Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student
Families host foreign exchange students for various reasons: to provide a learning experience for teens from another country, to forge friendships with their own children and to exchange cultural insights. The experience must be a good one, because some families host new exchange students year after year.
Hosting requirements are simple, says Debbie Rockelmann, regional director for AYUSA, a cultural exchange organization. Hosts “provide room and board, and a loving, nurturing environment,” says Rockelmann, a host every year since 1998.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect host family,” she says. Couples and singles, with or without children, and even empty nesters make good host families, she says.
Participating in a foreign exchange program requires extensive paperwork to get started, followed by an interview process. Applications, which include background checks, “are not for the faint of heart,” admits Sue Fershing, New Jersey chair for AFS, formerly the American Field Service.
“The safety of participants is the number one priority,” she says. Much of the application process is designed to inform and prepare potential host families for their upcoming experience.
Cost of Housing a Student
Hosting an exchange student can add to your food bill, admits Rockelmann. “It’s not so bad if you merely provide what you would normally buy for your family,” she says. Visiting students usually have their own spending money and are expected to buy their own cosmetics and other items.
A discussion about money and expectations at the onset of the student’s visit will likely smooth the way for the year.
“Sibling” rivalries can develop between visiting and host kids who are the same sex or nearly the same age. But usually, “it helps other kids learn to share when there’s an extra person in the house,” says Lora Newman, a West Chester, PA mom who has both hosted and sent a child overseas.
The exchange experience is often terrific for elementary-age kids in the host family, despite the age difference with a teen exchange student, because they learn so much, says Fershing.
“Hosting an exchange student can be a wonderful experience for the entire family,” says Rockelmann. It teaches your kids tolerance and gives them great respect for other cultures, she says.
It’s a way to learn more about the world without leaving home. “You get a glimpse at least, by hosting a student,” Rockelmann adds. “We can’t all be diplomats or ambassadors, but this is something American families can do to make a difference.”
Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids and a Chester County, PA mom of two.