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Host Family 101: A Guide to Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student

foreign exchange student holds suitcase and looks up at an airport flight information screen.

Hosting a foreign exchange student is an exciting and unforgettable opportunity.  These students can add an immeasurable amount to the families they join for their program year. That’s why thousands of families across the United States welcome students from around the world into their lives every year.

Before hosting an exchange student, there are a few tasks to take care of first. You’ll need to prepare for their arrival, ensure all documentation is in order, and, of course, find a student to host! The process of getting started as a foreign exchange student host may seem complex at first. At Ayusa, we aim to make the host experience as easy as possible for the incredible families who embrace exchange students as a new part of their lives.

We start by getting to know each host family so we can help you find the ideal student to connect with. Then, we take care of the behind the scenes details, like securing your exchange student’s visa and planning their travel. We’ll help you know what to do to set up for their arrival, and guide you through the process of making their entire program a transformative experience for both of you.

In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the process of getting started as an exchange student host. We’ll also go over some of the key details of hosting, like who can be a host, how to get ready, and what it’s really like to host an exchange student.

 

What Is a Foreign Exchange Program?

Before we break down the process of becoming an exchange student host family, we’ll take a look at what makes these programs unique. A foreign exchange student program is an opportunity for young students, typically in high school or college, to live and study abroad. These programs are culturally and linguistically immersive, making them amazing learning experiences.

During an exchange program, a student will attend a local school, make local friends, and experience the local culture. As a result, the location of a student’s exchange program has an enormous impact on their experience. Many students seek out exchange programs that will take them to the United States for this reason.

The way their host family encourages an exchange student’s growth and exploration defines their experience, too. Part of what draws many students to a foreign exchange program is the opportunity to forge international connections. Host families are an indispensable part of this.

These connections are just one of the many benefits students gain from participating in foreign exchange programs. Other benefits include:

  • The chance to perfect their second (or third) language

  • The experience of being immersed in a new culture

  • The opportunity to become more independent and flexible

  • The competitive edge gained from studying abroad

Although all foreign exchange programs share these similarities, they have some differences. One of the main differences is in the length of the program. While some exchange student programs last for a summer, others last for a semester or, more commonly, an entire academic year.

Additionally, the age range of students in each program will vary. Some exchange programs are designed for college-aged students, while our focus at Ayusa is creating enriching learning opportunities for high schoolers. It’s important to know which kind of program you’re interested in before you host a foreign exchange student.

 

Requirements to Host a Foreign Exchange Student

When starting your hosting journey, one of the first questions you may have is about the requirements to host an exchange student. Let’s take a look at what we do and don’t require of our exchange student hosts.

Firstly, the requirements for Ayusa’s hosts are not centered around who you are or what your family dynamic is. In fact, there is no “typical” Ayusa host for a foreign exchange student! Hosts can be:

  1. Single people looking to mentor a young person

  2. Empty nesters eager to welcome a student back into their home

  3. Couples who don’t have kids, but want to support a student as they learn

  4. Families with young kids who want to introduce them to positive role models

  5. Families with high school aged kids looking to make a meaningful new connection

Anyone can host a foreign exchange student (or two!), regardless of your household’s makeup. Exchange students are happy to join all different kinds of families. Additionally, you can also host an exchange student regardless of where in the United States you live. Foreign exchange students have had amazing experiences in big cities, small towns, farms, houses, apartments, and everything in between.

So, what are Ayusa’s requirements for host families? To answer that, we need to first answer a simple question: What is hosting?

Hosting an exchange student means welcoming them into your life and unconditionally supporting them, just as you would with your own kids. It also means providing them with some basic needs like housing and transportation, and generally preparing them to thrive each day. An eager willingness to provide this support is the only requirement to host an exchange student.

To ensure that all our Ayusa students are receiving the best care possible, we have all prospective host families go through a screening process.

If you’re ready to host an exchange student, start a hosting application today. Once we’ve received your application, our team at Ayusa will reach out to you. We’ll learn some more about you and verify that hosting is right for your family. Then, we’ll work towards connecting you with your first exchange student.

