The decision to become a host family for an international high school student is definitely an exciting one. You’re about to bring in a new member of the family, forge lifelong relationships, and create memories that you’ll cherish forever. It’s a big event — and big events require some preparation. We asked some of our most successful host families to share their best advice. Read on to learn their five most important tips for successfully hosting an exchange student.
Do not treat your student as a guest
Remember, for the duration of his or her stay, your exchange student is part of the family. It’s important to establish trust and friendship with your exchange student by providing a safe and welcoming environment. Exchange students should have the same privileges and duties as your own children — and that includes chores. Your home is not a hotel — it is their home. You are a parent, not an employee or boss. From recreation, to study, to mealtimes and sleep, your student should understand that your home is a safe and peaceful place, both emotionally and physically, and that such a place comes with responsibilities and expectations. Also, be sure to remember important occasions like holidays and birthdays — everyone likes to feel special!
Communication is key
The success of an exchange program often comes down to one thing: communication. Traveling to a new country, living with a new family, and attending a new school is a unique experience that can bring about some strong emotions. Generally, these are nothing to worry about — homesickness, for example, is something that almost every student experiences at some point in during their program. Nevertheless, it’s vital that you establish an open channel of communication with your exchange student and your Area Representative to ensure that your time hosting — and your student’s time studying — is as successful as possible.
Your Area Representative is always available to help. He or she will conduct monthly check-ins and offer guidance whenever needed. Informing your Area Representative of any outlying behaviors (extreme homesickness, difficulty adjusting to school or your family, etc.) can be the difference between a minor adjustment issue and a student returning home early. While the vast majority of host families and students encounter no problems, establishing healthy communication early on is always a good idea.
Get (and stay) involved
Your student is here to study, true, but just as important (and arguably longer lasting) is the cultural education they’ll receive. Don’t be a shut-in — get out there and get active! Check out a baseball game, visit museums, volunteer at a food bank. Introduce your student to your extended family, your neighbors, your friends. Anything that gets you and your student involved with your community is a surefire way to make your student’s stay (and your time hosting) memorable, valuable, and fun!
Don’t expect perfection
No two students, just as no two families, are the same. What works for one student might not work for another. And as with any child, there are bound to be a few missteps on your path to a harmonious relationship. This is totally normal! As long as your student and you trust one another and you have clearly communicated your expectations, there is very little that cannot (and will not) be overcome. Have patience. Be understanding of cultural differences on both ends of the scale. There’s not always a “right” and “wrong” way to do things, especially when people from (sometimes very) different countries are involved.
Establish a foundation of support for you and your student
While they are in the United States, you are your student’s family. Still, it’s important to remember that they also have a family back home. Make sure that your student has a way to regularly contact them — be it through email, phone calls, or even good, old-fashioned postcards. Involving your student in your family’s daily activities will do wonders for establishing a foundation for success. You, too, will probably benefit from talking to someone who understands the situation you’re in. You can always reach out to the ISE host family community to get to know other host families. The more support your student and you have, the better!