Au Pair | The Ultimate Guide

The time period after high school or college can be both exciting and frustrating. When you’re not tied to a career or your own family, you may feel like you want to spread your wings and explore the world. But this may seem impossible for those who, like most, do not have the money or resources to go abroad.

What many don’t realize is there are affordable ways to travel in exchange for fair work; one such option is to become an au pair.

What Is an Au Pair?

An au pair is a single young adult, typically a woman, between the ages of 18 and 26 who travels internationally as part of a cultural exchange program and provides childcare for her host family. Au pairs have the goal of learning more about another culture and improving their skills in a foreign language.

Au pairs live with a host family, and they participate in their regular activities as if they are a member of the family. They provide basic childcare and housekeeping duties in exchange for room and board and a small stipend for fun activities in their new city.

“Au pair” is a French term meaning “on par” or “equal to.” As such, it is important to note that an au pair is not a subservient role, but a familial one.

Why Become an Au Pair?

Becoming an au pair is an ideal option for a young person who wishes to travel but doesn’t have the funds to do so. Some benefits of being an au pair include…

Financial Benefits

  • Weekly or monthly stipend for extracurricular activities and exploring their new city
  • Room and board provided, including meals
  • Paid vacation time (required by most agencies/countries)
  • Educational opportunities to take language and other cultural courses
  • Paid airfare (through some au pair agencies)
  • Insurance in case of accident or illness

Personal Benefits

  • Improvement of foreign language skills
  • Travel opportunities, including vacationing with host family
  • Make new friends and meet new people
  • Learn more about a new culture through firsthand experience
  • Gain valuable international work experience

Benefits for Host Family

Host families typically choose to house au pairs not only because they are an affordable means of childcare, but also because they want to enrich their children’s lives with new cultural experiences. And the best way for host families to get the most out of au pairs is to treat them as part of the family. In other words, this cultural exchange program benefits all parties.

Knowing a foreign language essential skill for people of all ages, and since children are best at acquiring new language skills, many parents want their kids to be familiarized with new languages as early as possible. By talking to the host family’s children in the au pair’s native language, she is providing them with a skill they will carry with them their entire lives.

Food is another way au pairs expose the host family to a new culture. While au pairs are not expected to be professional chefs, they will likely be expected to prepare meals for the children during the day, where they can bring their own cultural flair to the table.

Other ways an au pair can share her culture with her host family is through her self-expression – clothing, taste in music, art and knowledge of history. Through day-to-day interactions, the host family will get to learn more and more about the home country of their au pair.

In fact, the way au pairs and host families are matched up is often by the languages and cultures each desires to learn about. For example, an American au pair who wants to continue her Spanish language studies post-college would make a good match for a host family in Spain who wants their children to learn English.

History of Au Pairs

Au pairs became popular in Europe after WWII, and they served both a financial and educational role. During that time, a surge of middle-class women needed work to support themselves due to the changing economic and social structures.

Upper class girls were able to live off the support of their fathers until they were married. Middle class girls, however, were expected to work any of the few unskilled jobs offered to women at the time. Middle class families typically could not afford to send their daughters off to get a formal education, so girls needed to figure out ways to educate themselves in a world that more and more began to place value on foreign studies and cultural experiences.

At the same time, the number of domestic workers for hire decreased – in part due to increased stigma around being a “servant” – skyrocketing the cost of live-in help. Only upper families could afford domestic labor, and middle class families struggled to find childcare while they worked.

Thus the position of “au pair” was born. The role of an au pair met both the needs of women struggling to find work and middle class families struggling to afford childcare. Unlike domestic servants, au pairs truly were “on par” – they not only lived with their host families, but joined them for meals, vacations and other activities while being provided an allowance.

Today, European counsel recommends contracts between au pairs and host families guaranteeing personal time to study and socialize. Some countries also place limits on the number of hours au pairs can work. Nowadays au pairs can also be male, although the majority remain female.

