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Host an Exchange Student: See Why Our Families Keep Coming Back

Family hosting an exchange student stands on a dock at sunset.

If our 40+ years of coordinating high school exchanges have taught us anything, it’s that you don’t need to fit any single standard to host an exchange student. In fact, the variety of our host families reflects the diversity of the American experience.   

Some of our host families live on farms or in suburbs, while others call big cities home. Some have young kids and others have teenagers. Some are single parents, and some are empty-nesters who sent their kids off into the adult world decades ago. At AYUSA, we celebrate diversity and believe that there is no cookie-cutter version of a good host family. To welcome a high school exchange student into your home, you just need:

  • Curiosity

  • Openness to adventure 

  • Lots of love to spare  

If that sounds like you, we’re thrilled! Welcome to the AYUSA family. We’d love to chat about what type of hosting experience you and your family are looking for. Feel free to call us at 888.552.9872 or fill out a form to request more information.

You can also get straight to it and start a hosting application.

But before all that, we would love to share some stories with you. During the past few years, we’ve gathered real-life tales from our families about what makes hosting exchange students such a special experience. These stories speak to why so many of our families keep coming back.

If you’re currently waiting for that last push to take the leap into hosting, these stories are it!

In this piece, we’ll share why you should host an exchange student. We’ll be highlighting four of our past exchange hosts and sharing why they love hosting. Here’s a preview:

  • The Loughs have hosted 100+ students and love seeing the world through their eyes

  • The Suggs watched their exchange student and their daughter grow as close as sisters 

  • The Brays loved learning about other cultures and sharing their own with students

  • The Mitchell’s family grew by one when their first exchange student arrived

 

Why Host a Foreign Exchange Student? To See the World.

Louise Lough has been hosting exchange students for the past 35 years. You read that right.

Lough has been accepting students from around the world into her home for over three decades. Clearly, she enjoys hosting. But why did she originally get started?

To see the world.

Ever since Lough became close friends with a Korean exchange student as a teenager, she knew she wanted to see the world. However, money was a barrier. Instead of giving up, Lough got creative. If she couldn’t send herself out into the world, why not bring the world to her? And so began the Lough’s impressive stretch of welcoming students into her home.

As a host parent for foreign exchange students, Lough has met students from Kenya, Brazil, Germany and everywhere in between.

Although she was content with the idea of traveling the U.S. and “seeing the world through the Eyes of others” when she became a host parent, Louise Lough’s generosity has led to multiple international opportunities. The students that she and her husband opened their home to responded in kind and invited her to visit. Since she began hosting, Lough and her husband have traveled to:

  • Austria 

  • Denmark 

  • Norway 

  • Germany

  • Spain

  • Switzerland

The Loughs are not alone in absolutely loving the ability to learn about new places, cultures, customs, and traditions without stepping off their doorstep.

April Bray, a mother of six in Texas, has hosted two exchange students at a time for the past few years. For them, love knows no bounds.

The Brays are an intercultural family with roots in:

  • Peru, 

  • Mexico,

  • Wisconsin,

  • and the South.

As a foreign exchange student host, the Bray family loves the opportunity to engage in cultural exchange with the students from around the globe.

April Bray’s desire to learn about other cultures began when she spent time in her ancestral Peru as a teenager. That experience made her very curious to learn about other cultures. However, traveling wasn’t practical as a mother with many young kids at home.

Instead, hosting students became the Bray family’s way of traveling the world and learning about new cultures.

 

Four exchange students  sit on the shore and form a heart with their hands.

Why Host an Exchange Student? To Share Cultures.

Bray is specifically amazed by how wide the global spectrum of customs and manners is. She is always intrigued about how the same phrase can have multiple meanings based on delivery, or how hand gestures can have completely different connotations globally. Bray and her family love learning about these cultural nuances.

Colorado host mom Adrienne Bivens feels the same way. She opened her home to Makoto, an exchange student from Japan. The Bivens made the decision to volunteer as a host family because “Ayusa brings culture to [their] doorstep!”

Inviting an international student into their home gives the Bivens a chance to:

  • Forge international friendships

  • Learn more than a classroom can teach

  • Share their American culture and language

Adrienna Bivens is a mother who seeks out “quality experiences that enrich the lives of [her] children.” Hosting is one of these high-return opportunities. Bivens believes that the cultural exchange her family has the privilege of receiving through AYUSA provides them with more global understanding, perspective, and experience than any traditional learning environment could.

