August 22, 2022
Activities and Tips

Making the Most of an Exchange Student’s Academic Year in America

A group of high school students enjoying their academic year in America smile and high five. Bright library shelves are visible in the background.

Spending an academic year in America isn’t only a way to enrich a student’s education. It can also be a deeply rewarding experience for the families that host them. Exchange students and host families all have unique program years together, and that time can be as memorable as it is educational.

High school exchange programs are multi-faceted. Most people think of these programs as an exciting way for students to continue their education in a new environment. While studying hard and learning new things is an essential part of the study abroad experience, exchange students have plenty of time for other activities during their academic year in America, too.

These can often enrich a student’s education by adding depth and allowing them to have new experiences. Plus, an exchange student’s host family is often right beside them as they make these memories. That means exchange programs can have a lasting impact on both students and host families alike.

If you’re considering hosting or getting ready to host an exchange student, you may be wondering: What can help an exchange student make the most of their academic year in America? In this article, we’ll take a look at how our Ayusa host families enrich their students’ year abroad by making memories that will last you both a lifetime.

Why Do Exchange Students Spend Their Academic Year in America?

Exchange students originate from countries all over the world, and they have no shortage of destinations available to them. There are dozens of countries on each major continent that accept exchange students. Yet, the United States is overwhelmingly the top destination for exchange students.

Over one million exchange students came to the U.S. in 2020 alone. That’s nearly double the number of students that headed to any other country. It’s clear that the U.S. is a top choice for exchange students, but why do so many choose to spend their year abroad in America?

There are many benefits of spending an academic year in America:

  1. Practicing the English language: Exchange students who study abroad in America have the opportunity to practice their skills with the English language every day. By living with an American host family, attending an American school, and becoming part of an American community, these students can improve their English proficiency at a rapid pace. With English as the predominant language of business worldwide, this can be a boost to any student’s future college and career plans.
  2. Developing cultural competence: In our globalized world, cultural competence is key for collaborating with peers across international borders. Experiencing life in America will expose students to an enormous amount of cultural diversity and help them to develop their cultural competence. Getting to know an exchange student can provide host families with this same perk, too.
  3. Forming lifelong connections: When exchange students spend an academic year in America, they live with a local host family. During the time they spend together, hosts and exchange students often form close bonds. These relationships can last a lifetime and span the globe. Participating in an exchange program as either a student or a host creates the unique opportunity to become a part of these lasting connections.

These benefits are just a few of the many reasons that so many exchange students come to the United States each year. Plus, students aren’t the only ones that benefit from their exchange programs. Students also have a lasting impact on the families that host them.

Learning Opportunities During an Exchange Program

Exchange programs are overflowing with learning opportunities for both the students and hosts that participate in them. In fact, the potential for learning is part of the reason many choose to become a part of these programs.

When exchange students come to the United States, they typically enroll in a local school and continue their education. That’s also why exchange programs often align with the academic calendar. Study abroad opportunities usually last either a semester or a full school year. Either way, they enable students to seamlessly continue their studies while deepening their learning by exploring the world around them.

Gaining a boost to their educational experience is one of the top goals of many exchange students, and it’s what most of their time abroad is dedicated to. During a student’s academic year in America, jobs like studying hard and participating in extracurricular activities are at the forefront of their priorities. Plus, by essentially living as an American high schooler for their program year, exchange students are able to learn through complete immersion.

Educational research consistently shows that immersion is a deeply powerful learning tool. As a result, exchange students gain many academic benefits during their program year abroad. Immersive learning can be especially impactful as students aim to master English as their second (or third, or fourth) language. Exchange programs allow them to learn by living with English as their primary language. This kind of experience challenges them to interact with everyday situations in new ways, leading to lasting retention and a cognitive boost.

Students gain enormous educational improvements during their academic year in America.  Plus, a live-in exchange student doesn’t just experience immersive learning—they often create immersive learning experiences for their host families as well. After all, what better way to learn about a culture or language than integrating it into your household?

As a whole, study abroad opportunities are full of learning opportunities for everyone who participates in them. The chance to learn in a meaningful way is part of what drives so many students to spend an academic year in America, and part of why so many hosts are eager to welcome these students into their lives.

Making Memories During a Student’s Academic Year in America

Exchange programs are more than just a learning opportunity. They are also a chance to create memories that will last a lifetime for hosts and students alike. Spending an academic year in America allows students to gain an enormous amount of new cultural experiences. For example, exchange students may have the chance to:

  • Visit famous cultural landmarks
  • Celebrate holidays with their host family
  • Immersive themselves in a new way of life
  • Partake in their host family’s traditions

Making these memories together is part of what makes exchange programs such impactful experiences. We often hear from our exchange students that the memories they made with their host families truly changed their lives. Take it from Lena, an exchange student from Cairo, Egypt who spent a year abroad in Juneau, Alaska. Lena said the experience “changed my life forever. I want to say thank you to everyone… Everything new that I experienced opened my mind. The kind of change that has happened to me could never come from staying at home and watching television.”

Lena’s time abroad was full of irreplaceable experiences:

  • volunteering,
  • joining the school choir, and
  • making new friends.

They made such a lasting impact on Lena that she eagerly encourages other students to participate in exchange programs too. Lena says her experiences in Juneau have inspired her to work to improve the world around her.

In many ways, Lena’s experience is emblematic of what makes exchange programs so impactful on a larger scale. These programs bring people from around the world together. The influential memories hosts and students share inspire cooperation, empathy, and understanding that spans the globe. As a result, student exchange is an essential step in fostering an international spirit of collaboration.

