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How to Host an International Student: Tips and Tricks for Successful Hosting

Three teenagers laugh, arms around each other's shoulders.

Hosting an international exchange student can be a life-changing opportunity—for students and families! When you host an international exchange student, you give them the chance to explore the world at an important age. These experiences are enriching for the student and rewarding for you as you watch them grow in a new culture.

At Ayusa, we strive to create the next generation of global leaders and world citizens. To do this, we help students around the world connect with other cultures through our exchange programs. In our programs, students:

  • Strengthen leadership skills 

  • Develop intercultural awareness

  • Enhance global knowledge through experience 

As a host, you will find that your students will expand your global knowledge and experiences too!

Take Louise Lough as an example. When Lough and her family invited an international exchange student to stay in their home, they had no clue they were starting a lifelong journey that would mean so much to them. Since 1979, Lough has hosted over 100 exchange students from dozens of countries across the globe. Her children grew up to become hosts of their own, which has provided dozens more students with the opportunity to study abroad. Their love for hosting has spread like wildfire in their community, inspiring others in the region to try hosting too.

In the years since she took in her first international student, Lough’s family has gotten the chance to visit Norway, Austria, Denmark, Spain, Germany, and Switzerland to visit their previous students. What started as a way to bring other cultures to her has flourished into decades of opportunities to see students’ homelands in return for her generosity.

If this sounds like something you’re interested in, we’ll teach you some tips and tricks to becoming a memorable host for international students, whether you host 1 or 100.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What hosting is

  • Who our students are

  • Qualities of successful host families

  • Benefits of hosting a student

  • Tips and tricks for becoming a great host family

By taking the advice of prior hosts, you can support your student in ways they’ll never forget. To learn more, take a look at some of our inspirational host stories below and start a hosting application to take the first step towards this life-changing journey!

 

What Does it Mean to Host an International Student?

If you’re new to international exchange, you may be wondering: What is hosting?

Hosting means giving an international student a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the world. By hosting a student, you give them a chance to experience other places and cultures that they wouldn’t get otherwise. Hosts give international students a home away from home. Your home will be their safe space where they sleep, eat, study, and spend much of their time.

Hosting also means being an emotional support for these students. International exchange students are making a big decision to move abroad for 5-10 months. These students may have trouble understanding cultural differences, struggle with English at times, or sometimes feel homesick, especially around holidays. Hosting a student means you’re able to be there to welcome them, comfort them, and be a place of safety for them to share their feelings. In return, your student can provide you with a sense of community as well.

This was experienced during Ayusa’s most recent annual Community Service Contest. This contest was put in place to reward international students for their service in their study abroad communities. Houcine, from Tunisia, was one of three winners of this contest for 2021. Houcine spent his study abroad year with a family in Florida, where he volunteered for many projects including designing theater stages, serving at a local church, and working with children.

When asked about his experience, Houcine says, “Volunteering was my only way to stand against depression and homesickness. I’ve always loved people and wanted to help them but never had as many opportunities.”

By helping Houcine make connections through volunteering, Houcine’s host family was able to help him focus less on his homesickness and more on making new relationships within his host community. 

 

Who Are Our International Students?

Ayusa international students are a joy to host. Our students are high academic achievers with a passion for learning. They’re also optimistic about the world and enthusiastic about learning about other cultures and people. Ayusa international students come ready to experience the world one country at a time.

Beyond an enthusiasm for exploration, our students are prepared to travel abroad. To be considered for our programs, students must possess:

  • An open-minded, strong character

  • A proficiency in English

  • An up-to-date health record

Students that do not pass our English proficiency exam or are not up-to-date on vaccines are not permitted to travel abroad. Our guidelines ensure that any students you willingly home for the year are healthy and able to communicate with you clearly. Their commitment to these guidelines demonstrates their commitment to the program.

 

Two students focus on writing on papers strewn across their desk.

Who Should Host International Students?

Anyone who can provide a stable home and reliable transportation for students can be a host! Loving host homes come in many different forms, and all are perfect for our students. Examples of different types of loving homes can be seen in the stories from our prior students and hosts.

German exchange student Ole Winkler was placed with the Hunt family in a small midwestern town. Coming from Berlin, Winkler wasn’t expecting to end up in a place so different from his home city. However, he grew to appreciate the beauty in these differences. In particular, he enjoyed being able to see the sunsets over the hills, since in Berlin the buildings block the sunset view. “There was literally nothing but open fields as far as you can see,” he said, noting the unique landscape he found himself in. He also loved experiences like:

  • Attending American football games

  • Going on Midwestern ski trips 

  • Eating in family-owned restaurants 

Even though his host town was much different from his hometown, Winkler’s host family provided a great, loving experience for him.

