For many motivated young people who live abroad, attending American high school is a dream come true. Students from all around the world have burning desires to walk the same dreaded halls we used to hate. Imagine that! As the dream becomes reality, you'll need to find fun and entertaining things to do with your foreign exchange student during their stay.
Luckily, there are high school exchange programs like AYUSA that allow international students to thrive in new cultural environments! Hailing from countries like Germany, Japan, and Pakistan, the experiences these students have will shape them for the future.
Even though they’re here for educational purposes, it doesn’t mean things should be all work and no play. Any family who decides to host foreign exchange students plays a significant role in their experience. To make this visit as memorable and enjoyable as possible, you need to come up with some fun things to do after study time. While they hit the books, let's go over some activities in this article you'll have to try out on this new adventure.
After all, enriching your student's life with fun new experiences will also prove to be a fun time for you!
Foreign Exchange Students Are Like Onions…They Have Many Layers!
Here at AYUSA, we strongly believe in the development of intercultural awareness and global knowledge enhancement, not only through education, but a vast array of experiences. We’re recognized as one of the best high school exchange programs out there and are here to help!
As excited as a host family may be to meet their exchange student, it's important to remember how they feel at first. Being in a new place for the first time and welcomed by complete strangers isn't easy for everyone. It won't be long before both your family and student go through inevitable culture shock.
Living a whole new way of life is a mind-blowing experience. Naturally, it takes time to get used to things.
Here are some ways to ease the initial tension and help your exchange student adjust quicker:
- Communicate everything clearly—Slang terms and sayings can be confusing. Be patient, say things in ways that make sense for someone who doesn't speak your native language.
- Ask questions—Your student will appreciate you making an attempt to get to know them better. Soon, you'll begin to see the person underneath the student and forge a strong relationship.
- Spend quality time together—No need to hover, but be sure to capture every opportunity to spend time with them. Once it's time to say farewell, you'll miss all the small moments you’ve shared together.
- Make accommodations—Be aware of any special needs your exchange student might have. Attend to these by preparing your home before their arrival.
Oftentimes, the awkward stage melts away to unbridled enthusiasm within the first week. Knowing very little English and being thrust into a foreign society, stepping off that plane for the first time can be overwhelming. Some AYUSA foreign exchange students, like Harry, go through this process a bit easier.
Although he found himself homesick, he knew he'd have to focus on the positive things. "He acknowledged he was homesick. He understood why, but he didn’t want it to affect his experience.” His host father praises Harry's resilience. Thanks to his host family, Harry was able to look back on his time in America with utmost fondness.
It’s important for an international student to overcome the cultural gaps in these exchanges, even if they are challenging at times.
We all know that heavy, sick feeling in the pit of our stomach when we're far away from home. It's hard not to miss everyone and everything you're familiar with, right? Exchange students are thousands of miles away from home. Go the extra step to make your home more comfortable and accessible to them. For as long as they stay, their room within your home is a foreign exchange student's refuge.
Be aware: allowing contact back home may ease some of the exchange student’s anxiety, but excessive contact is not recommended. Calling home every day could cause the student to withdraw from interactions with their host family and community.
Finding Fun for Your New Foreign Exchange Student
After the uneasy first stage of cultural gaps, homesickness, and language barriers, it's time to shake things up a bit!
Once you feel like your exchange student is comfortable enough, you should figure out their likes and dislikes. Gauging their interests will help you decide what fun activities you can do together while they're here!
Do they prefer to spend most of their time out of the house?
- Go see a newly released movie in theaters
- Rock out at a music concert
- Hit the shopping centers
- Take them to a school sports event or parade
Do they enjoy being out in nature?
- Trek a long nature trail
- Scout out historical landmarks
- Plan a hunting or fishing trip
- Go swimming at the nearest beach
Do they have a passion for food?
- Visit all the best restaurants in town
- Bring them new snacks to try
- Bake fun & exciting desserts they’ve never had before
- Host an international potluck party
Keep in mind, even if these activities seem common to you, your foreign exchange student has possibly never done them before. The options truly are endless!
Motivating your foreign exchange student to try unfamiliar extracurriculars is also a fun way to help break them out of their shell. If they do become involved in a school team sport or club, ensure you show support at every practice or event. Knowing you're invested in their hobbies encourages them to perform in high spirits. Plus, they're more likely to share more of their interests with you in the future.
During their stay, bring them along to events like weddings, birthdays, or festivals. Show them how our cultures celebrate these traditions differently and answer any questions they may have. They'll be so busy having a fun time that they won't even realize they're learning!
Activities To Do Throughout the School Year
Add some extra spice to your exchange student’s stay with these fun activities you can do any day during the school year:
- Take them grocery or clothes shopping
- Bring them to a zoo, theme park, or music festival
- Camp in natural landscapes they aren’t used to seeing back home
- Go see a live football or baseball game
- Cook meals they’ve never had before & be open to trying some favorites of theirs
- Try taking them out bowling, golfing, or hunting
- Plan family game nights together
From visiting museums to trying out new board games, there are a ton of possibilities. The only rule? Have fun!
