Young men and women the world over strive to come to the United States as exchange students to study and learn about our culture. Paving the way for these world leaders of tomorrow are host families, willing to give of their time and open up their homes to students heralding from locations such as Norway, Nigeria and China. Most host families report gaining as much wisdom, knowledge and enjoyment from the experience as they gave. Is hosting an exchange student right for your family?
Who are today’s exchange students?
Their interests are as diverse as their countries of origin, but several characteristics seem to exemplify the young adults who wish to spend time studying here. Most seem to be serious and confident students, who wish to absorb as much knowledge as possible and achieve excellence in their lives. They are interested in learning about new cultures and the world, so as to better serve their own country, live on a world stage and excel as professionals later on in life.
Who are today’s host families?
Many host families welcome exchange students into their lives for short or extended periods of time, ranging from six weeks up to a full academic year. Host families are as diverse as the students they welcome into their lives but all are willing to provide the love, encouragement and support that exchange students need.
Some have teenage children of their own who are eager to share in this experience, while others are either empty-nesters or have young children at home. Some were exchange students themselves who found their lives changed by that experience. Many state goals that include learning about other cultures and helping to promote understanding of cultural differences as being important to them. Most believe that this process can help to make the world a better place.
How do I begin the process?
Potential host families can work through a variety of agencies, such as the AFS Intercultural Programs USA, Academic Year in America and Student American International, among others. Many of these agencies will be members of The Council on Standards for International Educational Travel. These agencies are often staffed by large, local volunteer networks that can help families interested in the process as well as offer support throughout the time their student is in residence here.
The agencies also provide student bios that list vaccine history, allergies or other medical issues as well as interests, such as sports, computer sciences or ballet. This enables host families to choose a student who will easily meld into their family life during their stay. Agencies help the student to acquire the appropriate type of visa for their stay. They provide a criminal background check on their students and will require one for each member of the host family’s household who is over the age of 14.
Host family applications can often be filled out online. You will be asked for logistical information about your family life as well as your neighborhood and community as well as your motivation and goals for wanting to host. Some will require references and an at-home interview. If approved, you will then work with the agency on being matched with the right student.
What will our life be like once our student joins our household?
Exchange students placed in your home become members of your family, even though they will be with you for a finite period of time. Many will opt to stay in touch with you for a lifetime, based on their experience with you. The student in your household should share in your life, not just come home to sleep or stay in their room. This means joining you on outings and excursions as well as sharing in the activities you enjoy on a day-to-day basis. They should also be required to participate in aspects of family life such as sharing chores and helping around the house.
In order for everyone to enjoy this experience fully, supporting the student to learn about our culture and experience everything from the local cuisine to sporting events will help all of you learn from and appreciate each other. Remember that they know all about their own way of life and would like to learn about yours. Ask them if they have any particular foods or experiences they would like to try, from going to the mall to having a beach barbecue. Cultures and societal expectations vary, so before your student arrives, it is wise to spend some time learning about their culture so as to avoid any potential gaffes you might make. If problems should arise, the agency will be able to support resolution through mediation.
What should I expect from my student?
Students are required to remain drug and alcohol free, to follow U.S. law and to refrain from making large, life-altering changes such as converting to a different religion, becoming pregnant or getting married. Students are also asked to keep international calls to a minimum. Although their family may come to visit, the host family is not required to have them stay in their home. Students are required to respect the rules of the host family, such as following curfews, not smoking and dressing appropriately. They are not allowed to operate a motor vehicle while they are here. The student is also required to remain enrolled in school during their stay.
What about finances?
The agencies should provide each student with secondary medical insurance so the host family need not have any concerns about emergency medical coverage or costs. Pocket money and expenses are also not required to be provided by the host family, although of course, it is up to you if you wish to pay for various outings or expenditures.
The host family is required to provide the student with appropriate housing, including a bedroom that is either theirs alone or is shared with a person of similar age and of the same sex, as well as three nutritious meals a day and transportation to and from school. The host family is not compensated for these expenses and, based upon U.S. Department of State regulations, are also not paid. However, host families can take an additional tax deduction for the student based upon the duration of their stay.
Hosting an exchange student provides a rich, experiential framework for everyone involved in this experience. The rewards can be many and long lasting, with many host families bringing new students into their lives year after year. Bringing an exchange student into your home in many ways also brings their country and culture to your doorstep. Few experiences in life offer as much value.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.