Updated November 2021
Everyone seems to agree: hosting an exchange student is enriching, rewarding, and so very fun! So why do so many people push the pause button?
Like anything else, hosting an exchange student comes with a common list of assumptions and misconceptions. But these “reasons” not to host are not only misguided, they just might be holding you back from the experience of a lifetime!
Let us demystify the hosting experience by debunking some common myths! Do you find yourself saying, “We’d love to host an exchange student BUT….
1) “We can’t afford it!”
Teen activities can get expensive!! (Right?) But what if your new international son or daughter actually paid for themselves? (Whew!!)
Exchange students come with their own spending money and medical insurance, meaning all those sports fees, school supplies, clothes, souvenirs, travel expenses, sprained ankles, allergy medicines, cups of coffee and trips to the movies are NOT your concern. Host families provide “room and board,” help with transportation, and the support of a family – so aside from a slight hike in your grocery bill and a little more gas in the tank, most families find the extra expense is negligible.
And let’s look at this another way…
When weighing the invaluable gains your family will receive from hosting (cultural connection, awareness, personal development, growth, change, laughs, memories), what other experience could hope to compare while simultaneously being nearly FREE?
2) “We plan to travel this year, so we can’t host! What would we do with the student?”
These days, just about everyone is traveling on a semi-regular basis, but that doesn’t have to derail your plans to host!
Option A: Take them with you! Many students are able to pay for their own airfare and share in the cost of the hotel, and what an amazing opportunity for them to see more of the country!
Option B: Let us help! What if the student could stay with a friend or another host family while you are away? And what if we could help coordinate those details? You’ll have a dedicated local coordinator for this very reason.
Bottom line: there’s no reason to let a few weeks of travel disrupt an amazing opportunity.
3) “What if there are problems, like the student not understanding our family’s rules about curfews, dating, or expectations about chores and homework?
Well, in our experience, insurmountable problems are absolutely the exception, not the rule.
This is kind of like saying, “I’d love to let my athletically gifted son play football, but I hear he could get injured!” With any adventure there is always a certain amount of risk, but there is also the opportunity for massive reward. You pick! 🙂
But seriously… what if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation? What if there are issues with adjusting? What if there are behavioral challenges? That’s what the exchange program is for! That’s why you have an on-the-ground local coordinator ready to chat any day of the week, and why you have the support of an entire team of problem-solvers at your disposal.
We take your partnership seriously, and we have extremely high standards for our students… backed by a disciplinary plan and a support staff that won’t let problems go unresolved. We’ll help guide you through the minor bumps you may face along the way, and we have a tried-and-true system for navigating larger issues as well. As a last resort, as a volunteer host family, you DO have the opportunity to say “this just isn’t working for us.” If working through roadblocks with your local coordinator’s support just isn’t cutting it, we can move the student to a new home.
4) “Our home is too small!” or “We live in an apartment!”
Many of our students are from countries where tighter living spaces are expected. Have you ever been to Europe? Apartments are the norm for many families!
When it comes to your home, size is not important. (Truly!) And if you’d like to host but are short on bedrooms, your student can even share a bunk-bed with one of your own children. Just be sure their roommate is of the same gender and is relatively close in age!
5) “We don’t have any kids of our own! Won’t the student be lonely?”
Exchange students need the support of a FAMILY – whether that’s one person, two people, or the Brady Bunch.
How many people are in your family? It truly doesn’t matter… because numbers don’t matter as much as heart. Your student doesn’t need a budding social life right in their own living room. (They’ll meet friends at school and can stay plenty busy with extracurricular activities.) What they DO need is someone, even just one person, to say “I’m here for you, we’re in this together.”
Just remember, not all exchange students are extroverted social butterflies! Some will actually PREFER a quiet home. (And we can help match you with that student!)
Still thinking it’d be nice to give your student a built-in wing-man? Consider hosting two at the same time!
Exchange students who share a “double placement” in the same home love having a peer to lock arms with, and YOU’LL love the “instant family” vibe that’s created when two teens walk through the door.
6) “We don’t have the time or the patience to try to figure out the language barrier!”
Good news! All our students have a tested level of English proficiency before coming on exchange, and many of them are fluent (or getting there). Want to know the even BETTER news? With apps like Google Translator and Babblefish, you’ll never be left guessing. (Technology for the win!)
