Once you have arranged for a Japanese exchange student to stay at your home, you will need to prepare yourself and your home to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable time for all. Most negative experiences arise out of a lack of communication, unclear roles/duties, and a lack of social interaction; find a way to avoid these beforehand, and you and your Japanese exchange student should have a great time together.
Assume the student speaks imperfect English and adjust your expectations accordingly. While all Japanese exchange students will speak some English, it is highly unlikely they will speak English at anywhere near a native ability, and they will probably have trouble understanding native speakers in a social setting.
Speak clearly and avoid idioms. Japanese speakers are keyed to certain distinct sounds, and similar-sounding words, unclear words, or words spoken in a dialect can be difficult for them to discern. Of course, don’t speak slowly in a loud voice as this would be condescending and rude. The student will want to learn idioms, but take it slow.
Write things down. Your exchange student may not be able to understand everything you say, but he will more than likely be able to read what you write.
Show, don’t tell, when familiarizing the student with the house. To avoid unfortunate or embarrassing misunderstandings, show the student while you explain things. Japanese students have studied a lot of English for travel, school and business. Unfortunately, they study very little about common household tasks such as “hang the laundry,” “turn down the TV,” or even “lock the door.”
Roles and Duties
Prepare a daily schedule and stick to it as much as possible. The student will probably be nervous in her new environment. Knowing the schedule and having regularity will help her adjust. Also, people in Japan tend to live by rather structured schedules; even if your home life isn’t similarly structured, a written schedule can give it the appearance of being somewhat so.
Write a list of chores or duties for the student and explain it to him. In Japan, the roles of family members are well defined, so it would help your student feel comfortable if he knew exactly what was expected of him. Show him what you would like him to do around the house. Your exchange student will probably want to show his gratitude by helping around the house if possible; most commonly, he will offer to prepare a Japanese-style meal.
Provide emotional support to your student. According to the exchange program Youth for Understanding USA, it is essential to “[o]ffer an emotionally supportive environment as the student goes through his or her adjustment process.” Understand, though, that Japanese students are reluctant to complain and probably will not want to bother you with their troubles. It will be up to you, as the host parent, to “read the air” and catch the nonverbal signs of stress or discomfort.
Prepare a separate room (if possible) with a bed, a study area, and slippers to wear in the house; people in Japan do not wear shoes in the house, so providing your student the option of wearing slippers around the house can make them feel more comfortable.
Make sure the bathtub is clean and serviceable. Japanese people are accustomed to taking a long, hot bath every night as a way of staying healthy, relaxing, and keeping the bedding clean, and the custom is to wash first and then get into the tub. There’s really no way to accommodate this custom in a bathroom not especially built for washing outside the tub, but finding a way to allow the student this nightly luxury will go a long way towards helping the student feel comfortable.
Educate yourself about Japanese taboos and customs around the house. For example: don’t step over people if they are lying on the floor; separate garbage (plastics and burnable garbage, at the least); be aware that students often stay awake studying until well after 10 p.m.
Arrange regular activities or conversation times with the student to ensure the student has a chance to interact socially with your household and others outside the household.
Prepare a "going away" present to give the student when she leaves. Avoid discussions of religion or politics.
Curtis Seubert started writing professionally in 2008. He has taught writing at universities in the USA and in Japan. Since 2000 he has lived in Japan, teaching English, writing and playing bass. He holds a Master of Arts in English literature with an interdisciplinary emphasis in quantum mechanics.