Hosting a foreign exchange student is so much more than providing them with meals and a place to sleep – it’s a chance for your whole family to learn about another culture and language from the comfort of your own home and form a lifelong connection. Opening your home to an exchange student allows you to positively impact a young person’s life and give them an experience that they’ll never forget.
The time preceding your student’s arrival is likely filled with a lot of excitement as well as some nerves. At Colonial Van Lines, we’re firm proponents of broadening horizons whenever possible. We think that hosting an exchange student is a wonderful opportunity. Preparation is key and will help your family and your exchange student adjust to the new living situation. To help ensure a smooth transition, we’ve compiled some tips to prepare you to be a great host family for your exchange student.
If you can, chat regularly with your soon to be family member before their arrival.
You can lessen feelings of unfamiliarity and awkwardness by keeping in touch with your student before they arrive. Ask about their likes and hobbies, keeping them in mind as you prepare for their arrival. Using Zoom or Facetime will give everyone a chance to say hello.
If you have children, inform them about the changes to your family dynamic.
If you’ve got some jitters about hosting an exchange student, your kids probably do too. Communication with all involved parties is essential throughout the entire hosting experience. If they have any concerns, hear them out and talk through it. This will be a valuable experience for them, too.
A common concern among prospective host families is the assumption that because exchange students are teenagers, you need to have teenage children of your own to be a good host family. Laura Kosloff runs a blog about being an exchange mom, and she dispels that myth. “Good candidates for host families come in all shapes and sizes,” Kosloff writes. Furthermore, you and your spouse can qualify to be a host family without having children.
Contact the local high school.
The coordinator is responsible for enrollment, but it’s important to call and see if there’s anything that you need to do. You may need to enroll your student in their classes and extracurriculars.
Set up an appointment with your student’s designated school counselor for soon after they arrive.
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Set up their room.
Giving the student a place to relax and spend some time alone will help them decompress and show them that you respect their privacy. If your student will share a room with one of your children, be sure to have a plan to divide the space. There’s a ton of room divider options on Amazon that won’t break the bank.
You don’t need to redecorate, but you do need to provide them with a bed, a place for their belongings and someplace to study. We recommend adding a poster that highlights something your student is interested in. If you aren’t sure what they’re interested in, you can make a poster with their name on it. Mounting a pinboard to the wall is also recommended, so they can put up pictures of their family and friends from back home.
Make your exchange student feel welcome without overwhelming them.
While you may want to throw a welcome party and invite the whole neighborhood, it’s usually best to let your student settle in first. When your exchange student first arrives, they may feel uncomfortable and a bit out of place. This is totally normal. They’re in an entirely unfamiliar place surrounded by complete strangers. Put yourself in their shoes and do what you can to put them at ease. The welcome party can come later, if you think that your student would enjoy it.
On their first day, you can have a small welcome gift ready, like a cute keychain with a key to the house attached.
Your student may not be comfortable opening up right away, and that’s okay. It’s not uncommon for exchange students to feel anxious and homesick. Let them know that you’re there to support them, but don’t try to force anything.
Inform them of the rules early on.
Draw up a list of house rules. This can include anything from curfews to chores and maximum shower time. Seasoned host families recommend handing over the list of rules as soon as possible so that the expectations are clear, leaving less room for miscommunications.
Learn about their customs and culture.
Nearly every country has their own unique traditions. Research your student’s and pencil them into your calendar. Go out of your way to learn about your student’s culture and important traditions, and then celebrate them as a family when they come around. just a little bit of online research can let you know what dishes are prepared, how homes are decorated and what activities take place during these celebrations.
While they’re living with you, they’re family.
Don’t treat your foreign exchange student as a guest. It’s called being a “host family” for a reason. It’s important to establish trust with your student by providing a safe and welcoming environment. You don’t need to go overboard but including your student in family outings and integrating them into your usual routine will make them feel like they belong.
As a host family, you’ll share your way of life with a foreign student, broaden their horizons and your own, and gain an international network of friends. We hope that this article helps you feel better prepared to welcome an exchange student into your home!
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