Allowing your international student to participate in different activities is strongly suggested—in and out of the classroom. Research shows that fun and enjoyment between lessons enhance learning absorption.
As long as their academic performance in school remains acceptable, there’s no reason not to reward them.Keep track of their mental state to ensure they don't suffer from burnout along the way.
As the seasons pass, the weather changes, and even then fun presents itself in all sorts of new ways. For certain students, snow days don't exist back home! A student's first interaction with snow in winter is always a touching moment to witness. In the midst of all the skiing, ice skating, and snowball fights, they also will experience the joy of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Our international students shared that the holiday season is their favorite time of the year. You can check out our student stories anytime to read some heartfelt exchanges.
Dealing with the Unexpected
Recently, host families had to work harder than ever to ensure students survived the boredom of quarantine during COVID-19. They came up with creative ideas that many of our exchange students really appreciated! These families, and anyone planning to host in the future, are now prepared for the unexpected.
As you welcome them to your family, you will learn what NOT to do (out of respect for them & the process). Things like:
- Making light of their concerns—trying to understand what upsets exchange students may not always be easy. It's still important for you to address every matter seriously.
- Forcing them into uncomfortable situations—being out of their comfort zone is fine, but make sure these new situations don’t result in anxiety or negative emotions. You don't want to become a source of stress for the student.
- Treating them differently from biological children—nobody wants to feel out of place in their own home. Do your best to make sure each student under your roof feels loved, respected, and accepted.
- Losing your ground—at the end of the day, you are the head(s) of your household, remain firm in your rules, but remember to have fun!
These are suggestions that can help make the hosting experience fun and joyful.
What Good Comes From Housing a Foreign Exchange Student?
There it is. The elephant in the room; the question you’ve been asking yourself this entire time. You aren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last. You may be thinking that this sounds like a lot of work. How does doing ALL this for a total stranger benefit my life?
Hosting a foreign exchange student is an enriching experience that is highly rewarding! Whether you've had the chance to realize it or not, time spent living with an exchange student presents immersive learning opportunities. Your days will be full of intrigue as you see your native country through the eyes of someone observing it for the first time.
As you watch them grow during their stay, you’ll find yourself proud of their achievements as they navigate throughout our culture. Be patient and take in the smallest moments because soon they’ll be home and you’ll be missing them!
Establish Wholehearted Connections
By being present and invested in their day-to-day activities, you will forge a unique bond that will never break. As you open up your home to them, you'll begin to see this young soul in a different way. In no time at all, they'll embed their way into your family structure and heart, forever becoming a part of you.
Many AYUSA students feel the same way about their host families and friends from school!
17-year old Melya from Indonesia will never forget how her first day of American high school felt. Finding her classrooms with a map and eating lunch by herself, she knew she stuck out like a sore thumb. But her discomfort didn't last long when the very next day she gained a friend. "Every single day, it became better...I found a new me," she tells us with a fierce confidence.
When asked by his schoolmates who his best friend was, Harry answered with zero hesitation, “My host dad!” Most teens wouldn’t even consider someone beyond their age group a friend, but Harry doesn’t think age has any impact on who he chooses as a companion. Knowing his host family was there for him and willing to talk about any of his needs allowed him to embrace the program fully.
Another exchange student, Mahau, is proud to state that his host family is " the reason why I enjoyed every single day of my new life." Because of these warm connections, it's no surprise that students keep in touch after returning back home. Sending life updates and sharing new ideas even after the exchange is over is a lot of fun for everyone.
It's important for international students to soak up new thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. As they're directly influenced by people with different world-views, a strong sense of self-identity and independence begins to form. As a host, you’re leaving an impact in ways that will last even after you’re gone from this world. A few things you have to gain as a committed host to exchange students are:
- A new and diversified worldview
- An element of interest in daily life
- Irreplaceable cultural exchange
- Unwavering, lifelong bonds you’ll treasure forever
The new question you should be asking yourself now is, why wouldn’t I want to see the world through a bright new lens?
Host an Everlasting, Life-Changing Experience Your Heart Will Never Forget
These exchanges make it possible for students to cross cultures, and in doing so, to arm themwith new tools. After their experiences living American life, they have a deeper insight. They're able to master the local language, gain a strong sense of identity, and accept cultural diversity. Appreciation for international relationships is critical for further global development. And what better way to show them you appreciate their efforts than by planning out fun things to do with your foreign exchange student?
With an ever-changing classroom curriculum and rigorous academic expectations, high school is tough! For both native and international students, it's a difficult environment to navigate through. On your journey as a host family, you will be a safe placeto fall and a guiding light when your foreign exchange student feels overwhelmed. Keep their morale boosted and show constant support as they make their way through a foreign society.
We're so happy you're taking the time to look into fun activities to do with your foreign exchange students! Whether it's your first time hosting foreign exchange students or you're trying to decide if you should, this is a life-changing opportunity for students worldwide.
Interested in jumping into a new adventure? Become a host family today by starting an application.
If you’d like more details and need any questions answered about hosting, you can also request more information from us.
To contact us, you can call AYUSA's 24-hour phone number at 800.727.4540 or you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.