Duties of an Au Pair

Aside from educating children about a new culture and language, there are certain key duties most au pairs are responsible for, although these can vary slightly country-to-country or household-to-household. During the match-up progress and throughout the first days after meeting, expectations should be set not only by the host family, but also the au pair herself.


Typically au pairs will work no more than 45 hours a week. Au pairs are primarily responsible for childcare during the day while the parents are at work – sort of like a live-in babysitter, but with more autonomy. Some au pairs are knowledgeable in infant care and can assist with feeding, changing and bathing babies either by themselves or while parents are home spending time with their other children. Most au pairs are experienced in caring for multiple children within a variety of age groups.

Other duties au pairs perform to help with childcare include:

  • Morning routines such as waking children up, making breakfast and getting them ready for school
  • Playing games and doing crafts
  • Taking children on outings such as to the park
  • Assisting the children with keeping their rooms tidy and their beds made
  • Helping with homework (although host families know au pairs are not expected to be subject experts for tutoring)
  • Transporting children to and from school and extracurricular activities (while most au pairs are licensed drivers, not all are required to be)
  • Evening routines such as bathing, brushing teeth and tucking children into bed

Traveling Assistant

Vacations should be relaxing, but they can also be stressful at times, especially when children are involved. Au pairs typically join families on vacation so they can watch the children while the adults do other activities or relax. However, the same standard applies to au pairs on vacation as at the host’s home: she needs time alone for her studies, socialization and to just unwind.

Light Cooking

As stated earlier, au pairs are not expected to be professional chefs. However, part of taking care of children is making sure they are fed. Au pairs can be expected to prepare meals while the parents are away as well as clean up after themselves in the kitchen. Au pairs may also use this as an opportunity to teach older kids essential skills by having them help prep food, cook and clean.


Remember, and au pair is not a maid! However, like any other member of the family, she can and should be expected to help with household chores including hers and the children’s laundry. Host families do not need to do laundry for the whole household, nor should they be expected to clean areas of the house such as the host parents’ bedroom.

In short, an au pair is not expected to perform any more household duties than any other member of the family.

Au Pair vs. Nanny: What’s the Difference?

Below are some other key differences between au pairs and nannies:

  • The key differentiation between an au pair and a nanny is that a nanny is treated as an employee while an au pair is treated as a member of the family.
  • Au pairs are always international while nannies are often local.
  • Au pairs always live with the host family; nannies may or may not.
  • Au pairs have age restrictions depending on the country (typically between ages 18 and 26) while nannies come in all ages.
  • Au pairs have a maximum number of working hours each week while nannies can work as often as the country’s labor laws permit.
  • Au pairs receive small allowances so they can explore the city and participate in extracurricular activities while nannies are paid a salary they use to live off of.
  • Au pairs may require an au pair visa while nannies require a separate work permit if they are international.
  • Au pair duties are limited to childcare and light household chores while nannies and other domestic caregivers may include housekeeping and cooking duties.
  • Au pairs require a commitment period – anywhere between a month and a year of service – while nannies are at-will employees.
  • Au pairs are not a financial burden for most families, as many in the middle-class already have spare bedrooms to house them. Nannies must be paid a salary that is at least minimum wage, but often is more.
  • Au pairs are unmarried and do not have children, so they rarely have much responsibility outside being an au pair. Nannies may be married and have their own children, meaning they are more likely to need to take personal days off in case of emergency to care for their own child.
  • And of course, nannies provide rich cultural experiences for host families. Nannies may bring personal spice to the host’s household, but there is no expectation of cultural exchange though shared experiences.

Becoming an Au Pair

Some of the requirements for being an au pair have already been mentioned, like being between the ages of 18 and 26. However, there are others to keep in mind if you’re thinking about applying for an au pair program:

  • You must have some experience caring for children, although you need not be a professional caretaker
  • You must actively enjoy spending time with kids
  • You must have completed at least high school, though some families may prefer additional certifications
  • You must be able to commit to an extended stay abroad (timeline depends on country, host family and au pair program)
  • In most cases, you must have a driver’s license
  • You must be in good health both physically and mentally
  • You must be able to pass a background check
  • You must provide both personal and professional references attesting to your character and work ethic
  • You must be unmarried and have no children
  • You must be able to meet language requirements to communicate with your host family (language requirements depend on country)
  • Sometimes, you must be able to pay your own travel expenses to and from the host family’s country

Most countries require au pairs to go through an agency and possess an au pair visa. While there are many options for au pair programs online, you should do your research to ensure you choose an organization that will match you up with the best host family for you.

