Hosting an international student in your home can be a very rewarding experience.
For some potential host families, the prospects of hosting a student can seem daunting.
Worrying about food, accommodation, your responsibilities and other matters are all very common but you will find many of these can be alleviated by the simplest of preparations.
This guide is designed to support you in your planning and day-to-day activities when hosting an international student.
The Basics: Hosting An International Student
Hosting international students has been a part of the US culture for decades and the image of the foreign exchange student in the school are embedded in popular media. Becoming part of this cultural heritage can be a rewarding experience for you as a family.
The age range of the students can also vary. Students can be as young as 14-years old and can be as old as 17-years old as a graduating high school senior. One of the first decisions you may wish to make is what age of a guest you wish to accommodate in your home.
There are many different types of programs available. AIEP specializes in having the host family integrate their international guest into their family.
As a hosting family you have the opportunity to gain an understanding of another culture while showcasing the American cultural values. It can give you a sense of pride when you see your guest flourish in their temporary surroundings due to your support.
To help you, there are programs that offer generous monthly support and other support like a 24/7 line where you can contact a member of the program’s team in matters. Many of these help lines will have staff who speak the guest’s language to help you in any language barriers that might arise. The programs will also usually setup insurances for the students along with their schooling, which needs to be private schooling for homestay students.
Unlike common exchange programs, host families don’t need to have children of a similar age to participate. Many hosts are ‘empty nesters’ looking to provide a safe place for the students during their stay in the US as they obtain an American education. Some host families are older, semi-retired, and simply have a love for children that they would like to experience again as their children have been out of the house for some time.
Finding A Student
Finding a student can be one of the more difficult aspects of the process. You will want to make sure that the student will be happy staying in your home and that you and they generally get along. Whichever program you decide to participate in, it is important you consider the cultural complexities.
Culture can make it a significantly trying time if the match is not correct. Consider your normal habits and those that are expected of your guest. You want to spend some time online researching the local cultures or asking the program’s organizers for common problems have occurred in the past.
That is not to say go for a like-for-like student. One of the best parts of hosting is a chance for you to learn from their culture as well as yours, though you must consider their compatibility.
You must also consider the organization you are working with. Some organizations provide full support whereas others act more as introducers and will leave you to it once the student has arrived.
There is no particularly right program or organization; it is simply what you would prefer. But be mindful, the student could be with you for up to a year and therefore making the right choice early will lead to a better experience.
Preparing Your Home
One of the key steps to ensuring your guest’s stay is enjoyable and productive is in the preparation. Consider the needs of the student as much as you can. Start by preparing a room for them to stay in.
You should have a chance to speak to your guest sometime before they arrive in the country. This is often done via Skype or telephone. At this time, try to discover more about their likes and interests and use this information to decorate their room. You might not want to completely repaint their room, but you could furnish it with their favorite color ornaments or hang a few pictures of their favorite idol on the wall.
It is a good idea to have an area of study and storage for the student. Many programs can last a few months and they will need a quiet place to study.
In the bathroom, ensure you have provided them with their own towels and washing equipment. When they arrive you might want to take them to a store in order for them to buy their choice of soap and shampoo, or you could ask them before they arrive.
Ensure that you stock the kitchen with a few of their favorite foods. You might also want to label some of the cupboards with what is in them to make it easier for the student to find what they need. You should also give a small tour to your student as soon as they arrive so they know where everything is.
Setting Guidelines And Freedoms
One of the important aspects which you must understand with one of these programs is that the student is supposed to feel as if they are part of your family.
Your student is likely to expect that you will have some rules which they are supposed to live by. These shouldn’t be any different from those for your own children; however you might want to make some leniency for the use of the internet, Skype or phone.
One of the considerations to make is time zone. There can be a significant difference and your guest is likely to be homesick at times. Therefore it is important you give them access to contact home to alleviate this.
With chores it is important you allow them to contribute just like any other member of your family. You might want to give them a daily task such as the dishes accompanied with the weekly task of taking out of the trash. Giving a chore will help them integrate into your family.
Food can be a common stumbling block when hosting an international student. Whereas many American foods are around the world, such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway, the standard home food could be vastly different. Be prepared to learn a new way of cooking and using different interesting cuisine during their stay.
This can help make the student feel more at home and relax them as they acclimatize to their new surroundings. However, you should also consider they are there to learn about American culture as well and you should not completely change your diet for them. Finding a balance is important.
One of the main problems you may find is if there is a cultural difference with regards to food, for instance Halal foods. Another problem might be allergy or intolerance to some food groups (e.g. dairy, peanuts, etc). Always make sure that you know in advance what foods they cannot eat.
You might want to speak to your guest before they arrive about their favorite foods and learn how they prepare their food.
When planning to eat out you can ask your student what they are used to and what they prefer. It is likely they are aware of many of the big brands which you will find within the city and that there is little problem with eating out.
One of the great aspects of the international hosting programs is the student becomes fully embroiled in the American way of life. This means you should take them out to all the activities that you would do normally. An international student will have their own money in order to put towards the costs of such activities and therefore the extra cost needn’t be a worry.
You might also be interested in taking them around the local area to see historic buildings, museums and such forth so they can learn more about the cultural history of their temporary home. It might also be a good learning experience for you to discover more about your local area’s history, something which is sometimes forgotten.
Taking them on these excursions will be great fun for you, your family and them. It can also be a way to lessen the blow of the distance that they are away from home. It might be good to do a cultural tour in the first few weeks and add in more social activities as time goes on.
If you are a sports fan who frequently goes to games, your student might appreciate the option to attend a game every now and again.
If ever you are unsure of what to do, the best option is probably to consider what you would normally do and to go with that. The idea of the program is that the student is treated as a member of the family.
Common Issues: How To Prepare
There are a number of common problems that you might discover in your time as a host to a student. The common problems are homesickness and school troubles. Yet these can be very easy to sort out.
Remember to speak openly to your guest and ensure you are not talking down to them. Allow them to come to you with any concerns they have and be sympathetic to any problems which might arise. Homesickness can be solved with a simple call back home followed by a night out with a meal.
School troubles need a little more thought, although knowing there is a problem early can really help. Having regular conversations with how they think their studies are going and what can be done to give them a better learning environment are always helpful. Also ask them about their social activities at school, are they being included in social groups and communities? This can have a big impact on their homesickness and school performance.
You might also want to talk to your guest’s school principle on a regular basis during the first few weeks to ensure they are integrating well.
Gifts are also a sticky topic for some hosts. But consider that many host families do provide the occasional gift to their student. The friendship that is started in the program can last many years if not a lifetime and buying a gift for a friend or family member is just natural.
Hosting an international student can be a rich and rewarding time for you and them. You can make the transition easier on both parties with good preparation and choosing the program and organization which is right for you and your circumstances.
At the end of the process you will be glad that you have participated in the program as you welcome a new member into your family and keep in contact over many years. You might even be surprised and find out more about yourself, your local area and culture than you ever knew as you look at it from a new perspective.