Blending Cultures: Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student


Hosting Foreign Exchange Students is not a decision to be taken lightly. The commitments are different depending on the type of student that you host. Some come for a month, a semester, six months, or an entire school year. Some go to public schools and some go to private schools. Some are allowed only one visit to study, but some are granted 4 years – but go home for the summers.

The J-1 VISA is a one year only, Public School studentThe F-1 VISA can be up to 5 years, but the student must attend private schools. These students can come with host family compensation or not.

There are visitor or short term students as well. There is a lot of information available. Many government and agency sites can describe the types of student visitations or hosting opportunities available. A trial, short term visit may be just the thing to see if this is the right thing for you!

The requirements for hosting are criminal and child abuse background checks and a bedroom for the student. Home visits are performed to ensure that the student has a bed, a private place to study or spend alone time, and other specific items dependent upon the programs’ requirements. The school district that you live in must accept the student. You have to be interviewed and fill out a lot of paperwork that helps the program place or help you choose the student that best fits into your family. The family dynamics can be single parent, retirees, empty nest parents, married with or without children, again these requirements are dependent mostly on what your organization allows.

What is expected of you? You must provide a bed, two meals per day, and be willing to nurture, transport, interact, and basically care for a kid that is happy to be here, will become homesick, will want to be involved in sports, musicals, dances, shopping, etc…they are teenagers, after all. Some people prefer to be “parents”, while other people just like to be a mentor or supporter. These kids are to be treated as a member of your family, not a guest though. So, chores, church, traditions, meals, etc are to be shared. They should be included in your life and the daily running of your household.

One misconception is the need to provide all kinds of travel to show the US to your student. This is not true. While visiting tourist attractions near you, huge vacations or extravagant travel is not necessary. Also, many programs offer trips for the students to major places for the students, such as Washington, DC, New York, Disney, etc.

If you have any questions about any of this, please ask me. There are many agencies, and each have their own policies and procedures, but most are very similar.

I am a Forty-something mother of two amazing daughters, and I have been married to the love of my life for 19 years! We started out with little, but love and a few promises…never to divorce, to do the best we could for our kids, and to be involved in our community, church, schools, and anywhere possible.

I have a boisterous personality, to say the least! I call myself HRH, the queen, diva Mom, etc mostly as a joke, but I kind of like it too!!! I am not really high maintenance, but love to goof around and act like the queen!

My goal in life is to be the best Wife, Mom, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Neighbor, and HOST MOM that I can be! I came from little, and I am now blessed in every way. I believe that giving and helping others is the best and right thing to do. I have often gone without so that someone less fortunate could have a need met! I do not tell you this to brag, but to simply say that by being the best and doing well to or for others is a double blessing to me…I reap the rewards of seeing my kind deeds in action, and I believe what you give comes back multiplied in other blessings!

Our family also has furry, four legged members. We have a four year old Yorkie, two 11 week old Yorkie puppies, and a 4 year old diva cat! Now, if five years ago you would have told me that I would have a little dog that you buy purses and dresses for I would have laughed in your face! Literally…diva, remember! HA! Well, along came my oldest Yorkies older brother, who is parented by dear friends and was bred by another friend. He was love at first sight, and quickly became my “boyfriend”! Now, my husband did not mind, as he loved him too! So, we were first on the list for the next litter! These darling little dogs have the best personalities, are fun, loving, and easy to care for! Not to mention adorable! What better animals for a Diva like me!!! The cat, well suffice it to say that she thinks that we bought this house for her, and we are all her underlings

My children are my passion, as are all kids! I have a drive, a strong inner need, to be a hero to kids. I want every child to know that they are loved, important, amazing, and have the potential to do anything that they set their hearts and minds to achieving! I love nothing more than having kids in my house laughing and having fun, but I also spend time holding them, talking to them, and stepping in when they need someone to talk to. You know, sometimes even the best moms are not as good as another adult to chat with or lean on. To me, the best gift is a compliment about the kind of mother I am or my children. Don’t get me wrong, every diva loves sparkly gifts, but the gift of love or trust from a kid means the world to me!

Speaking of the world, brings us back to the Foreign Exchange Student topic! There is no larger honor than being given the trust and privilege of parenting someone’s child! It is a blessing, an honor, but also a large responsibility! Well worth it in every way!

Welcome!  I hope that you are here because you share a common interest, which is Foreign Exchange Students!  If not, after reading you may change your perspective .  I grew up with little, but watched my Aunt and Uncle who traveled the world and hosted many Foreign Exchange Student.  I love hearing about their homes, food, cultures, and I especially loved their accents!  Later, it was wonderful to hear of my aunt and uncle’s trips to their weddings or to visit their homes and families.

