Are you interested in hosting an exchange student? If you are, then you’re one of a growing number of Americans who are hosting international students in their home. Becoming a host family for an exchange student is an exciting time for your whole family.
It’s an opportunity to learn about new cultures, expand your worldview, and make new friends from around the globe. In case you’re just starting to learn about this incredible cross-cultural exchange, an exchange student is a student who attends a school outside of their home country for a period of time.
Before inviting an exchange student to live with your family while they continue their high school studies, make sure to discuss the possibility with each member of your family, to explore the pros and cons, and ensure that you are prepared to create a warm and inviting environment for your potential foreign exchange student.
Here at Ayusa, we’re one of the best foreign exchange student programs with more than 40 years of experience. We’ve been recognized for providing excellent support coordinating both inbound and outbound exchange programs. We have seen how exchange students can positively impact the lives of their host families. In turn, we have seen how our amazing host families are changing the world.
If you are interested in learning how to become a student host family, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll walk you through all these details! Read on.
The Benefits of Becoming a Host Family for a Foreign Student
Becoming a host family for international students is a life-changing opportunity for both the student, and every member of the host family.
Many exchange students maintain contact with their host families long after they return home. Why? Because through the hosting experience, they will become family.
Below are some of the most rewarding benefits of becoming a host family for a high school foreign exchange student:
- Broaden your family’s horizons
- Engage in cross-cultural exchange
- Build lifelong relationships and become a second family to a foreign exchange Student
Broaden Your Family’s Horizons
Many host families regard hosting an exchange student as a way to broaden their family’s outlook on cultural diversity. Especially for host families with young or teenage children, hosting an exchange student is a great way to teach kids about cultural diversity from within their own homes.
Studies have shown that encouraging diversity and acceptance, especially from a young age, improves a child’s capacity to learn and appreciate various subjects. It teaches them different viewpoints, empathy, and compassion for others.
Foreign exchange students, by nature, are curious about immersing themselves in new and exciting cultures. By inviting a foreign exchange student to live with your family for their time of studies.
This also opens your family up for discussions around race, culture, and diversity. Fostering these kinds of conversations goes beyond the superficial and allows your family to connect more deeply with both your exchange student and the world around you.
After hosting an exchange student, families with their own teenagers can keep going. Many times, teenagers from host families desire their own study abroad experience after hosting a student in their home.
In these cases, Ayusa offers international student programs for American teenagers, ages 14-17, as well! Families that host with Ayusa also receive a discount on study abroad program fees for their own children. Contact us here if you’re interested.
Engage in Cross-Cultural Exchange
Cultural exchange is the exchange of ideas, costumes, and social behaviors of a particular people or society.
When a foreign exchange student comes to live with your family, there will invariably be food items, appliances, and expressions they have never seen or heard before. This exchange happens both ways, too. A custom or food item that seems very normal to your exchange student might be completely new to you. Engaging in these types of cultural exchanges is one of the many benefits of hosting an exchange student.
You’ll get to experience a new culture without ever having to leave home. You get to learn about a foreign culture firsthand from an eager student who is just as excited to learn about your culture as you are to learn about theirs.
Some examples of cross-cultural exchange include:
- Holidays and accompanying traditions
- Sports or games
- Style and fashion
- Stories or fables
Take time to share the customs and traditions that define your family.
If your foreign exchange student is open and willing to share details about their home lives, customs, culture, and family, then ask them questions!
Some questions you can ask to encourage cultural exchange include:
- What is high school like in your country?
- What major differences have you noticed in an American high school?
- What is something that surprised you about America?
- Did you have any misconceptions about what America would be like before arriving?
- How do you like to entertain yourself at home?
- What are some stories your parents would tell you growing up?
- What’s the most surprising thing you could teach us about your culture?
Build Lifelong Relationships and Become a Second Family to an Exchange Student
Host families who have hosted many foreign exchange students have remarked that they’ve gained a new family member of their own. Many of those relationships are still strong years after the exchange student returns home.
Long after the high school exchange program is finished, students and their former host families share their stories with one another, keep in touch on social media, and even visit each other over the coming years.
In fact, the Jordan family from Texas welcomed two Ayusa students, Margarita and Nadine, into their family. During their stay, the Jordan family’s daughter, Ashlee, was also in high school. Years later, when Ashlee was set to be married, she invited both Margarita and Nadine to be her bridesmaids.
“Hosting an international student will make them part of your family forever.”--The Jordan Family
There are hundreds of stories just like the Jordan family’s wedding reunion. The relationship gained from hosting an exchange student lasts far beyond their stay in your home—and the visits go both ways. Don’t be surprised to find your own family is invited to a wedding abroad a few years down the line!
How to Become a Host Family for a Study Abroad Student
The most successful host families will be interested and engaged in their exchange student’s time spent in America—without being overbearing. Below are some initial tips:
- Ensure the students have reliable transportation to and from school
- Provide a safe and comfortable place for foreign exchange students to live
- Exchange traditions from day 1
- Show exchange students what life in America is life from your family’s unique perspective
- Have open and transparent communication with your exchange student
- Use this opportunity to see new places that your family has been wanting to explore
How to Prepare to Host an Exchange Student
Before committing to hosting a foreign exchange student in your home, it’s crucial to discuss this with your entire family. Ensure that each member is open and excited to welcome a new member into your home for a period of time.
