December 29, 2022
Study Abroad

Understanding Study Abroad Programs: The Complete Guide For Host Families

For over 100 years, study abroad programs in the U.S. have helped students and families from across the globe learn about new cultures and gain a diverse perspective. Exchange student host families provide support to students and guide them through their journey in the U.S.

95% of host families reported that their students were eager to learn, and 97% reported that they were open to learning about new cultures. Being a host family is a rewarding experience for both you and the student you host!

At AYUSA, we’ve been connecting host families with study abroad program students for over 40 years! We navigate the process of matching you with a student, so that families can focus on helping students have their best academic year in America

If you’re interested in hosting a student, or you just want to learn more about study abroad programs, this guide is for you! We’ll answer the questions:

  1. What is a study abroad program?
  2. What makes a good study abroad program?
  3. Why should you host an international student?
  4. How do you become a host family?

Keep reading to find out more!

What Is A Study Abroad Program?

Study abroad programs place students in a school in an international country. Students study abroad in the U.S. to:

  • Share their culture 
  • Meet diverse people
  • Improve their education
  • Gain a second family
  • Learn new skills

The top two motivations for students who study abroad are:

  1. Achieving career goals
  2. Personal growth 

Study abroad programs help students access skills they may not normally learn in their home country, and traveling abroad teaches them skills like independence, communication, and problem-solving.

At AYUSA, we’re committed to helping communities benefit from cultural exchange. Meeting people from different countries is a rewarding and eye-opening experience, and it helps create a better, more understanding world for us all!

Types of Study Abroad Programs

Study abroad programs can vary in length, destinations, and goals, as not all high school exchange programs are the same. 

At AYUSA, we are an international nonprofit high school exchange organization focused on creating and supporting the next generation of world leaders and citizens. We partner with the U.S. Department of State to offer study abroad programs to students from over 50 countries. Our students can study in the U.S. for 5 to 10 months!

In addition to inbound study abroad, we offer outbound programs for U.S. students to study in Germany and Japan. We also administer the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program, which offers study abroad scholarships to students from over 30 countries with high Muslim populations. All of these programs help break cultural barriers and connect people with others from different cultures and backgrounds. 

Benefits of Study Abroad Programs 

Studying abroad offers countless benefits, including:

  • Growing career and technical education skills
  • Gaining social and cultural skills
  • Improving a language

Studying abroad can grow career and technical education skills, which are vital to succeeding in today’s rapidly changing workforce. These skills give students hands-on experience in the real world. Healthcare workers with technical skills in their chosen field saw a 70% increase in wages!

Along with career skills, students and families gain social and cultural skills. Living with someone from a different culture gives you a new perspective, and many host families find that their entire world view is changed when they host a student. Take the Savage family from Colorado for example, who said that hosting made their family’s perspectives grow:

“Hosting involves qualitative skills like applying emotional intelligence, engaging in positive conflict resolution, and managing shifts in the family dynamics. Little did we know that hosting would include self-discovery and introspection for each family member and as a whole.”

Students who study abroad learn more about themselves, other cultures, and can even improve their English! 80% of students who studied abroad said that living with a host family was “essential” to their language improvement skills—so becoming a host family is more impactful than you know. 

Traits of the Best Study Abroad Programs

Before becoming a host family, it’s important to choose the right study abroad program. The best student exchange programs have traits that set them apart from the others.

At AYUSA, we are proud to be one of the best study abroad programs for students and host families. We have the skills necessary to make study abroad the best experience for host families because we are:

  1. Relationship-focused: We take the time to get to know families, build networks in local communities, and genuinely care about everyone involved.
  2. Passionate: We’re passionate about creating the next generation of leaders and shaping lives through study abroad programs. 
  3. Unbiased: We remove stress for students and families through unbiased support and conflict resolution. 
  4. Communicative: We’re honest about host requirements, and we’re here to support you and your student throughout the entire process. 
  5. Experienced: With over 40 years of experience and over 50 grants from the U.S. Department of State, we have what it takes to simplify the exchange process so you can focus on the fun stuff. 
  6. Supportive: Our community representatives check in monthly, are available to answer last minute questions, and stay involved with each family’s unique situation. 

The best study abroad programs have all of these traits and more. Make sure you get to know your study abroad program before picking the best one for your family. (Hint: that’s us!)

Why Should You Host For Study Abroad Programs?

Hosting an exchange student is a unique journey for everyone. Along with the career and cultural benefits that a student gains, host families have just as many benefits! When you become a host family, you’ll:

  • Improve your cultural awareness
  • Gain a family member
  • Make a difference
  • Expand your perspective

Improve Your Cultural Awareness

As of 2021, the regions where the most study abroad program students come from are Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. No matter where your exchange student was born, they will have a story to tell. Study abroad programs help people break cultural barriers and recognize the different life experiences we all have, while also realizing that we can all relate to one another. The James family from Minnesota hosted for the first time to learn about other cultures:

“We thought it would be a great experience for us and our very American children to broaden our horizons. We are thrilled to be able to offer this opportunity for a young person to dive into our culture as well.”

Gain A Family Member

As a host family, you don’t just welcome a student into your home—you welcome them into your heart! Hosting an exchange student is perfect for everyone, and whether you’re a family of six or have no children, you’ll gain another person to love. Jennifer Linn, a host mom from Minnesota, formed lifelong relationships with her exchange students:

“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.”