And, let’s look at this “problem” from another angle! When there IS a language barrier, when you DO struggle to understand one another (because those moments will happen!) – what if you embraced it as a profound opportunity for growth? Your whole family will learn patience, empathy, and stronger communication skills. What a gift!
7) “We’ve got some home remodeling going on right now, so we’ll have to put it off for later! We wouldn’t want our guest to have to live in the mess!”
Ok. If you’ve gutted the kitchen and bath and are camping in the backyard, then yes, this could be an issue. But if you’re just updating the living room, swapping paint colors, fixing the roof, adding some landscaping, doing some drywall… no problem!
You might be gawking at the screen right now: “REALLY? You want me to host a guest while our house is torn up in remodel?”
The key thing to realize here is that hosting a student isn’t really the same as hosting a GUEST – it’s more like adopting another family member for a year! So WHATEVER your family has planned, whether it’s remodeling or traveling or community service or just chilling on the couch… your student wants to be included in that. It’s all part of their unique, real-life immersion experience! (And BONUS, maybe they’ll learn a thing or two right along with you! Pictured here: two students help the Upchurch family with their roofing project; a fun family bonding activity!)
8) “Our kids are very young! Shouldn’t I wait to host until they’re older?”
This is perhaps the most common misconception kicked around by potential host families, and it’s tragic… because they are MISSING OUT!!
Do you take your younger children on trips, enroll them in ballet or karate lessons, or teach them a musical instrument? If you’re excited about engaging your young kids in those enriching activities, just apply that same perspective to hosting a student, and you’ll get it!
Hosting an exchange student when your own children are young comes with so many advantages. For starters, you’ll expose them to another culture and language at an early age, when they’re still soaking up life like a sponge. Their view of the world will become so much bigger as a result of their new sibling, who they’ll likely view as a role model.
And what’s more, hosting when your children are younger will naturally dodge some common issues with jealousy and sibling rivalry that can pop up with older children – things like competition over grades, social status, sports ranking, and so on. There’s no wrong time to host; and when your children are young is actually one of the BEST times to say yes to this formative experience.
9) “We are SO busy! We will never have time for the student!”
You’re one of those really busy families? PERFECT!
Most of the time, this “busy” family lifestyle is exactly the kind of environment where an active student will THRIVE! A student who is BUSY is far less likely to become homesick, and families who are on-the-go tend to naturally build a close family bond and a positive rapport.
The trick is to find the right student for your family – someone who is interested in the activities you’re doing anyway!
Find yourself constantly at the soccer field? Great, let’s find you a soccer player! Marching band competitions every weekend? Awesome, let’s find you a musician! It may sound a little “braggy,” but the truth is we’re experts at finding just the right student who will adore the chance to slide right into your version of “busy.” Whatever you have going on, it’s an absolute dream come true for SOMEONE.
Sound too perfect? Ok, you’re right, sometimes your schedules may not gel exactly as planned… but when there ARE scheduling conflicts, don’t worry!
Carpooling, riding the bus, or getting a ride from a friend are simple solutions and 100% OK for your student as well. And they’ll learn valuable lessons in planning and independence in the process!
10) “We’re not a traditional family – so a student might not be comfortable in our home.”
Is there even such a thing as a “traditional” family these days? Aren’t we all incredibly unique? We’ve placed thousands of students with thousands of families, and we can confidently tell you: you are the PERFECT host family for SOMEONE.
We tend to think exchange students are all cut from the same cloth, but that’s simply not true. Students are just as diverse as host families, and there is a student out there waiting and hoping for a host home just like yours. We have had amazing experiences with families of all shapes and sizes, including singles, couples without kids, empty-nesters or retirees, same-sex partners, single parent families, home-school families, as well as “traditional” public school families with children of all ages.
Just think about it. If we found the right student who would LOVE what YOU bring to the table… would you want to meet them? If you’re interested in a sneak peak, check out our student finder at iE-USA.org!
So, what do you think? Do these reasons resonate with you?
If you’ve been peeking at the idea of hosting an exchange student but you’ve been camping out in one or more of the above “reasons not to host,” I want to encourage you to stop focusing on what won’t work for you and start dreaming about what will. What could YOUR family gain from hosting a student? With the right match and some experienced support, THOSE are the reasons that will lead you into the experience of a lifetime… and all of these logistical concerns will start to melt away.
Are you ready to talk to a local coordinator? Are you ready to envision YOUR experience? Connect with us!