Once you’ve discussed the benefits of hosting a foreign exchange student and the responsibilities you’ll have as the host family, discuss the reality with each family member.
Discuss the Pros and Cons With Your Family
It’s more than likely that each member of a host family will derive their own experience from hosting a foreign exchange student.
Host families come in all configurations. Some examples of host families that have successfully hosted foreign exchange students through Ayusa include:
- Families with young children
- Families with older children
- Families with no children
Depending on your family, ensure that every individual is comfortable with hosting a foreign exchange student.
For the heads of the household, hosting an international student is like having a child of your own for a period of time.
Whether you don’t have children, have children of your own living at home, or whether your children are grown and moved out, it’s an excellent opportunity for any adult to house a student who has an enthusiastic passion for learning and growing during their stay.
For host families with children, an exchange student can act as a bonus sibling for their stay. Host families with younger children might find that the exchange student acts as a role model for their children. This allows younger children to experience a world far beyond their own home—all without having to leave it.
For host families with high school-aged students, the foreign exchange student will act as a classmate. In these scenarios, your high school-aged child and the foreign exchange student can form a genuine friendship that will likely last far beyond the student’s stay.
For empty nesters missing their own children, hosting a foreign exchange student is a great way to connect with a young student, engage in cultural exchange, and provide a safe space for them to continue their studies.
Decide Each Family Member’s Contribution
Once your family has decided that a foreign exchange student is a great idea, decide what everyone’s role will be in ensuring that the student’s stay is comfortable and enriching.
Families with high school children can ensure that the foreign exchange student’s time at school is seamless, too.
Before inviting a foreign exchange student to live with your family, have a discussion with your teenager about how to make sure the foreign exchange student’s time at high school is smooth.
Encourage your team to invite the student to meet their friend, to engage in typical teen activities, and to familiarize the student with the layout of the high school.
By discussing what can be done to make a foreign exchange student’s first few weeks as easy as possible, host families can lessen the likelihood of an exchange student feeling alienated or homesick. Instead, they can focus on enjoying their time learning in America!
Host families without teenagers of their own can still work to connect the foreign exchange student with local youth groups, neighborhood kids, or friends of the family. This gives the foreign exchange student relationships outside of the host family to explore, too.
Exchange Student Host Family Requirements
Once your family is onboard to host a foreign exchange student, the next steps are to set up your home and your daily routines to ensure that their stay is hospitable.
To comfortably host a foreign exchange student, you will need to provide four core comforts of home:
- A comfy, safe place to live, sleep, study, and thrive for 5 to 10 months
- Three healthy, balanced meals per day
- Reliable rides or access to public transportation
- Welcoming enthusiasm from the entire family
Your foreign exchange student, like any high school student, should always be made to feel safe, secure, comfortable, and well-fed. By providing a clean and safe space for your exchange student to study and thrive, you are already setting yourself up for success as a host family. Beyond that, foreign exchange students require three daily meals.
Ayusa realizes that families are very busy with work responsibilities and extra-curricular activities. While AYUSA’s foreign exchange students are not permitted to drive while on the program, they will take school and public buses whenever available.
Many students are open to purchasing or borrowing used bicycles to travel shorter distances. Biking, walking, or carpooling are all acceptable ways for them to get around. Family members are not expected to be chauffeurs but to offer the student a ride when it is convenient.
Because your whole family has discussed the pros and cons of hosting an exchange student, everyone knows their responsibilities. Everyone should know how to be welcoming and hospitable—to ensure that the foreign exchange student feels almost like a family member.
The final, but arguably the most important element, is to create an environment of open and enthusiastic communication in your home. There are a few ways to create an open and communicative home for your foreign exchange student:
- Communicate everything clearly—Avoid slang terms and euphemisms that may not translate to someone speaking English as a second language.
- Ask questions—Make the effort to really get to know your foreign exchange student. Ask them questions about their lives, their goals, and things they would like to see or learn in their time with your family.
- Spend quality time together—No need to hover, but be sure to plan some fun things to do with your foreign exchange student during their stay.
- Make accommodations—Be aware of any special needs your exchange student might have.
How AYUSA Can Help Your Family Become a Host Family for An Exchange Student
Families who host an exchange student get the chance to experience more of the world without stepping off their doorstep. Even more importantly, they gain a lifelong friend.
Host families say that 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. If you haven’t yet, check out the YES Exchange Student Program. Since October 2002, the program has been funded by the U.S. government in order to break stereotypes about predominantly Muslim countries. Every academic school year, students from over 40 Muslim countries come to America to study in a high school.
Ready to learn more and start your host family journey? Here at Ayusa, we’re thrilled to support your host family and student throughout the foreign exchange student’s time here! Contact us here.