Host families are an irreplaceable part of this. By welcoming exchange students into their lives, they make these programs possible. They pave the way for this collaborative movement by showing their communities the value of tolerance and connection. Host families also have the chance to share in these experiences right alongside their exchange students.

academic year in america student smiles and holds a handful of snow. Mountains and a lake are visible in the background.

How Exchange Students Bond With Their Host Families

During their program year together, host families and exchange students have countless opportunities to make memories together. Through the experiences, celebrations, and events they share, they often become like a second family to each other. This helps to further enrich the exchange experience for hosts and students alike.

Forming these close connections is one of the best ways to help an exchange student make the most of their academic year in America. After all, since exchange students are often high school students, they are still learning and growing. As teenagers experiencing life away from their natural family for the first time, they are in an exciting time of self discovery and exploration. However, this also means they need a lot of support to truly thrive during their time abroad.

Teens are most supported when they have a large, well defined, and strong network of support looking out for their best interests. During their time abroad as exchange students, their host family typically takes on this responsibility. In fact, having the guidance and support from adults other than their parents can be a healthy way for teenagers to learn more about what healthy friendships and connections will look like in adulthood.

There are many other ways a system of support can form a safety net around a teen to help see them through this exciting period of personal growth. A strong support network helps teenagers:

  1. Develop self confidence
  2. Feel comfortable talking to an adult for guidance
  3. Take productive risks and learn from the outcomes

The connections exchange students form with their host families empower them to truly learn and grow through the immersive experiences they have during their time abroad. In turn, these connections can be deeply meaningful for their host families.

During their time together, many host families come to view their exchange student as another member of their family to care for. Longtime host parents Jamie and Jennifer say that each exchange student they welcome to their household gives them another person to love. They say, “We feel very blessed to call them our children. They bring so much joy to our family and lives that we couldn't imagine it without them.”

Becoming a host for our students gives thousands of families around the country the chance to make these bonds for themselves. These intercultural and intergenerational relationships are deeply enriching for hosts. Connecting with students from around the world helps them:

  • Broaden their worldview
  • Learn more about different cultures and languages
  • Develop a deeper understanding of younger generations

The bonds that host families and their exchange students form during their program year together are truly irreplaceable. These connections are so impactful that many hosts and students stay in touch long after their time abroad comes to an end. Many of our Ayusa alumni and hosts have even traveled to visit one another or stayed in touch online. Exchange students and their hosts truly become like bonus family members!

Hosting an Exchange Student During Their Academic Year in America

Spending their time abroad in the United States is an amazing opportunity for exchange students from across the world. The experiences a student gains during their academic year in America can truly be life changing. These dynamic programs are made possible by the network of hosts who welcome exchange students into their homes.

You may be wondering: What is hosting? Why do hosts participate in these programs?

At its core, hosting a foreign exchange student means opening your home to them and welcoming them as an extra member of your family for their program year. Hosts have the chance to be a part of their student’s exchange program in many ways, like:

  • Learning about their student’s culture
  • Showing their student what life in America is like
  • Supporting their student as they attend school, join clubs, and make new friends

During a student’s program year, they live with their host family. This means hosts are responsible for creating a safe and supportive place for their exchange student to live. They also take care of their exchange student in the same way they would take care of their own kids. This can include tasks like ensuring they have three healthy meals a day and that they can get to and from school on time.

Hosting means taking on these responsibilities, but our hosts find that they are easy to handle alongside all the joy their exchange students bring to their lives. Ultimately, the connections and experiences that hosts share with their students is what keeps our community of hosts eager to add exchange students to their family.

The bonds and shared memories that hosts and exchange students have are just some of the countless reasons to host an exchange student. Check out our Stories to hear what tenured Ayusa hosts have to say about the life-changing experience of connecting with an exchange student.

Getting Started as an Exchange Student Host

Hosting exchange students is an impactful way to empower educational experiences, form bonds that span the globe, and make a real difference on a student as they grow into a leader of tomorrow. The joy that hosting can add to your life is what makes so many of our Ayusa hosts welcome another exchange student into their life year after year.

Wondering how you can begin your own journey of empowering exchange students and helping them experience the world? Getting started as a host with Ayusa is an easy process. If you’re interested in learning more first you can fill out a short form that expresses your interest in learning how to host with Ayusa. We’ll help you get in touch with your local Ayusa representative once we’ve reviewed your form. If you’re ready to dive right in, you can:

  1. Complete a hosting application. Your local area representative can help you with this, and will be happy to answer any questions you have about the process of hosting.
  2. Find a student to host. Your local Ayusa representative will help match you with a student that will mesh well with your family’s lifestyle, interests, and activities.

Once you’ve matched with a student, all that’s left to do is wait for them to arrive! Ayusa will help them organize their visa and flights to get to you safely. When they arrive in the United States, your local area coordinator will conduct an orientation with you and your student to get you both off to a strong start. Then, they’ll check in at least every month to ensure you and your exchange student are both enjoying their time abroad.

Our top priority at Ayusa is ensuring that every exchange student placement is a resounding success. That’s why we’re committed to providing ongoing support throughout your student’s entire placement. We’ll also connect you with the community of other hosts and exchange students in your area so you can become part of even more of the powerful connections that exchange student programs enable.

Ready to start hosting with Ayusa? Contact us today to request more information about how you can help make a student’s academic year in America an amazing experience for you both. You can also start a hosting application any time. We’re always eager to welcome another member to the Ayusa family.

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