Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How To Host An Exchange Student

My family has hosted three students, two from France and recently one from Austria, since 2010.  In 2012, I was hosted by a French family.  Between these experiences, I've learned a thing or two about how to host a student from another country.  That's right, it's list time!

Marie, the first French girl we hosted, when she came to us early in 2010.
She's in the middle.
1. Understand What It Means To Host Someone.  Sometimes students will come with a group and they'll basically have a plan for the entire time that they're there, keeping them busy during the day.  Sometimes there will be very few plans leaving a lot of the work for the host families.  As a prospective host family, it's important to understand what's being asked of you before you commit.  With the French students, my family was largely responsible for showing them around our state a bit.  Very few activities were planned for our French students.  For our Austrian student however, she had activities to do with her group pretty much every day except for the weekend.  We provided a bed for her, made sure she made it to wherever she needed to go, and made her feel like part of the family after she returned from her activities.

It's also important to consider how long students are coming to visit.  Our French students each came for three weeks, while our Austrian student was only in our state for eight days.  Figure out what works for your family.

Clementine, the second French girl we hosted, summer 2010.
She's the second farthest away in the picture.
2. Choose Students That Seem Like A Good Match For Your Household.  Have pets?  Don't host someone who is allergic to pet hair.  Vegetarian?  Don't host a carnivore.  The goal is to keep living as you normally would but also to make your guest feel comfortable as well.  This doesn't mean that the student you're hosting needs to come from a family that looks like yours.  What's part of the experience is learning to live a little bit differently.  When I was hosted in France, my host sister had a brother, but she lived alone with her parents in an apartment.  I'd never lived in an apartment before with a sister who was a partier and with parents who smoked (they smoked outside, so I wasn't bothered).  It was part of the experience!

3. Communicate As Early As Possible.  This was a problem when we hosted our Austrian student (not her fault and not ours either), but when we were able to do this for our French students, it was wonderful.  It was a good way to let the students know who they were going to be living with and it was a good way to start getting to know each other.  It was a good way for the exchange student to know what to pack, ask questions about what they might want to do while they were visiting, give them something concrete to look forward to... that kind of thing.  Being an exchange student myself, however briefly, this was something I really appreciated as well.  I was able to Facebook creep and when the bus pulled up near the school my host sister attended, I knew a little bit about my host sister and I knew what she looked like.

My French host family: Evelyn, Mathilde, and Gilles.  They were so good to me :)
4. Actually Do Something With Your Exchange Student.  This sounds like a no-brainer, but believe me, there are host families who don't do a lot with their exchange students.  My family has done this for all of our exchange students and I was lucky enough to be put in a family in France who did the same for me.  Sometimes the kids are into the idea of hosting someone but the parents aren't, sometimes the parents are more into the idea, and sometimes no one is absolutely gung-ho about the idea but they don't want a student to be homeless for their stay and really, the hope is that every student has their own family and aren't doubled-up, since it's easier to learn the host language that way and it's easier to make a connection with your host family.  The things you do with your exchange student don't have to cost an arm, a leg, and a kidney to do.  My host family brought me to a citadel that you didn't have to pay to enter unless you were going into the museum part, which was closed at the time.  They took me to the beach where I saw starfish.  They drove me to some of the coastal cities and showed me around.  Simple things, but things that I still remember three years after the fact.

Eva, the third girl we hosted, but the first from Germany/Austria.
She's on the far left.
5. Prepare To Become Attached.  In the best situations, the student you're hosting feels like your brother or sister and you realize that they are some of the best people you will ever meet.  Both you and your exchange student are sharing your cultures and you're learning and teaching... it's a very rewarding experience and I will encourage everyone I meet for the rest of my life to host an exchange student.  You don't even have to know the exchange student's mother tongue, because oftentimes, they are coming to your country to learn your language.

These have been really important parts of my life, so I just wanted to share that with you and more importantly, encourage loving families to host students whenever they possibly can.

Thanks for Reading!


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