Host a foreign exchange student from Japan
There's more to Japan than just sumo, samurai and sushi! Japan has a rich and diverse culture that has become iconic throughout the world.
By understanding more about our Japanese exchange students’ lives back home, it will help you gain insight into their culture and background and prepare you for a successful hosting experience. Let’s start by learning about what’s typical in Japanese communication, home life, education and food, as described by our program participants.
Japanese students spend roughly 60 more days in school than American students. Classes are taught in lecture format with the teacher being the only one speaking. Japanese teachers generally feel that the quiet students during classes are “good” students. Japanese students study English grammar in school but rarely have a chance to speak it. Their written skills are generally much stronger than their speaking. Open-ended and essay assignments are a challenge for Japanese student because of the focus on standardized tests.
Tip From EF: In American schools, your Japanese student may feel anxious or uncomfortable raising their hands to ask questions as they are not used to sharing opinions in class. It will be helpful for them to sit down with a counselor or registrar when getting set up at school to know their options and the expectations of them in class.
Communication in Japan is quiet, respectful and less direct. Japanese students are often more cautious and may not be comfortable with public praise or criticism. Japanese students may be shy when initiating conversations or meeting new people. They tend to feel more comfortable after being introduced. Americans tend to hold eye contact longer than Japanese. When given feedback, students may often avoid eye contact to reduce the impression they are challenging or disagreeing. Bowing and verbal greetings in Japan are common. Kissing and hugging are less common.
Tip From EF: Students may appear to understand or agree with something they don’t because they don’t want to be wrong or offend you. Ask openended questions instead of questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no.” This will help encourage longer conversation. Be aware that your student may not feel comfortable verbalizing that they disagree, so be sure to rephrase questions in different ways to determine their true perspective. It may be helpful to ask your student to write down any concerns or questions as they grow more comfortable with the language.
How are you?
Rice and tea are a part of most meals in Japan. Other common foods include noodles, soybeans, bamboo shoots, seaweed, sesame seed products, ginger, seafood and meat. Dishes are served with soy sauce, fish broth or sake. The Japanese are familiar with Western foods because of American chain restaurants in Japan. It is a typical to eat from a bowl while holding it at chest level rather than bending down to the table. Most of the time, it is considered impolite to drink directly from a bowl or make slurping noises. However, it is okay to make slurping noises when eating ramen or Japanese noodles (but not pasta).
Tip From EF: Food in Japan is different than in America, so allow your student time to settle in and talk to them about the types of foods they prefer. Scheduling a few meals together as a family each week can make the student feel welcomed and at home. When eating together, discuss differences in table etiquette between your family and their own. Encouraging them to help with grocery shopping and meal preparation will also help them adjust.
Japanese culture is very family-oriented. People are often called by their family name, and their actions reflect on their family. It is often difficult for fathers to spend time with their children because of long commutes, work hours and business obligations. This leaves most of the parenting responsibilities to the mothers. Japanese teenagers are very busy with school and club activities. When they are at home, they are expected to study rather than helping with house chores. Most teenagers are not used to having chores at home.
Tip From EF: Sit down with your student at the beginning of the year and go over all rules, schedules and expectations; write them down. Be sure to explain and demonstrate how to do any chores and use the washer and dryer. Take time to explain how transportation will work and the importance of curfews and checking in with you. Be patient with your student, giving them time to experience the family dynamic of your home and become accustomed to the more casual relationships in America. Make time to sit down once a week for the first month to discuss differences they have noticed.
Watashi wa Nihon no kokan ryugakusei ni aeruno o tanoshimini shite imasu!
I am so excited to meet my Japanese exchange student!
Anata wa imamade sushi o tabetakotoga arimasuka?
Have you ever tried sushi?
Hosting advice from our Japanese exchange students
“I wish my host family had written more things down at the beginning because my English was not as strong then.”
Tip From EF: At the beginning of the year, write down house rules and expectations, as well as consequences for not following them. Be sure to include limits on electronics, transportation arrangements and chores. This will help your student understand your expectations early on. Also, have your student write down their hopes for their exchange year so your family can discuss them together.
“I wish my host family knew that Japanese food is very different than American food. I am not used to eating pre-packaged or frozen food, so this was very different.”
Tip From EF: Frozen meals, quick meals and fast food may be new and different. Communicate your family’s eating habits and provide the student the opportunity to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables if desired. Another way to help your student adjust is to get them involved in the kitchen! Encourage them to go grocery shopping with you and assist in meal preparation.
“I wish my host family knew that I stayed up late studying for tests and doing homework. This is why I didn’t spend more time with my host family.”
Tip From EF: Talk to your student and encourage a balance. School is not their only priority on exchange year. Work together to make a schedule that allows your student ample time to complete schoolwork but blocks off specific time for family activities. Japanese students often struggle with free time because they aren’t accustomed to structuring it and holding themselves accountable. Help your student by teaching them best practices for time management.