Culture shock is a normal response among cultural exchange participants. It is the emotional and behavioral reaction to living and working in another culture. The culture shock can feel like a roller coaster ride as the physical, emotional and mental highs and lows come in waves. Everyone will experience culture shock differently, to varying degrees and for varying lengths of time.
Stage 1: Everything seems exciting, interesting and new.
Stage 2: Cultural fatigue. The Au Pair starts to see differences and begins to feel uncomfortable. The Au Pair becomes tired, both physically and mentally.
Stage 3: Surface adjustment. The Au Pair begins to understand the people and their ways. The Au Pair feels more comfortable.
Stage 4: Hidden problems. Although outwardly the Au Pair seems to be fitting in, the Au Pair begins to question certain aspects of the culture. The Au Pair is homesick and possibly has conflicts with family and friends. The Au Pair may feel dissatisfied and thinking, “Everything would be better if only…”
Stage 5: Fitting in. The Au Pair accepts the host culture and feels comfortable with the way of living. The Au Pair may even feel like a native of the host country.
Stage 6: Going home. The Au Pair will begin to have mixed feelings about going home.
Au Pairs and Host Families will need to be patient and allow themselves the time to adjust to all the changes and differences between cultures. Brainstorming coping strategies for dealing with the inevitable culture shock can be a great and fun way for the Au Pair to get to know the Host Family, while at the same time helping deal with homesickness. No matter what happens, a positive frame of mind is a great help.
2-Month Adjustment Period
When an Au Pair first arrives to live with the Host Family, he or she may experience some difficulties, such as feeling homesick, difficulty adjusting to a new environment, feeling lonely, disliking Chinese food, or difficulty understanding an aspect ofChinese culture. Such feelings are common for international visitors on exchange programs.
The Au Pair can seek assistance through this period from the Host Family or Tofriend Representatives. They are trained to spend extra time in the first two months counseling and offering assistance to Au Pairs and Host Families. The Tofriend representative is available to be a neutral third-party and impartial advocate for both the Au Pair and Host Family. If the Au Pair is having any difficulties, he or she should feel comfortable contacting the Tofriend Representatives for assistance.
Most problems can be prevented before they begin through open communication, flexibility and patience by both the Au Pair and Host Family. However, all families have disagreements, as conflict is a natural part of family interaction. If the Au Pair has a conflict or problem with the Host Family that he or she is unable to easily resolve alone, the Au Pair should seek assistance fromTofriend Representatives. They have been trained to assist Au Pairs and Host Families through mediating disagreements and resolving conflicts as a neutral third party.
3 steps for resolving conflict:
- The Au Pair should talk to the Host Family to try to resolve the issue. The Au Pair should speak openly but politely.
- If speaking to the Host Family does not solve the problem, the Au Pair should ask for assistance from the Tofriend Representatives.
- After giving the situation some time, if the problem persists, the Au Pair should contact Tofriend with a written description of the problem.
Rematches are rare, considering that Host Families generally are very committed to the program. Every attempt should be made to work out differences before a rematch is considered. Rematching typically only occurs in cases of extreme conflict or unacceptable behavior on the part of the Host Family. No relocations are made during the first two months unless a Host Family has breached their contract. If problems arise which cannot be resolved even after thorough counseling by the Tofriend Representatives, Tofriend will try to relocate the Au Pair with a new Host Family.
During the rematch transition, no requests for specific geographic locations will be accepted. All outstanding financial obligations such as telephone bills and medical bills must be paid to the Host Family before the Au Pair departs. The Au Pair must be readily available for an interview. During this transitional period, the Au Pair will stay in a single room the Tofriend provided.
While every attempt will be made to find a new Host Family, Tofriend cannot guarantee a rematch will be made. If after two weeks, no suitable family has been found, the Au Pair will be required to return to his or her home country. The Au Pair will be required to purchase the international flight home at his or her own expense.