At Host Family, we take the time to get to know each of our au pairs and hosts on a personal level to ensure the best match for everybody. We also provide services around the globe for those seeking international internships, study abroad opportunities, volunteer programs and more.

Whether you want to become an au pair or host one, visit to meet your perfect match.

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Becoming a Foreign Exchange Student | The Ultimate Guide

Just the thought of becoming a foreign exchange student can send your mind flying in a myriad of directions, all exciting, all promising of new knowledge and adventures. You may start envisioning yourself in exotic lands, visiting unique places, learning foreign words or even mastering a new language, understanding different cultures, and lifestyles or trying new delicacies to excite your palate.

Where Would You Like To Go? For How Long?

There needs to be a degree of compatibility between who you are and the place where you want to spend your stint abroad. Take the time to do some introspection and truly admit to yourself what kind of experience you are looking to live. Is your current home in a big city and are you looking to experience life in a quieter, more bucolic, less hectic location? Or do you want to experience life in a huge metropolis and maintain a hectic pace? Are you willing to move to a city or town where you do not speak or barely understand the language? You have to face how easy it is for you to learn a foreign language and whether you are willing to feel frustrated every time you try to buy something to eat for lunch.

Consider as well the time you want to spend abroad. Although the easy answer may be just one semester, think about the time and effort involved in getting there and what you will feel when you have to turn around and fly back home just a couple of months later. Would a full year abroad result in a more enriching experience? When will you have this kind of opportunity to be abroad in the future? Probably not too soon, particularly once you graduate and start your professional life.

Keep in mind, some of the above questions may not be easy to answer right now. If that is your case, give yourself credit for having an adventurous spirit and be willing to take a risk and allow yourself the joy of experiencing something that is not familiar to you at all.

You may be tempted to ask someone for references on a program, and that is always a good thing to do. However, when analyzing the replies, don’t forget to take into account who the person is giving you this rating is. Do they focus on the same things you would? Are they truly a good reference point considering the differences in your personalities? Can you conclude anything about the location or the program based on what this person is telling you? Do your viewpoints on other subjects generally coincide or is this some friend-of-a-friend you barely know? Don’t let some stranger’s opinion cloud what could truly be an outstanding experience for you.

What Are The Benefits Of Being A Foreign Exchange Student?

Besides acquiring new knowledge and immersing yourself in a foreign culture, there are additional and considerable benefits to studying away from your home country.

Improve Your Language Skills

The best way to really learn a second (or third) language is full immersion. And the best way to achieve that is by living in a country where everyone around you speaks the language you are trying to learn. Which forces you to use that language in order to effectively communicate with everyone around you. You also end up learning the language in a more natural way, incorporating idioms and expressions that the locals use.

Enjoy A New Cultural Experience

Studying and living in a foreign place will most likely take you out of your comfort zone at the beginning. You will learn to try out a new way of life which includes new customs, new traditions, and celebrations, new ways to eat and new flavors. At the end of your time abroad you may feel you have been transformed into somebody new, with a broader view of the world.

Up Your Chances Of Getting Hired Faster Once You Graduate

Finally, going abroad may end up implying benefits towards your professional future. Depending on your area of study, employers today are definitely stressing the importance of international cooperation and understanding. Therefore, students who have foreign experience, know another culture and can speak in more than language, have a decisive advantage.

Foreign Exchange Student: Educational Options

When are you looking to go abroad? You may think about going abroad during:

  • High School
  • Gap year
  • College
  • Graduate school

Let’s take a look at the programs available to you:

Academic Year Or Semester

Full academic years or semesters are the longest study-abroad options. These types of programs are best suited for those students that are looking to have a truly immersive global experience. The length of time implies additional costs so that these programs may not be accessible to everyone unless scholarship or other financial alternatives are available.