Now, I am married to the love of my life and raising two amazing teenage daughters!  We are blessed in many ways, and our goal was always to open our home to friends, visiting missionaries, our kid’s friends, and Foreign Exchange Students.  This was my goal, but not everyone was on board with me…it is funny how things can change instantly!  We accepted our first Foreign Exchange daughter as an emergency…she was a friend of my oldest daughter and was losing her host home.  We basically scrambled our way through emergency clearance and welcomed her into our home.  What a blessing in disguise!  Since then, we had her back the following year, I will explain the different types of students in a later post, and now have our second Foreign Exchange daughter for the current school year!

I have also gained the interest and commonality of friends who also now host Foreign Exchange Students!  It is rather contagious!  It is one of the most wonderful, challenging, rewarding, and interesting thing that we have done as a family!  We open our home, but we gain new children, cuisine, knowledge of ourselves, others, cultures, travel, on and on!  I have become so passionate about Foreign Exchange Students and the once in a lifetime opportunity that anyone can offer these kids that I have decided to recruit and supervise host families along with hosting in our home!

The point of this page is for me to share as much information about hosting foreign exchange students as possible.  To answer any questions that you may have. To help you find a student if you are interested. And finally, to support you in any way that I can!  I will post about many random topics, but I will also post answers to any questions.  This has changed our lives, only for the better and in many ways!  Not to mention that we get to be ambassadors and tour guides to America, this magnificent country we call home!  You cannot imagine the look on these kid’s faces when they see America or taste foods or shop in our stores for the first time!

Join me in Blending Cultures, one kid at a time!!!

Okay, let me just begin by telling you a bit about me as a mother. I am a cool mom, but I am also strict. I believe that you can be both. I expect to be respected at all times. Lying is never acceptable and is dealt with by doubling the punishment. All I ask is for my kid’s best attempts. I don’t need or want perfection from them, as it is unattainable and makes them miserable – and probably crazy! I love to have fun and I know my kids… I am close to them! I am a cool mom, but my kids know that I can go from cool mom to bitch in under 2 seconds! They know. I have made the boundaries clear and strong, but I am willing to work with them, because life is ever changing and challenging, so we have to have some flexibility. That being said, I am NO push over.

To achieve respect, it must be earned and expected. It is our job to prepare these kids for the world, the REAL world…you know the one that could care less if you are happy, rich, have the coolest clothes, are popular with your friends, etc. The world that expects hard work, gives hard knocks, and really doesn’t care. I found that the earlier I start with my kids the faster they catch on. When a new foreign exchange student enters my home, Respect is the FIRST item addressed. Actually, they are told that this is my number one requirement in their packet of host family information provided to them. And yes, I welcome them, allow them to adjust, and THEN we begin the respect talk. I will not allow talking back, glares, or walking away from me when I am speaking. I also try to be very respectful in return. I will yell or point out clothes left laying on the floor, dirty dishes on the counter, you know the list, but I also give privacy, knock on their door, ask if we can talk, and include them in family discussions and decision making.

I punish my foreign exchange students much the same as I do my natural children. That being said, my kids would tell you that I take it easy on these kids…at first, anyway! There is a learning curve, which again is a part of respecting the difficult transition that they are going through.

Stay strong, be firm and clear, and do not waiver. They will be all the better for it, and will go home a much more strong, secure, and confident human being! Keep up the good work, host parents!

I am deeply saddened to right this post. As my first action as Area Coordinator (I was asked to replace a wonderful woman who is retiring after many great years of love and service), I am sending a child home. Mind you, we have worked SO hard and in every possible way with this student, but to no avail. It is so unfortunate, and it does not occur often, but it does and boy, what a time it has been for me. I am literally learning on my feet! My emotions, although kept in check, have run the entire gamete. I have come to love this child, our children natural and foreign are all friends, but the student continues to neglect schoolwork and make other poor behavioral choices. The rules are the rules.

I am thankful for rules, and I would be a mess without them. I tend to prefer, quite strongly, order and organization in life, and rules play a large part of that. Without rules, you basically have chaos. Even babies need and seek rules. This natural instinct is so much stronger in teenagers, but while seeking boundaries they also are seeking independence. If taught all along about right vs wrong, respect, discipline, a good work ethic, there are less problems. I am not saying that this student did not have that…I simply do not know. Is it cultural? Maybe. Does this student just wanna have a good time? Probably. Will they regret this later? ABSOLUTELY! For me, that is the hardest part. I know what it is like to regret a childhood decision/action. Mine was not anywhere near the magnitude of blowing a once in a lifetime opportunity that not every child gets. Wow! I cannot fathom how this will effect the future for the student.

