Hosting an exchange student can be life-changing, but how do you know if it’s right for you?
Can you afford it? A common misconception of hosting an exchange student is that you have to have a lot of money because it will cost you a lot of money. That isn’t really true, but there is an aspect of truth to it. Really, it’s not much different than having one of your own children’s friends sleepover at your house. You would be responsible for feeding them, but you wouldn’t foot the bill for any medical services they might need to receive. But, with careful planning, you can make even a small budget go a long way. For example, if you enjoy eating out, try to do so less often and at more cost-efficient places.
Do you have time? Don’t think that you have to have an adult at home around the clock just to host a foreign exchange student, depending on their age you really would just treat them the same as you would your own children, however, if you have a very hectic schedule and have to leave your guest at home for extended periods of time that may not only be rude but could also be dangerous. It can be scary enough being far from home but throw in speaking English only as a second language, and that’s even worse.
Are you dead set on a particular child? Although you can set a preference for specific aspects such as gender, age, and country of origin, you can’t pick a student like you do fruit at the grocery store. Also, be prepared to have a lot of your preconceived notions challenged in a good way. This program is terrific for not only exposing students to American culture but hosts to cultures they may have thought they were otherwise familiar with.
Once you’ve decided that this is something you are ready for, here are some things you can do to get prepared:
Meet with other hosts. Whether it’s in person or online, talking to other people who have hosted foreign exchange students is a great way to learn about what you can expect and get advice on common concerns you may have.
Learn about your student. When you’re assigned a student, you should be sent information about them, such as dietary restrictions and their interests or hobbies. Use this to make a connection with your student. You don’t have to have anything in common, but knowing about them and showing an interest in what they like can help them feel more comfortable when they are first settling in.
Make your home comfortable for them. That means cleaning up and giving them easy access to items they may need, such as towels and toiletries.
Decide on basic home rules. You might take for granted that the rules of your home are apparent, or that you don’t have any. But think carefully about what is important to you and try to think of a polite way to convey that to the student. Try to keep the list short and to the essentials, and if something comes up later, politely let them know how you prefer things done.
Prepare your children. Let your children know that they should be courteous to the student and what they might expect. You should also expect that your children will form a relationship with the child as well, just like siblings might. They may get along right away, or they may not hit it off at first. Try not to treat either child differently, but keep in mind cultural differences and remember that at the end of the day, they are children and will behave as such.
Try to do something special. If you and your family enjoy taking trips, try to coordinate one when the child is staying with you. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy like a vacation to Disneyland, but getting away from the house can help expose the student to other parts of America and form a stronger bond with you and your family.
Finally, be flexible and understanding. You can plan forever, and things will still come up. Try to have fun and remember the reason you are doing this in the first place.