So, you want to host an exchange student

Believe it or not, even with the current Coronavirus situation, there are still high school students in countries all around the globe dreaming of spending their junior year as an exchange student in the United States.

I’ve blogged enough about hosting intercultural exchange students through Youth for Understanding (YFU) to fill a small book. Our family started working with YFU in 2018 and it’s been an amazing ride ever since.

But one thing I haven’t blogged about is how to be a great YFU host family – and how to know if you’re ready to host an international student for the first time. So, if you’ve never hosted before but you’re considering hosting an intercultural exchange student in the near or distant future, then this post is for you!

Here’s how to know you’re ready to host a student from another country:

  • You have room in your home, heart and family. To host an exchange student, you must have a room for them with a proper bed and desk for studying. They must also have access to a bathroom – you know, the basics that you would provide to a child of your own. You must also have the time and resources to add another family member. Teens can eat a lot – and the host family needs to provide three meals per day at a minimum.
  • You are curious and love to learn. Intercultural exchange students come here to learn – but they are also cultural ambassadors for their country and can teach us as much as they learn from us. Are you ready to learn a new language, culture and way of life? We shouldn’t just expect kiddos to assimilate and do everything the way we do – we should be open to learning new ways of cooking, communicating and living. It’s so much more fun when the learning goes both ways. Napa and Verena both taught us so much!
  • You are up for sharing the best of your community, city, state and country. You don’t have to take your exchange student out every night – and in these Corona times, it’s probably best if you don’t – but it’s great to set weekly dates for exploring your neighborhood, town or the surrounding region. After all, they didn’t come all this way just to hang out at home. Are there places you’ve always wanted to go but never made it happen? Hosting an exchange student is a great time to get out and see things you’ve always wanted to, right here in your own town or state.
  • You love to travel – and would enjoy bringing some of the world to your doorstep. If you love to travel but lack the time or resources to do so, hosting an intercultural exchange student is a wonderful way to experience another part of the globe without ever leaving home. Every student we’ve met or hosted so far has brought with them the flavor and culture of their own country, giving us a broader world view and perspective that I think ultimately makes us better people.
  • You are willing to “treat ’em like your own.” This is perhaps the most important rule of hosting an intercultural exchange student. They are not guests or “company” in your home but actually members of your family. They need to have chores, roles and responsibilities in your home just as all other family members have. And they need hugs or at least high fives; talk to them and find out how family members show affection and appreciation in their country.
  • You like the idea of having family and friends in all corners of the globe. One of our favorite things about hosting intercultural exchange students through YFU is that our family is now spread across the world. We have Napa and her family in Thailand, and Verena and her family in Germany – and we truly consider them part of our own extended family.

We are really looking forward to global travel opening back up once there’s a cure or vaccine for Covid-19. Then, we can begin making plans to visit our amazing girls and their families overseas! It is so hard to have all our travel plans on hold for now.

In the meantime, I am so glad YFU is continuing its important work of making possible exchange years abroad for teenagers around the world. I know that YFU is eager to find welcoming host families here in the US, so if you are interested in hosting, reach out and find out more about how YFU can help make that happen!

If you have any questions about hosting an intercultural exchange student, please let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook. I’d love to hear your stories, too, if you’ve hosted students before!

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About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat and snake mom. Travel nut. Natural born writer. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.
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