As a host mom and a supervisor helping another host mom, I have learned so much about many different things. The value of family is always first. The support of friends that are coping with similar situations. Choices and the inevitable, undesirable consequences.

This also has the potential to jade the host family. I have to say, this is an amazing host mom, who loves her kids, goes above and beyond what is asked of her, loves and protects fiercely, works tirelessly, and still this has occurred. Could she have done things differently? YES! That is not the point. I am more afraid that she will no longer wish to open her home or heart. There is a stack of documentation almost a foot high that substantiates that the mom tried, and the child did not.

If you are struggling, utilize the resources available to you! Go to your coordinator, if you are not satisfied, there is a guidance counselor that is assigned to all foreign exchange students at your school…believe me, they have heard and seen it all, or go to another host mom, coordinator, or someone higher up in the organization. The issues that come up are typical, can be managed, but must be addressed swiftly and strongly in order to be successful. In this case, there was no fix to be had. Remember this does happen, but NOT all the time or even most of the time. Believe me, I hate this, but the lessons from this week are unforgetable and filled with growth and motivation to try even harder and to do even more!

Hang in there! I am always here for questions or to guide you in any way!

Foreign Exchange Students, as well as their host families go through many stages. We all begin on our best behavior, with our best manners, and try to please everyone. Then comes the reality in phases or glimpses at first, “wow! There was nothing mentioned about that behavior or opinion or habit on the bio sheet”. Then the homesickness hits, and it is hard. It is hardest for the kids and their family at home, who feel utterly helpless, but what of the host family? It is draining, on many levels. It is a pathetic feeling of helplessness, as you try to love them more, but they don’t want you, they are moody, which is draining with all teenagers, you even begin to feel as though you are a failure or have some fault in these behaviors. If you are good, you can talk openly, let stuff slide off your back, and slowly regain the trust and happy, fun, loving, safe, good relationship that you began with. At this time, growth occurs for everyone. The kids will be more like your own children, testing boundaries, maybe feeling more comfortable and acting up – whether silly, bickering, or being stubborn…believe me, it runs the gamete But, first and foremost, the fact that they are teenagers must always be in the forefront of your mind and heart when caring for these children.

Grades are another issue. Our educational system is completely different from ANYTHING at home. Most European students are not expected to “excel”, while the Asian and Brazilian students have been pushed to succeed their entire lives. The federal statutes expect Foreign Exchange Students to maintain a C or better in every class. That being said, some school districts grade differently, and so it makes it hard to define what is a C. For instance, in our district, in order to have an A, you must earn a 93%. In neighboring districts, the benchmark for an A is 90%. Three points can make a HUGE difference. These expectations are different than at home, and many teens balk at the change or difference in requirements. Some foreign exchange students take this opportunity, as the once-in-in-a-lifetime chance that it is and rise to the challenge. Other students do not try, as they don’t have to at home, so why bother here? This change is also a frustration for the host family. For our family, we have always expected the best from our daughters. We are not the “What? You got a 98, what about a perfect score” kind of family. NO! If we see that you have worked diligently, studied, completed work, and still get a 75%, then you did your best and we are proud of you. We are fortunate to have two very motivated and academically successful students. We have also had two foreign students with the same mindset and outcome.

What does all this mean? Several things, really. Every teen is the same, no matter how or where they have been raised. Some are much more fortunate, some appreciate it and realize just how lucky they are, others…not so much. We, as host parents, must see them for what they are, be educated in what to expect, rely on the agency and other knowledge we have gleaned to cope with the tough times, and be ready to offer a lot of mercy, patience, and grace when needed. We have to be tough at times, loving at others, set limits and enforce them, and be willing to have fun too! We have to be good parents. We will learn and grow as much as, if not more, than the teen that we are hosting. The Old Dogs and New Tricks saying if for the birds!

The best way to deal with change is to be yourself, and remember that the other person is struggling too. Believe me, the things that we have to work the hardest to achieve are the things that we will learn the most from! Don’t let this scare you, this is a very truthful look at the hard side of hosting foreign exchange kids. I would be offering you quite the disservice if I did not open up with honesty about these topics.

