a website for all to see. Otherwise, ask the students to copy down the questions so they are able to refer to them when they actually go on their home stay.

Step 5:Finally, divide students into pairs. One person is the host mother or father and the other is the exchange student. Ask them to imagine they have just arrived at their host family’s house. They should begin by saying something such as, “In Japan my teacher recommended that I ask a few questions at the beginning of the stay. Is now a good time?” Theycan then begin the interview. Encourage them to take notes to confirm understanding.

Step 6:After about 10 minutes, students should change partners and roles and repeat the exercise.


Besides being a genuinely communicative activity, I have found this activity is extremely useful to both host families and students as a starting point for understanding each other. It gives them something solid to discuss at the very beginning and provides an excellent starting point for a long-term stay.