 

Finding an Exchange Student to Host

Once you’ve committed to welcoming and supporting your exchange student, the next step is connecting with the right fit for your family. For families exploring how to host a foreign exchange student, this is the stage where it starts to get exciting!

If you’re concerned about what this process looks like and how to get an exchange student, don’t worry. Our team at Ayusa is made of industry experts with decades of experience in both inbound and outbound exchange programs. We know what makes a placement successful, and we’ll work towards helping you find the right student to host.

When you decide to become a host, you can start to explore our database. We keep an up to date list of all our exchange students who are currently looking for a host family. You can search through this database to find a student who will be the right match for your family by filtering for criteria like gender, program duration, and hobbies.

Some students may also have specific lifestyle needs. For example, a student with allergies may be seeking a pet-free home. These are also important criteria to consider when seeking to become a host family for a foreign exchange student.

Once you’ve found a student who you think might be the right match, we’ll facilitate some opportunities for you to chat and get to know each other. With hundreds of students eagerly seeking out an exchange opportunity, it’s easy to find one who will be the perfect addition to your household. Once you have selected your student, you can connect with them and begin preparing for their arrival

 

a smiling foreign exchange student holds books and walks to her desk.

 

Welcoming Your Exchange Student

Once you’ve found out how to become a host for an exchange student program, the next step is getting ready to welcome them into your life. Your local Ayusa representative will help you prepare for your student’s arrival and ensure that the process goes smoothly.

Firstly, the Ayusa team will help you make sure your exchange student is enrolled in the local high school so they can start attending right away. Excited host families may want to take some time to get familiar with the school, especially if they haven’t had an exchange student or child of their own attend in the past.

You’ll also want to be sure to have plans in place for all your student’s needs, like their transportation and even medical care if the need should arise. Try to spend some time gathering all the key information and documentation you may need into an easily accessible place, like a dedicated binder. This can help you be prepared if you have any questions or emergencies. Your local coordinator will help with this step and provide most of the information you need.

Include contact information for your Ayusa representative and your student’s natural parents. This file should also include information about their:

  • Medical insurance

  • Travel itinerary and information

  • School contacts

  • Visa details

Don’t worry about getting the info—we’ll provide all of it! Your job is just to keep it in one central location for easy access. Ayusa also stores most of this information online in a family portal that you can access whenever you need!

Be sure to find your local school district’s calendar and daily schedule. Think about how you’ll get your exchange student to and from school each day, as well as who will be available for your student during the weekends and on holiday breaks.

The most important part of how to welcome your exchange student is simply to show them how excited you are for them to become part of your life. Aim to create a welcoming, comfortable environment from the moment they get off the plane. This can be as simple as:

  1. Giving them a warm greeting when you first meet

  2. Making a welcome sign for your foreign exchange student

  3. Cooking a dinner of their favorite cultural foods

Remember, this is a truly enormous change for a young person to be undergoing! Even a small gesture can make a big difference. We all know first impressions are important, so aim to get off on the right foot when you begin your journey as a foreign exchange student host family.

 

Housing a Foreign Exchange Student

Once you’ve found a student and they’ve arrived, your next questions will probably be centered around how to house a foreign exchange student. There are a few basic requirements to follow for Ayusa’s exchange student hosting programs.

Firstly, you’ll need to provide your exchange student with a safe, comfortable place to sleep. If you have children of a similar age to your exchange student, they can share a room. Just be sure that everyone in your household is comfortable with the living arrangement.

As a student exchange host family, you’ll be responsible for providing your student with three healthy meals a day. You will also need to make sure they have transportation to and from school. The exact details of your transportation plan might look different based on where you live. For example, your exchange student might:

  1. Ride with you

  2. Get a ride with a family friend

  3. Take the bus

  4. Ride the subway

Being a host family for a foreign exchange student means welcoming a young person into your household. Remember, they are here to learn about your culture and lifestyle while furthering their education. Be sure to create an environment that supports them in this goal, just as you would for any other teenager in your care. Part of the exchange experience is living as a member of the family, so this includes adding them to household responsibilities and chores, just like any other member of the family.