Intersession Program

These are definitely much shorter than other study abroad options. They last from one to eight weeks and may happen at any time during the year. They are mostly introductory courses that can help any student intent on gaining international experience but cannot afford a lengthier program.

Summer Program

These programs encompass three or four months and may be more suitable for those students who have a smaller budget or are more hesitant to commit to going abroad for a longer period of time.


Internships are an interesting option because they offer students the possibility of combining study and work. As a result, they give students a more complete panorama of their professional path. Also, gaining global work experience helps these students become better candidates when it comes to facing the job market. Yet, these types of opportunities tend to be more intense and time-consuming than other educational programs.

Volunteer Opportunities

These types of programs are geared towards community service projects as they incorporate them into a study abroad experience. If this catches your fancy, know that you will most likely end up working with local people which will reward you by offering you a better understanding of native life, culture, and customs. The length of these program varies, depending on location and what the project is about.

Teach Abroad

Teaching others not only gives you the pleasure of helping them but also translates into the development of interpersonal skills and leadership qualities that will help you become a better educator. In general terms, these programs involve teaching English to foreign students of different ages. They range from six months up to two years in length.

Where Will You Live While You Are A Foreign Exchange Student?

There are several options available to you as a foreign exchange student. Let’s see the good and bad of each of them to help you make a more informed decision:

Living With A Host Family

Undoubtedly this course of action will give you many rewards. As a foreign exchange student, you will have the opportunity of living with a local family, thus enhancing your language skills and getting to know and understand their culture better and in a more authentic way. These relationships will probably endure for years to come. In some cases, food and other basic needs are provided by the host family.

On the other hand, you have to take into account that you are living in someone else’s home where other rules and curfews may exist. Depending on the space you are giving within that home you may feel you don’t enjoy as much privacy as you do at home or that the standards of living are not what you are used to.

Living In A Dorm

If you are going abroad after living in a dorm at your own college or university, selecting to live in a college dorm abroad will not result in a terribly different experience for you. Most likely, our location will be convenient when trying to reach your new classrooms and other school facilities. The Resident Advisors will be there to provide additional support in both academic and social matters.

On the other hand, you have to remember, dorms are not quiet places and living in close quarters with so many of your friends may result in you not being able to concentrate when it comes to your studies. Your bedroom may not be very spacious, and you may have to look into the available meal plans offered, if any, besides paying the housing fees.

Renting A House Or Apartment

This may be the most expensive option, and you will be handling all responsibilities relating to meals, bills, laundry, and cleaning. Transportation to school (which may be far away) will add to the expenses.

On the other hand, this option gives you the freedom of choosing where and with whom to live. It also offers you the opportunity of renting with a group of friends or going it alone.

How Much Will A Foreign Exchange Student Have To Pay While Abroad?


Besides the obvious expenses of tuition and housing, one of the main considerations when planning your budget is the place where you want to go. In general terms, cities and towns in Australia and New Zealand, East Asia and Western Europe will result in higher expenses, while if you plan on going to a location in Africa, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe or Central and South America, you will spend less.


The distance between your hometown and your home abroad also plays a role in how much to budget for. Considerations such as whether you plan to travel home for year-end vacations, for Thanksgiving or for a variety of family obligations, also add up.

Local Transportation

Learning to take the bus or subway, ride a bicycle or use a scooter can result in savings when you think of more expensive transportation methods such as renting a car or riding taxis. Learn to do what the locals do and save some money in the process.

Weekend Travel

You will definitely want to get to know your host country, and even neighboring ones, when you have a long weekend or other time-off periods. Look for accommodations in youth hostels rather than opting for a hotel. Take advantage of slower seasons and travel during less expensive times.


As a foreign exchange student, you want to have a great time and socialize with both the friends who are abroad with you and the new acquaintances you make there. Still, it is a good idea to stick to a fixed meal budget. If you are planning on taking a credit card with you, first find out the card’s policies regarding foreign transaction fees which can quickly add up. Paying with cash may work better for you and help keep you on budget. Look for free functions and other activities where locals gather, instead of falling for the usual bar scene that can really drain a budget.

