Many families have the opportunity to host a foreign exchange student in their home for an extended period of time, often for a school term or a full calendar year. During this period of time, both students and their host parents are exposed to a different culture and way of life, enriching one another’s worldview while developing a close bond.
But involvement in student exchange programs is nothing like volunteering for an evening at the local soup kitchen. When you agree to host a student, you become their overseas parents and are responsible for their safety and wellbeing. It’s not a decision that should be made lightly, so make sure you have healthy expectations for what you are about to enter into.
Be prepared to undertake the care responsibilities for a teenager
When you get a foreign exchange student, you take on their emotions, their needs and their unique life circumstances. Raising teens isn’t easy, and don’t expect that things will be different just because it’s someone else’s kid.
As soon as your student arrives at your home, it’s important to welcome them into your family and lay out the ground rules they’ll be expected to follow. While they’re in your home, foreign exchange students should have the same parenting and care as your own children.
You should also make sure other arrangements are made to provide protections to your exchange student while in your home. For example, make sure your teen has student travel insurance to cover him in the event of illness, injury or other emergency situations.
Set up personal accommodations for the student
While your foreign exchange student is living in your home, make sure they have the opportunity to settle in and make it their home as well. Give them their own room and private space and encourage them to personalize it however they choose. Don’t forget that they will likely want time to themselves, and that a space of their own can help ease the homesickness they will undoubtedly feel.
Understand the rules governing the student exchange
The organization facilitating the foreign student exchange likely has a set of strict rules that both parties need to follow. Make sure you read about these ahead of your student’s arrival, and adhere to them strictly.
Brace yourself for cultural differences
It’s your house, your rules, sure. But there’s a fine line between what’s a rule and what’s a cultural norm. With your student coming from an entirely different cultural environment, be aware that some habits, exchanges or other actions may not be considered rude where they come from — even if they offend you.
An easy approach is to explain how the offense is a cultural taboo in America, and don’t be afraid to discuss the differences with your foreign exchange student. In the end, it will only make you both more understanding of the cultural divide that exists in addition to the physical distance between your homelands.
Student exchange programs are a highly valuable initiative that can break down the language and cultural barriers between countries by joining students together with families. While formal education is part of the deal, the most valuable education comes in the experiences both sides trade with one another. By preparing for and understanding the expectations of hosting a foreign exchange student, you can position all parties involved for a more rewarding and pleasant experience.