With exchange students and host families around the world eagerly awaiting their opportunity to experience cultural exchange, we decided to catch up with one of our incoming students and host families to get a glimpse of how they’re preparing for next year’s program and how virtual connections have already helped strengthen their bond.
We held a virtual meeting with the Miller Family, from Indiana, and their upcoming exchange student, Marcus, from England. Watch their interview below or read on to hear about their experience!
The Host Family Perspective: The Miller Family
For how many years have you been hosting exchange students, and how often do you host?
We have been hosting every other year since 2012, and hosting Marcus this next year will be our sixth time hosting. We have always hosted girls, so this is our first opportunity to host a boy.
What motivated you to host this season?
Now more than ever it is important that we do our part to help being the world back together after the last several months. We hosted a student this year from Bergamo, Italy, the hardest hit area from COVID-19 in their country. We learned first hand from her family what life was like for them beginning in mid-February. We were in a position to communicate frequently about what they were going through long before it hit the United States. Our Italian daughter returned home April 1, and things that we had planned to do with her during her last few months were no longer possible.
When I received the application for Marcus, we knew he would be a perfect fit for our family. Normally we would have taken the year off, and we decided that we did not want to pass up the opportunity to host a student from the United Kingdom, especially one from an area that is on my bucket list to visit one day! We have room in our home and our hearts to make his dream of coming to the U.S. happen. With so many things in common, there was no way that we could pass up the opportunity to make a difference and give him the chance of a lifetime.
In what ways do you think this year’s hosting experience will differ from those in the past?
We have already communicated more with Marcus and his mother than we did with any of our past students and their families since the placement was finalized in this first month leading into his exchange year. COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders are a big factor in that, because people are at home, relying on technology to communicate with others, and being able to text or video chat is an important way to stay connected with people.
School may be a different experience for students this next year, as will the social and athletic opportunities for exchange students. Travel may be more limited as well, and we may not have the opportunity to do some of the “regular” things we would do with our exchange students. Regardless, this is history in the making, and an opportunity to experience something unique to exchange students and host families in 2020. I also feel that we have the opportunity in this upcoming school year to connect with his friends and family in the UK while he is with us, because now more than ever people will want to know what life is like in the U.S. under a “new normal” for the American way of life.
In our current situation, virtual hangouts have become even more crucial to building and maintaining relationships. Have you been leveraging this in the build-up to this fall’s exchange program? If so, how?
As mentioned above in regards to how things may be different, connecting virtually is already one way that we have been building a relationship with Marcus. We have been chatting on Friday afternoons with Facetime, and it has been a great way to get to know him, see his home, show him our home, and work on building a relationship so that he feels like part of the family when he arrives in August. We also text frequently, and it’s been fun learning about where he comes from, and sharing information about where we live, the school, the state, etc. with him.
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the future, especially with respect to schooling and international travel, what benefits do you see in signing up now to host next school year despite this?
This is his one chance to experience the American dream of living in the U.S. and attending an American high school. Things could change, school could start differently, programs could be disrupted, but for right now he and his family have something to be hopeful about, and so do we. We have something positive to look forward to, to be excited about. One of the best benefits of signing up now in spite of everything is that we are already developing an exchange of friendship and culture whether he is able to arrive in August as planned or not. It’s an opportunity to connect around the world for families willing to open their homes, create lasting friendships, and build relationships without ever leaving home right now. At some point in the future, international travel will be okay, and our home will always be open to Marcus and his family, and we know the same holds true for us to one day see his home too regardless of what may happen with the school program.
What is one piece of advice you’d share with someone considering hosting a student this upcoming school year?
If you have room in your home and your hearts, this is an amazing experience that enriches the lives of your family, your exchange student, and his/her natural family as well. This is a dream that many exchange students start hoping and planning for years before they apply for the program. We have stayed connected with each of our past students, they have been back to visit us and we have traveled to visit them. They are part of our family for life, and by sharing our home and community with each of them, it has given us a greater appreciation for where we live, and the opportunities American schools have to offer to international students. Our advice: the sooner someone makes the decision to host, the more time that family has to connect and bond with the student they plan to welcome to their family. Right now is the perfect time to reach out with virtual technology, to connect and get to know one another. If nothing else, families will find a penpal for life to learn about the culture and education in the student’s country, and to share those same things about life in America.
Student Perspective: Marcus
What first sparked your interest in America?
What first inspired me to look into the culture trip was my first visit to NYC in December last year. America is full of history and different cultures. I just wanted to explore them all and experience a different way of life
Most teenagers wish to travel to new places on vacation, but exchange goes much deeper than that. It’s a full immersion into another way of life. What motivated you to pursue exchange?
I’ve always been fascinated with the average American’s way of life. I was hoping I could build up my confidence in meeting new people and hopefully gain life skills and lifelong friends.
Do you think it has been helpful getting to know your host family prior to coming to the U.S. through virtual hangouts?
I feel like it would be very awkward not speaking to my host family until I met them. Through virtual chat, it’s an easier way of getting to know each other, so there wouldn’t be any surprises when we first meet each other.
What are you most looking forward to when you come to the U.S.?
I’m most looking forward to my first day of school and learning in a much different environment from back in the UK.
Most students go on an exchange program to learn a new language, however, you are studying in an English-speaking country as a native English speaker. What is it that you aim to take from this program? (culturally, academically, personally, etc.)
My aim is to make new friends and try really hard at the new subjects and sports in America e.g American history and American Football.
What is one piece of advice you’d share with someone considering going on an exchange program?
My advice would be to study the country’s cultures before you depart and build relationships with your new host family.
If you would like to help an exchange student’s dreams come true, we invite you to read more about hosting a foreign exchange student. If you have specific questions about hosting, check out our host family FAQ page. You can also read testimonials from our past and current host families. When you feel ready, complete our host family interest form, and our area representative will get in touch with you.
You can also get involved by joining our team of Area Representatives! Help match host families and exchange students and bring the world closer together, while making a supplemental income.