A big part of hosting an exchange student is providing them with emotional support, too. Especially for high school exchange students, this is often their first independent venture away from their home and family. As a young adult, an exchange program is an exciting time for growth for them, and a supportive host family can enable them to truly thrive.

Depending on the background they come from, students might also experience some significant culture shock. Exchange students who travel to countries with many cultural differences from what they’re used to are more likely to struggle with their mental health during their program. Be sure to check in on your student and find out what you can do to help them adjust to your culture.

 

What to Expect from Exchange Student Hosting

As the initial rush of meeting and welcoming your student fades away, they will start to settle in for the academic year. You’ll find a rhythm together as you become a key part of each others’ daily lives. So, what is having a foreign exchange student really like?

We’ll let you know what to expect from your exchange student hosting experience by introducing Ayusa’s students. We’ll also share stories from some experienced hosts about what it’s really like to become a foreign exchange student program host family.

Who Are Ayusa’s Students?

As soon as you meet our students, you’ll see that they are incredible young people who are eager to make their mark on the world. We hold our students to high standards, and require them to meet a few key criteria:

  • Strength of character: Our students are open minded leaders who demonstrate their maturity, leadership skills, and academic integrity every day.

  • Language skills: We require our students to have strong proficiency in the English language, though they’ll continue mastering it during their program, too.

  • Health requirements: Students must be up to date on all of their required immunizations.

Ayusa’s students are mature leaders to their peers with a mindset centered around growth. When you become a host, they will add an amazing new dynamic to your household.

Gaining a New Family Member

Becoming a host for a high school exchange student means gaining a new family member. Since your exchange student will live with your family for up to a year, they’ll become an essential part of your household. They’ll join you for meals, holidays, celebrations, quiet nights at home, and everything in between. Many hosts even choose to take their exchange student on vacations to show them more of the United States. They’ll even help out with chores, do their part to become part of the family, and follow any household expectations.

As they explore this new world, make friends, learn about your culture, and keep up with their studies, your job is to provide them with support and encouragement. Teenagers need a strong support system, and they thrive when they have positive relationships with adults outside their natural family. By guiding them through their time abroad, you’ll become an essential parental figure that they will depend on during this exciting time.

What It’s Really Like for Host Families

The question many of our host families hear isn’t how to host, but why host a foreign exchange student. We hear from many of our host families that foreign exchange student hosting has changed their lives for the better, and that change comes from the amazing young person they bonded with. The Suggs family says they found the perfect fit with their exchange student, and they call it “one of the most meaningful experiences of their life.”

As a host, you truly become an exchange student’s second family. The Newmans have hosted 13 exchange students, and they share this sentiment. They say each one is another person to love. For many hosts and exchange students, the connection they make is immediate. Host mom Michelle O’Brien says she knew their exchange student, Marie, would become her “Danish daughter” from the moment she stepped off a plane.

The O’Briens and Marie say that the memories and relationships they formed together will continue for a lifetime. Many of our hosts stay in touch with the students they welcomed into their lives, even after they return back home. 

The opportunity to host an exchange student also lets families and students learn about each others’ culture. The Bauer family has loved sharing their culture with their German exchange student Darijo, and he has been blown away by his experience in an American high school.

 

Get Started Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student Today

Becoming a host parent for a foreign exchange student is an irreplaceable experience. Many of our families have hosted dozens of exchange students, and are always eager to welcome another into their lives.

We know hosting an exchange student can feel as intimidating as it is exciting! Although it may seem like a complex process, our local coordinators and community representatives at Ayusa will support you through every step. From helping you connect with a student to arranging their flights, we aim to make every exchange placement effortless. You can request more information any time to learn more about our process.

Ready to begin your hosting journey? Start your hosting application today. We can’t wait to see how hosting an exchange student will change your life.