Thinking About Hosting an Exchange Student? Here Are a Few Tips to Consider
How to prepare for your extended guest's stay.
Hosting an exchange student is a fun and exciting opportunity to learn about a culture that is different from your own. The students are immersed in the host family’s lifestyle and the host family gets to experience some of the student's culture. Hosting can be challenging, given layers such as language barriers, social customs, and personal lifestyles. Here are a few tips to make hosting an exchange student a smooth and positive experience for all.
Plan Activities: Since an exchange program is focused on cultural immersion, make sure you plan trips and activities that highlight what it is like to live in the United States and in your specific region. Whether it's a popular restaurant, holiday celebration, or a family function, you should include your student. You should plan enough activities for your student's stay – an exchange trip can last anywhere from a week to a full academic year – and you don’t want to overwhelm them or leave them feeling bored.
Prepare Your Home: Your house needs to be an inviting, safe, and clean place for your exchange student. Before they arrive, take note of accessibility adjustments and potential conflicts regarding shared space, like sharing bathrooms or bedrooms. Make sure that they have adequate furniture and will be able to complete their schoolwork.
Give the Grand Tour: A tour of your home and surrounding neighborhood is a good step to take to get your student acclimated to their new surroundings and give them a sense of independence. During the home tour, you should include details like where spare toiletries are or your house's "quirks" like sticking doors or squeaky steps.
Set Expectations and Rules Early: Different countries have different social customs, including appropriate behavior when you visit people’s homes. And as with any guest, you don’t want someone coming in and completely disrupting your house rules. Having conversations about how you expect your student to conduct themselves, how to respect other members of the household, and boundaries within the home is essential.
Be Friendly: It sounds simple enough, but make sure you are consciously making an effort to check in with your exchange student, who may be more nervous or homesick than they let on. Before the exchange student arrives they likely would have been introduced to all the family members, but remember to re-introduce everyone in person. Friendly faces and having go-to people to ask questions of will help your student feel more comfortable.
Strike Up Conversation: Many students that come to visit are already proficient in English, so the language barrier shouldn’t be too difficult to navigate. Your exchange student can continue to practice and it’s a chance for you to learn a little of their native language. It can be frustrating to try to communicate with a language barrier, so be sure to encourage your student to ask questions and be ready to supply words, phrases, and explanations as needed.
Turn Culture Shock into Culture Swap: Throughout their stay, your exchange student may experience or see things that are very different from what they are used to at home. Anything from style of dress, signs of respect, conflict resolution, and social cues can be very different from their home. Take the time to engage your student and explain why or how things are done a certain way. You might also want to make meals, do activities, or listen to music from your exchange student’s country to help them feel more comfortable.
Get Them Involved: Depending on the length of the student’s stay, they could live with your family for a while. Even though they are technically a guest, they become members of the household and should be folded into the family. This can include being assigned simple chores, attending family gatherings, volunteering, and extending invitations to activities outside the home.
Hosting an exchange student can be very rewarding. Knowing what to expect and having a support system helps create a memorable experience. There are many eager students waiting for a chance to study abroad, and maybe your family is the perfect host for them!
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