The research backs her up! While many think of high school exchange as an opportunity for students to learn, they are forgetting about the amazing enrichment opportunities that programs give host families.One study found that the learning (and teaching) that happens on high school exchange programs is reciprocal. Both hosts and students in the study gained quite a few benefits from intercultural exchange, including:

  • Increased cultural awareness

  • Increased open-mindedness

  • Increased awareness of global issues

  • Support for each other’s country

  • Reduced prejudice

If you have roots where you’d live, but would still like to reap the benefits of international travel, then hosting is a perfect opportunity for you.

 

Host an Exchange Student, Grow Your Family

As a student exchange host family, you’ll most definitely learn a lot. You’ll also feel a lot. (All good things, don’t worry!) As households grow to fit a new family member, hosts experience joy, love, excitement, and many other positive emotions born from international friendship.

Take the Mitchells. In 2015, Tim, Tiffany, and 11-year-old Caityln Mitchell welcomed 15 year old Hanna Arntz to their home in Bloomington, Illinois. Arntz came all the way from Hönnepel, Germany to complete an exchange year.

As soon as she arrived, she dove right into activities at her new American high school, even making the decision to join the cross country team.

Throughout the Mitchells memorable year with their exchange daughter, they got to cheer her on at meets and loved seeing her face light up when she spotted them in the crowd. Arntz quickly became more than a visitor in the Mitchell’s home, but an extension of the family.

Arntz and the Mitchells were able to do lots of family activities together, like:

  • Visiting Chicago

  • Going to a Cubs game 

  • Celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas

  • Going on a family vacation 

  • Eating dinner together

  • Cooking together

  • Having family movie night and watching Star Wars

The Mitchells grew to feel like Arntz’s parents and were constantly in awe of how she grew and pushed herself to try new things. On graduation day, they were so proud of her. They were also very sad that their time together was coming to an end.

Host High School Exchange Student, Watch Sibling Bonds Form

Not only did Arntz gain a second set of parents abroad, but she also gained a sister.

11-year old Caitlyn Mitchell grew up as an only child, and hosting Arntz was a wonderful opportunity for her to learn about sibling dynamics and to gain the social skills that come from those relationships. Arntz truly filled a big sister role by:

  • Playing basketball and soccer with Mitchell

  • Holding hands with Mitchell as they walked

  • Cooking with Mitchell

  • Telling Mitchell when she needed a break from playing

  • Being silly and having fun with Mitchell

Arntz became such an integral part of the Mitchell family that, after she arrived, it was hard to remember a time when she had not been there.

The Suggs family of North Carolina had a similar experience.

In 2016, they welcomed German exchange student Franziska Botur to their home. She came all the way from Berlin. Soon, Botur and the Suggs’ 15 year old daughter, Elora, became fast friends. That year, Suggs was entering high school as a freshman, and so both girls got to begin their American high school experience together.

Suggs loved the opportunity to learn about another culture and gain a new friend.

The sibling bonds that formed in the Mitchell and Suggs families were also present in the Brays’ big, happy family. The Brays already have six children, so welcoming students into their home was not a lesson in sibling dynamics. Instead, it was an opportunity for even more friendship.

In 2016, the Brays hosted Mahau Conti-Granteral from France and Genzo Niimi from Japan. Conti-Granteral and one of the Bray’s sons became close friends throughout the exchange, while the Bray’s youngest son grew close to Niimi. In just a few months, the Brays children gained two more siblings to love and support them throughout their lives.

The feeling was mutual; both Niimi and Conti-Granteral were surprised by how much love they grew to feel for their host family in just 10 short months. 

The feedback we get from our host families is resounding: adding another person to love into their lives is a huge benefit of the exchange program.

Spend 5 or 10 months with your exchange student; gain a lifelong friend.

 

a family hosting an exchange student sits at the top of a mountain and admires the view.

Ready to Be a Student Exchange Host? Choose AYUSA.

So, hosting high school exchange students is clearly a rewarding experience that gives local families the opportunity to:

  • See the world

  • Learn about other cultures

  • Extend their families

  • Form sibling bonds

Now you may be wondering: with so many foreign exchange student host programs, why choose AYUSA? Or, as we like to say, WHYUSA?