Early Spring is the best time to choose your student for several reasons. The kids that are already available have everything in order and are ready/preparing now. You have time to begin building your bond now. There are only so many open slots in your school district or on your school bus, so getting approval/acceptance now is a good idea…less hassles later. You can begin to plan your time, places you would like to go – did I hear Hersheypark? – and get organized for your new guest. It is also a good time to spend quality time with your own family, let your kids adjust – if there are any at home – think about rules, curfews, schedules, etc.

All in all, I feel that planning ahead is always a good thing. If you are an old hand at hosting, you know that choosing now gives you more selection and ease. It also take a bit less time, as this is not the time when a lot of people are scrambling to get everything in order so they can get a kid, get them enrolled, get approved, have the home inspection, etc!

Contact me now! I have about 50 kids right now looking for the opportunity of a lifetime…are you willing to offer that to them?

Basically nothing is a good general answer. If you have an extra bedroom, that is really all you need. You provide 2 meals a day, and you are cooking for your family anyway…when do you not have leftovers? If the kids want snacks and you do not like them, buy them for your family, or choose to not provide them, the student can purchase them for themselves. If this occurs, you are asked to provide a cupboard or drawer for them to store their food.

There are different schools of thought and variables, and these are all dependent on you and your philosophies as a host parent. If I take my family out for dinner, I pay…I am expected to provide 2 meals/day. However, if the girls are at the mall and want a treat, my student pays for her own! Although, if I am buying a treat for my daughters, I buy for her too…that is how I am. She is my “daughter” for the year, I treat her as such! Some people choose to have their exchange student pay their own way for everything, and that is okay too. Again, this is all based upon your philosophies and financial abilities.

Gift giving is another hot topic here…I purchase equally for all of the kids. Some host families buy a few gifts, but not as much. A lot of times, the natural families send gifts for your student and the host family as well! My feeling is that I would feel, if I were in their shoes and completely homesick, that of not being as important or loved or included in that scenario. I keep this in mind, and adjust my spending to accommodate for to ensure equality.

Other than that, gas to drive them to the mall, a little extra on the water and electric bill, but that is it. They purchase a cell phone if they wish, they pay at the movies, they buy their clothes and toiletries, and they pay for field trips, trips with the hosting agency or anything else that comes up!

HOW ARE YOU PAID WHEN HOSTING A FOREIGN EXCHANGE STUDENT? IN LOVE AND APPRECIATION!

Our area, like yours, has many wonders and fun places to share with these kids…it is all fun! They LOVE to see it, and I LOVE to see their faces when they do!

Honestly, I only have positive things to offer in this post. Even the cons, dealing with adjustments, coping with kids that don’t care for your “American” rules, the homesickness, no matter what, there is potential and strong growth for all involved! I have grown so much personally, culturally, in patience, in measures of grace, in love, in communication skills, on and on. This growth also is obtained by your foreign exchange student, your spouse, your children, other family members, and friends and neighbors! It takes a village is more true in this situation than when normally speaking of raising kids. America, and what it is and means to you is different than to me, so I like to socialize my students. I like them to experience different family structures, means of discipline, expectations, etc.

I would love to be a world traveler, but cannot…YET! Until then, I live vicariously through these students that help me prepare their favorite dishes from home, show me pictures, tell me stories, explain the differences, and if I am lucky invite me to visit !

Also, with every student you host, your family grows. You continue to hear from your students, may travel to see them, have them and/or their family come back, etc. What is better than that! Imagine having your grandchild on your lap listening to tales of So and So from France, or Brazil, or Spain. We as a family love to joke around. We have a favorite thing that each student said, mispronounced, or did that remain with us as an extra fond memory of that time…an example…we were shopping with a student and there was a bin of ladies panties on sale. We pointed it out, and she gasped “Oh, noooo! There are thorns (thongs) in there!” So, now “thongs” often get a chuckle while shopping! How fun is that?

Foreign Exchange Students are always in high school. Typically 15 years old is the youngest, with the majority being seniors. The country that they are native to has a huge impact upon the student. There are several reasons for this…some do not count this year academically, some “train” their students extensively prior to approving them to participate, some countries have certain guidelines that students must adhere to prior to and while here.

Pros and Cons of age can be argued equally, while the younger students are more socially and emotionally immature, the older students lose privileges here that they had at home, one huge example is drinking. While at home, they can drink at a younger age this is not the case or the law in the United States.

Adjustment depends on the kid, their family dynamics, their personality, the host family, the connection or lack the they are of with said host family, etc. Age does not really play a role, unless there are siblings in host family house. Some may come into a home where they are younger, but at home they were the oldest. This can cause sibling conflict.

