Some of the suggestions below may not be feasible for your business; they are simply examples that have worked in the past and may give you some ideas. Any opportunity you have to encourage your American staff to engage and learn side-by-side with your international staff will improve the work and exchange experience for everyone.
Provide InterExchange Work & Travel USA program participants with a clear set of guidelines. Don’t assume your international staff know what’s expected of them. There may be subtle or significant differences between practices in their home countries and the U.S. As with any employee, when your expectations are presented in a straightforward and honest manner, your international staff will be more aware of what they should and should not do. Their first impression often sets the tone for the season.
Communicate with your international staff. The majority of misunderstandings arise from poor communication. Sometimes, in stressful work situations, students may feel that they are being assigned to a lower social status or not being treated with respect. It is always a good idea to let students know that their work may not be glamorous, but it does not go unappreciated and is important to the success of the business. Also let them know it’s okay to engage you in communication.
Make set schedules for your international staff. A defined schedule helps students know what to expect and how to organize their time off. Schedules also help students who are interested in getting second jobs to avoid misunderstandings about their commitment to you.
Remain sensitive to the needs of your students. Many employers comment on how impressed they are with the students’ behavior and their ability to adapt. If, however, a student is having trouble, try to imagine yourself in his or her situation. They may require some extra attention or assistance. If you welcome your students properly, treat them fairly, and communicate openly with them, the experience should be mutually enjoyable.
If students are reluctant to speak English when they first arrive, it is best to encourage them to practice by using English as much as possible. Students who get into the habit of speaking in their native language often make slower progress. It may be difficult for some at first, but it is very important that they challenge themselves in order to make the most of their exchange experience.
If you are a larger business and have many international staff, consider designating an international staff coordinator. This does not need to be a separate position on your team. It could be any staff member who enjoys working with international people. Having a person in this role has been a helpful asset in the success of many of our larger employers.
Provide or facilitate internet access for your international staff. The internet is used by almost all of our students, and they often feel more connected to outside activities and their friends if they are able to access the internet on a regular basis. In more isolated areas, many students are happy to use a computer to communicate with their families and friends or just to browse the internet.
Organize cultural exchange activities for your staff, such as an international food night, a barbecue, or a social outing. Activities encourage staff cohesion and provide an alternate setting for social interactions outside of the working environment. Consider hosting an introductory mixer to help international staff get to know their American counterparts. Group events also give the students a feeling for how people from the U.S. interact outside of work and could give them a chance to educate you and your staff about their home countries. These types of employee benefits have long been a secret of successful host employers everywhere. It may seem very simple, but it can have a strong, lasting effect on employer and international staff relations.
Organize a community soccer match or softball game. Getting students familiar with their host community is an important part of the program and informal team sports encourage them to meet and get to know the American members of their local area.
Refer to the Cultural Compass section on our website. Find other activities that hosts have coordinated for their cultural exchange visitors.
Emergency preparation. Prepare students to understand what to do in an emergency, both within your business and their daily responsibilities as well as in the event of a natural disaster or a need to evacuate.