We’ve got a few reasons. The main ones are that we:

  1. Provide unbiased support

  2. Are relationship-focused

  3. Bring decades of experience to the table

Host Foreign Exchange Student Programs: Unbiased Support

At AYUSA, we understand that life is not conflict-free, and we do not hold our host families or our host students to unrealistic standards. Whenever an issue does come up, our community representatives work with both the family and student to resolve it. In our experience, open and solution-focused communication can fix problems and strengthen relationships.

Louise Lough (our mighty host of 100+ students who became an AYUSA senior regional director) phrased it well: AYUSA “[realizes] it takes two.”

When issues arise, community reps work with both the family and the student, rather than favoring one side. After all, exchange is two-sided by definition. We bring that philosophy to everything we do, including conflict resolution.

Host Foreign Exchange Student Programs: Relationship-Focused 

We know we’re not the only high school exchange program in the business. We also know we’ve got something the other organizations lack: our people. 

From host families, to community representatives, to regional directors, our people truly believe in high school exchange and are committed to seeing everyone thrive. We are a not-for-profit organization and that generosity is truly reflected in our network. AYUSA staff and volunteers:

  • Take the time to get to know families and students

  • Go above and beyond to take care of people

  • Are passionate about cultural exchange

  • Build strong networks in their local communities

Plus, nearly all of our staff has experience in the field with students or schools. This isn’t just our job, but our passion, and that is reflected in the quality of our work and the care we take to ensure everyone has a phenomenal experience.

Host Foreign Exchange Student Programs: Decades of Experience

Finally, at AYUSA we have been facilitating high school exchange programs for decades.

We were founded as a non-profit in San Francisco, California in 1981. What started as a small crew in a renovated warehouse has grown into a multilingual, international team that has received 50 prestigious grants from the U.S. Department of State. We were also selected to administer programs including:

  • The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program 

  • The YES Outbound program

  • The Tomodachi Softbank Leadership program

  • The Emerging Youth Leaders program

We are proud of our timeline and we celebrated 35 years of exchange in 2016. Today, we have over 40 years of exchange experience and are determined to continue using this decades-long wisdom to deliver high-quality, high-reward programs to our schools, families, and students.

 

How to Host an Exchange Student: Our Process

Now that you know about us, what about our process?

We won’t bog you down with too many details, but we would like to provide a brief overview of our procedure. That way, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting into when you start an application.

We like to think of our program as a three-legged school. To place an exchange student, we need:

  • A host family

  • A partner school 

  • A community representative (within 120 miles)

As a prospective host family, you will play an integral role in creating opportunities for teens to travel to the U.S.A. from all over the world by opening your home.

Below, we’ll answer some frequently asked questions so you can get an idea of what the common thread is between our host families of all different shapes and sizes.

Question: What are the requirements to host a foreign exchange student? How does being a host family for a foreign exchange student work?

Answer: To host a foreign exchange student, families must provide:

  • A comfortable place to live (bedrooms can be private or shared)

  • Three healthy meals a day

  • A reliable ride (public transportation is also fine)

  • Time spent including your student in family life

Question: Are there exchange student programs that pay host families?

Answer: The visa that allows AYUSA high school students to spend 5 or 10 months in the U.S. does not permit them to stay with families for pay. This means that our families do not get paid to host a foreign exchange student. However, when families volunteer, what they receive is priceless: a new friend who they watch grow, learn, and adapt.

Question: How can I become a host family for a foreign exchange student?

Answer: The process is easy! To get involved in our host exchange student program, you will need to:

  1. Fill out our hosting application 

  2. Have a home visit (led by local coordinators)

  3. Select one of our students

  4. Wait for the arrival of your newest family member!

 

The Joys of Hosting an International Student

Through hosting an exchange student, families get the chance to experience more of the world without stepping off their doorstep. Even more importantly, they gain a lifelong friend. 

Our families say that, through hosting, they were able to:

  • Watch students experience the joy of trying something new and navigating a new place

  • Gain an amazing new family member and lifelong friend

  • Learn that we are all the same, regardless of religion, race, or nationality

  • See students transform from timid and shy to confident and connected

Hosting is truly a gift, and we’re so excited that you and your family are interested in welcoming a student into your home! 

If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our Community Representatives are more than happy to assist you in any way they can. Feel free to email us at info@ayusa.org or give us a call at 888.552.9872.

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