Ayusa YES student Manahil found joy in a city family. Originally from Pakistan, she was hosted by the Savage family in Phoenix, Arizona. During her time in Phoenix, she came to love city life while enjoying many first experiences in the country.

Her host family even took her to a Kelly Clarkson concert and on a trip to the Grand Canyon to bond with her. When reflecting on her initial reaction to being in Phoenix, Manahil stated, “I’ve met amazing people, visited beautiful places, and I’m looking forward to similar experiences for the next 10 months.”

 

Why Should I Host International Students?

Cultural Exchange

Hosting an international student is rewarding for both host families and exchange students. Students get to experience a new country and culture while staying with you. On the other side, families also get to experience a new culture in their home! This is a great opportunity for families who are interested in other cultures but do not have the resources to be able to travel abroad themselves. Your student can help you gain a new perspective when it comes to other places and people. 

Foreign Language Skills

Hosting an international student can help you with foreign language skills. Our students must pass an English proficiency test before traveling, but they may still struggle at times. While you help them with their English skills, you have an opportunity to learn their own language in exchange. Benefits of learning a second language from your student include:

  1. Strengthened memory function

  2. A greater understanding of a new culture 

  3. Improved problem-solving skills

  4. Valuable bonding time with your student!

Lifelong Friendships

Hosting an international student can result in lifelong relationships with your student. Many of our hosts describe taking in an exchange student like taking in a new family member.

By the time the student must return to their home country, they have grown extremely close to their host family. These students will often stay in contact with their host families for years to come. This was certainly the case for the Linn family of Elk River, Minnesota. The Linns have hosted 13 exchange students throughout the years from countries including Brazil, Italy, Germany, Spain, Mexico, and Sweden. Their most recent students have all been from Italy, and the Linns say each student is another person to love in their ever-expanding family.

Because of their host experiences, they were inspired to travel abroad to visit the places their students came from. In an interview, Jennifer Linn claims their most recent trip to Europe was one of the most memorable, as they were able to visit the hometowns and families of three of their prior Italian exchange students. Linn says that they never fully understood the impact hosting had on their students until they reunited with them in their home country. “The love for each of them wouldn't end the day they returned home! It's never Good-bye... instead, see you later! 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,” says Linn. 

 

Tips and Tricks to be a Successful Host for International Students

If you’ve decided to host, great! Wondering how to be the best possible host you can be? We'll share some advice for host families below. The most important tips to note are:

  • Welcome each student as if they were your own child

  • Plan ahead for their care

  • Embrace the differences between you and your student

  • Take the time to plan valuable experiences for you and your student to bond

If you follow these tips from prior hosts, you’ll become a memorable host in no time.

 

Silhouettes of a large extended family holding hands on the shore of a beach at sunset.

Welcome Your Student as If They Were Your Own

Host families and students alike say the best exchange experiences are created when host families treat students as their own. If you are doing something for your child or would do something for your child, do it for your student as well. This includes:

  • Going to events 

  • Setting healthy boundaries 

  • Preparing the home for a teenager 

One great way you can welcome your international student is by having their room prepped and decorated for their arrival. This may mean a fresh coat of paint, new bedsheets, or a gift basket. While not at all required, these little things can show students that you’ve been excited about their arrival and want them to feel comfortable in your home.

You should also have an open mind about the world to create an emotionally welcoming environment for your student. Your student will come from a completely different background than you. Part of being welcoming means openness to embrace parts of their culture in your home. Some ways you can do this include having dinner discussions, trying new food, and visiting local places that may celebrate your student’s culture such as festivals.

This was certainly the case for the Brays, a family from Katy, Texas, who have been hosting dual exchange students since 2014. The Brays strive to make each of their international students a part of their family and make a point of exchanging cultures frequently. “[The students] quickly become a part of your family and it’s always a great feeling to see their eyes light up when they experience something for the first time… There is no greater feeling than watching our students succeed and grow and being able to share our culture and learn more about theirs,” Bray says.

Bray says their family feels strongly about incorporating international students as a full part of the family, stating, “They’re not a guest, they’re your family. [Mahau] is my daughter for life.” In response, Mahau replied, “It’s crazy how much you can love people you didn’t know 10 months before. Every day they make my exchange year great. I consider them like a member of my family. They are the reason why I enjoyed every single day of my new life.” 

