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Should you host a foreign exchange student?

Wondering how foreign exchange student programs work these days? We have the scoop on modern programs so you can decide if hosting a student is right for your family.

The inside scoop

What’s it really like hosting a foreign exchange student? Meredith, mom of two, has experienced foreign exchange both as a host family and as a student herself — when she was a junior in high school, she signed up to do an exchange with a student from Switzerland. Having her experience from both perspectives is so valuable for parents hoping to host a foreign exchange student, and we were not only able to get some insight from her, but other moms as well.

Pick a compatible student

Jennifer from Missouri hosted an exchange student a few years ago from Germany, and they experienced struggles they weren’t expecting. For example, their student had different freedoms that she was used to back home — she was able to smoke, drink and go clubbing there, but wasn’t able to here. “I would say really take some time and try to pick a student with common interests and one with a similar family background for ease of transition,” she says.

Give them time to themselves

Meredith suggests that host families should understand that the students will need time to themselves, particularly at the beginning. “After the tables had turned and I visited my student’s home in Switzerland, I’d appreciate just how overwhelming those first few days are and how, with even years of previous language study, total immersion can leave you lost and silent in your thoughts while you struggle to make sense of the words around you,” she shares.

Help them adjust

It can be difficult for a teen to adjust to not only a new home, a new language and a new social circle, but your culture is likely completely different from theirs as well. Sherri, mom of two, hosted an exchange student from Austria, and she says, “They may have a difficult time adjusting to the kinds of food you usually serve if it differs from what they eat at home.”

Expect to have a shadow

Once a student gets acclimated, they will likely stick to you and your family like glue. They depend on you for help in navigating your home country and that can inspire a lot of trust from everyone involved. “At first, this left me feeling a bit stifled, but I came to see it as a great sign of trust on her part and I realized I was fortunate to have such an outgoing partner,” shares Meredith.

Encourage her to get out and about

Even though it’s really difficult to move around socially in a culture you’re unfamiliar with, it’s the best way to improve fluency in a language you’re working on, so gently encourage your student to be social and speak to the locals. Meredith says that while she was nervous, she made it a point to try to make new friends. “I often looked like a fool, but I think my language abilities evolved a lot quicker than other Canadian exchange students because I was willing to go out on a limb and socialize with locals, even when I couldn’t communicate perfectly,” she explains.

Programs to check out

Here are a few of the more popular programs if you’re interested in learning more.

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