Host families make a big difference in the study abroad experience of students, making sure they feel at home and welcome. 98% of host families say that their exchange student was comfortable in their home, and you can provide the same welcoming environment!

Make A Difference

The experience of hosting a study abroad student is personal, but the impacts are shared outside of your home. Study abroad programs positively impact many different groups. Our breakdown below shows how. 

People in your neighborhood and the entire country are impacted by learning about new cultures, and everyone can gain a lot from fostering a global understanding.

Expand Your Perspective

When you host a study abroad exchange student, the lens you view the world through will be changed. April Bray, host mom from Texas, said that one of the unexpected things about hosting was:

“Having to explain things that are so normal for us to a student. Like how to operate a microwave, making sure the shower liner goes inside the bathtub, where to sit for dinner, how to use the ice machine on the fridge.”

For the Bray family, love knows no bounds. No matter what culture, perspective, or country someone comes from, study abroad programs help everyone build compassion for each other. 

Become A Study Abroad Program Host Family

Ready to gain all the benefits of being an international student host family? We’re here to help! Getting started with hosting requires five steps:

  1. Meet the study abroad program host requirements
  2. Connect with an AYUSA representative
  3. Complete a hosting application
  4. Select a student
  5. Welcome your student into your home

Find out below how to get started! Need help? Request more info from us and ask any questions you have, or call us at 888.552.9872 for guidance! 

Meet Study Abroad Program Host Requirements

Study abroad program host families come in all shapes and sizes! Hosts need to be at least 25 years old and have the desire to learn, teach, mentor, grow, and love. To successfully host a student, you’ll need to provide:

  • A safe and welcoming environment
  • Three meals a day
  • Transportation (whether that’s car rides or access to public transit)
  • Time and enthusiasm

To become a host family for exchange students, all family members should be prepared—make sure that everyone is on board! If you meet the requirements and you’re ready to provide all of these things, request more information to get started.

Connect With An AYUSA Representative

When you’re ready to welcome a student into your home, fill out an information request to get in touch with a representative. Your representative can answer any additional questions, fill in the details, learn about your family, and figure out if hosting is perfect for you. Your representative will support you throughout the whole process of becoming a host—we want to make the experience as easy as possible! 

Complete A Hosting Application

Your representative will help you start a hosting application! The application process includes four different parts. Check out our breakdown:

This process ensures a safe experience for everyone involved. Once you’ve been approved, it’s time to select the perfect student for your family! 

Select A Study Abroad Program Student

When you’re ready to welcome an international student, your representative will use what they’ve learned about your family to connect you with the perfect match. At AYUSA, our students are exceptional learners with contagious enthusiasm. Just like us, they’re dedicated to making their study abroad experience the best it can be! We require our students to demonstrate:

  1. Great character: AYUSA students have strong leadership skills and strong character. They’re well-rounded learners, mature academic performers, and open-minded travelers! 
  2. Language proficiency: Students need an ELTiS English proficiency score of 212 (learn more here!).
  3. A health assessment: Our students receive all required immunizations. 

Meet our students to learn more about their stories and find your perfect match! 

Welcome Your Student Into Your Home!

Once you’ve determined hosting is right for you, completed your application, been approved, and connected with the perfect student—the last step is to welcome your student into your family! Because hosting is a big responsibility, it’s important that all family members are on the same page. Before your student arrives, make sure you: 

  • Decide the contribution of each family member
  • Make a communication plan
  • Make a school plan if you have school-aged children

When your student arrives, it’s up to everyone to make sure they feel supported and welcome to avoid homesickness and alienation. Most importantly, make sure to engage in cultural exchange and create an open environment by:

  • Asking questions: Exchange students are knowledgeable and have unique experiences. Get to know your student and learn everything you can from them!
  • Spending quality time together: Plan fun things to do with your foreign exchange student! That being said, make sure you give them their free time, too. 
  • Communicating clearly: Make sure you talk to your student in a way they can understand, and avoid unfamiliar slang or euphemisms. 
  • Exchanging traditions: Teach your student all of your family traditions and let them teach you the traditions of their family and culture! 
  • Accommodating their needs: Respect and accommodate for special needs (dietary, physical, etc.) that your exchange student has. 

This ensures that you’ll have a great experience, like the host family and German student who found a 'perfect fit'! Botur, 17, said:

“I think it’s not about the place where you go to, it’s about the people.”

The success of study abroad programs is dependent on the enthusiasm and dedication of everyone involved! 

Host With One of the Best Study Abroad Programs

Study abroad programs offer students and host families a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As a host family, you’ll make a difference in both a student’s life and your own through cultural exchange, new skills, and lifelong friendships. The students you host will leave their mark on your heart and remain a lifelong friend, even when they go back home! 

At AYUSA, we want to help host families navigate study abroad programs. We’re passionate about helping students and families have the best exchange experience ever! That’s why we guide you throughout the process, answer all of your questions, and provide ongoing support throughout the entire program. Our community representatives are dedicated to making the world a better place—we’re so excited for you to join us! 

To start your hosting journey today, request information and start your hosting application. Still have questions? Read our FAQ, email us, or call us at 888.552.9872. 

If you want to read more about study abroad programs, check out these stories from our host families! 

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