Plan Ahead for Their Care

An important part of hosting an international exchange student is preparing ahead of time. Prior hosts say this planning makes taking in an exchange student much easier when their arrival day comes. When your student arrives, they may be nervous and unsure of themselves. This could be not only because of being in a different place with strangers, but also because of their budding English skills. On their first day, let them settle into their new home. You can also welcome your exchange student by talking to them a bit. Prior hosts say, “A simple dinner and early bedtime can do wonders that first day.”

In addition to home prep, having reliable transport is essential to your student’s successful trip. Planning ahead and avoiding potential issues with transport can reduce stress both for you and your student. Ways your student can successfully be transported include:

  • Rides from you

  • Carpools with a friend or family member

  • Public transport (bus, train, walking, biking, etc.)

Depending on where your student is from, they may be more used to public transport compared to having someone drive them. If your area has reliable public transport, this may be a more comfortable option for your student. Plus, public transit that avoids traffic, such as trains or biking, is less stressful for travelers than driving or taking the bus. Avoiding traffic means better reliability in allowing your student to get to where they need to be, whether that’s school or soccer practice. 

Embrace the Differences

Embracing the differences between yourself and your student creates a welcoming environment and helps you both learn about each other! One easy way you can embrace these differences is through cooking. Rather than always being the one to cook daily, consider meal prepping with your student. Meal prepping saves time and money on the front end. You can also let your student pick the meal and share recipes from their home country with you. Sharing culture through food is a great way to grow closer to your student and learn more about their culture.

This is what happened to Ayusa student Ryoko from Japan. Ryoko had a Korean roommate living with her as an exchange student in her host family’s home. While talking one day, Ryoko and her roommate decided to share recipes of traditional food from their home countries. Ryoko’s roommate had her family send them ingredients from Korea to make kimbap, a traditional Korean recipe. The exchange students and their host parents got to bond by making and eating kimbap together. When reflecting on the experience, Ryoko notes, “Although the ingredients were kind of different from makizushi,” which is a similar Japanese dish, “the process of making kimbap was similar to it. I felt really familiar while making kimbap.” 

Plan Valuable Bonding Experiences With Your Students, No Matter How Small

Bonding experiences are the most important part of your exchange student’s international trip. In fact, exchange students from Ayusa say the number one thing exchange students wish people understood is that exchange students study culture, not curriculum. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunities exchange students yearn for mostly come from outside school.

If you’re early on in your host year, you can try a community scavenger hunt as a first-time bonding experience. Ayusa has created one so you can jump-start your student and get them comfortable with their host community quickly. This scavenger hunt is meant to be done as a family, and will require a camera, creativity, and lots of laughs! Activities in the scavenger hunt include taking photos with your student:

  1. In front of their new school sign

  2. In front of your town’s welcome sign

  3. Engaging in a fun outdoor family activity

  4. Cooking a traditional recipe

  5. Doing something they’ve never done before

This is a great way to get students comfortable with you as hosts and with their host community.

Supporting your student is also a great way to bond with them. Host families like to attend their exchange students’ sports events, school functions, and other first-time activities. Attending your student’s special moments shows them you care about them, which can help you grow closer. The Hamilton family from Tennessee did a great job supporting their student and encouraging her confidence.

Louisa, their exchange student from Germany, was very nervous about her trip. She wasn’t sure if she’d like her host family or her new school in Tennessee. Luckily, the Hamiltons took the first step of advice and welcomed Louisa into their home as if she was their own daughter and sister. Louisa also opened up to her host mom about her nervousness about attending school, who told her her classmates were excited to meet an exchange student. When her host mom turned out to be right, Louisa says she felt, “... Much more comfortable and self-assured.”

Louisa felt so comfortable after that that she decided to join her school’s soccer team! After celebrating her acceptance onto the team, the Hamiltons supported her by taking her to and from practice and cheering her on at all her games. This support drove their family closer than ever before. When asked about her host family, Louisa replied, “I think love and trust are one of the most important things to hold a family together and I am really glad that they share it with me.”

 

I’m In! How Do I Host International Students?

We’re so glad you’re considering hosting one of our amazing students! Whether you’re new to foreign exchange or a veteran host, your enthusiastic willingness to give an international student a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity can change their life, and yours! Plus, with these tips and tricks, you’ll be a star host for your future students.

Interested families can start a hosting application.

If you aren’t sure if you’re ready to host, or if you have more questions about hosting, you can request more information from us. We are always happy to answer any questions you have about your hosting journey! In the meantime, you can also read some more stories from students and hosts alike on our website. These stories are a great opportunity to read more heartwarming firsthand accounts of Ayusa participants.

To contact us, you can call Ayusa's 24-hour phone number at 800.727.4540 or you can send an email to studentsupport@ayusa.org.

 

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