I have seen students of all ages handle the transition differently, so while immaturity can be blamed, I rather look deeper into dynamics, personalities, and goals of the student to see the cause of the trouble. I also believe that in any relationship, there are rules, and that both parties have liability. “It takes two to make it, and it takes two to break it, and it takes two to fix it!”

Hosting a foreign exchange student has many positives and negatives. The negatives are by far outweighed by the positives, but cannot be overlooked. None of the negatives, if handled properly, are insurmountable. Okay one group of behaviors is, and that is choosing to do illegal things such as drinking, drugs, and other such choices. Drinking, even if allowed in their home country is illegal here. The students must remember that they are here and fall under every standard, law, and cultural expectation that WE have…this is not home. Students will be sent home immediately, no questions asked, no refunds given if they are caught doing anything illegal. Your rules should be clear, not debatable, and very specific. They, including curfew times must be followed through with consistency and with the same fervor that you parent and protect your own children. They will not like it, but TOO BAD! It is for their own good and safety. Period.

Most of the hardest times for host families and their students surround communication breakdowns, misunderstandings, and emotions. Girls are a bit harder, as they handle emotional issues and monthly moodiness differently than male students. Knowing your student, their personality, triggers, what they like and don’t like is key to success. Make time daily, or whatever works for you and your schedule, to touch base and just reconnect. Keep the lines of communication open. At times a little help is needed, and that is where your supervisor or area coordinator come into play. They are an impartial mediator that can see both sides clearly…isn’t often easier to see more clearly from the outside looking in? The coordinator in our company cannot trump a parent’s decision, but they can make certain decisions, make recommendations, and provide additional support for the family and/or student as needed. Sometimes students need to be placed on probation, whether verbal or written due to grades, behaviors, or simply as a wake up call.

As a host parent, you also have to support the natural family. I recently struggled with a very homesick child. Her parents were quite worried for her, and we were able to work together and pull her through. That being said, I know what they paid financially as well as emotionally to provide this amazing opportunity for their daughter. So, at one point I had to use a bit of tough love, and say “well, you wanted this, and you knew it was going to be hard. I am sorry that you didn’t realize that it would be this hard, but can you really face your parents and say “sorry I wasted all of your money”, can you live with yourself? “You will regret it more if you leave now than if you work through the tough times.”; and lovingly say, “You know, the toughest things that you conquer in life are the ones that mean the most to you in the end”. Obviously, these were not all in one conversation, and there were many more, but just a few snippets that may help if you are coping with homesickness.

If you can get your kiddo over the holiday hump, things pick up and go rather smoothly from then on. Before you know it, it is time to begin winding down, packing, and preparing your heart to let them go. They really do become a permanent part of your heart, how can they not? How can you parent a child for 10 months and not love them like your own? At least I cannot! They all hold a permanent place in my heart, and I hope to keep that tie intact and see her marry, and meet her children, on and on.

A great way to bond with your student is to spend special time with them. For instance, you have found a student with a common interest of playing games, make a certain evening family game night. I happen to love to scrapbook, and I have worked with my foreign exchange students on creating scrapbooks to take home with them as lifelong, keepsake memories and a tangible way to “share” their experience when they are back home. If they play a sport, spend time attending when possible, and spend the time driving to or from practice catching up with each other. Spend dinner time talking about the new things that they learned that day or new people they have met. Basically, as lovingly and unintrusively as possible, work your way into their world as they allow.

Bonding is one of those unique experiences that is different for every person in any situation. Bonding can be easy, but many factors play a major role in the process. The personalities of the parties involved is the most important. Cultural differences also present a challenge. Knowing the basics of the culture that your student has been raised in will help you when trying to get to know him/her. Part of the process of hosting is completing a dossier about you, your family, your pets, your home, the area in which you live, etc. You will also be given similar information from your potential student. Trying to find a close match is often the most successful way to begin bonding.

As mentioned in other areas on this site, your student will be very overwhelmed when they first arrive. This is the time to offer privacy, space, and watch them for cues as to what they need from you. I am a natural communicator, so I simply state “Let me know what you need” Body language will show you quite easily if they are comfortable with you in their personal space and need a hug, or if they prefer some distance. Do not push…remember, even though these teens are from other countries, they are still teenagers seeking independence, but scared of it at the same time.

Keeping the lines communication open from day one is key! These lines may break down from time to time, but always, always keep them open! If you are struggling, you have a safety net in your representative or coordinator and other host families. Believe me, sometimes it feels like you are the only host parent struggling. That is until you speak to another. This is another reason why participation in Organization events is important…it allows the kids time to be with other kids in same situation, but also the host families can support one another as well!

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