Before You Go

You have filled out your application to become a foreign exchange student and been accepted to the program of your choice. Before leaving home make sure you are prepared with:

Passports And Visas

Make sure you have a valid passport before setting off. If yours is about to expire or you need a brand new one, give yourself enough time to get your passport mailed to you with plenty of time. And speaking of time, find out what type of visa will be required depending on the length of your stay and the type of program you will be attending. Some visas require several months to be processed.

Airline Tickets

Get your flight booked as soon as you know your departure date. This way you can really shop around and get the best price for your ticket. Find out how many bags your airline will allow you to carry and if there are any additional costs for extra bags.


Have you found out from your cell phone provider whether calls from a foreign country are included in your plan? If they are not, prepare a plan before leaving. Otherwise, those long-distance calls will add up and may completely unbalance even the tightest budget.
And remember, this is a unique experience that may come around only once in your life, get ready to enjoy it and make the most of every day you are there.

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Why You Should Host a Foreign Exchange Student

There are many reasons people become host parents to foreign exchange students.  It could be to help source out facts from fiction of today’s era of deceptive headlines and political divisions.  Especially if it relates to the learning of another culture or its value. 

Most people are delighted to become host parents since it is a simple act of kindness. It enables the growth of new perspectives and helps to build bridges of friendship among people of different cultures. 
Being a host family is for sure a rewarding and life-changing experience for the whole family. It not only creates a unique chance to experience cultures but also establishes lifelong bonds. These homestay arrangements help a lot in knowing what is true and what is false. 
Hence, you can learn the difference between a harmful stereotype and a fair generalization. It also includes shedding light on what the two have in common. As a host parent, you get the chance to make someone’s dream come true. The dream of most international students is to experience the life and culture of your country. 
Here are the top ten reasons to host a foreign exchange student.

1. Share and Learn New Cultural Customs

Hosting exchange students gives you an opportunity to learn another country’s language, customs, and culture without leaving your home. These students are ready to learn more about the new culture during their stay. They are also willing to share with their host family about the aspects of their own countries and cultures. 

A hallmark of student exchange has always been cultural interaction. “Relationship” is the best antidote to breaking down prejudices and creating understanding. Inviting exchange students to sit at our tables, to share in our schools and play on our teams, we welcome a new perspective. These kinds of interactions enable the sharing of what is sacred to us. 
In return we also learn what is foreign, leading to new layers of understanding and empathy. As a host family, you get to ask questions about customs and traditions directly through the eyes of a native. You understand more about the joys of festivals from another culture including sharing about your own community’s celebrations. The sharing of these festivals with people from other country’s help reveal a lot about one’s history and culture. 
Also, to gain an expanded worldview for both you and your children.  

2. Look at Your Surroundings in Greater Detail

It is common how most people settle down into specific routines in life. You may shop in the same places, eat at the same places or you may stop going on fun outings. When you become a host family, chances are you will want to show the student best places in your surrounding. 

You get the chance to see your environment with new eyes. You discover that the day-to-day activities you may have taken for granted immediately take on new life. The international student discovers exciting areas of your surrounding the first time. You rediscover those fun parts of your surrounding you may have forgotten.  That also includes those places you never knew before. 
These excursions and sightseeing adventures make good memories and help the new family to bond together through the shared experiences. The event attractions bring new energy to your family, community, and school. Hence making them a significant highlight for the host families and the student.

3. You Will Earn Extra Income for Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student

You will receive a monthly stipend as a host family. Although not everyone cares about the money, to some people they are glad to get a little extra financial aid. The best host families do not offer a home to students for the sake of monetary compensation. However, those programs that provide a stipend are more attractive to potential hosts. 

The compensation will help to ease the constraints of adding an extra member to the household. If you have school going kids, this compensation will help provide a margin of extra money for you. It is because, you already incur school transportation costs, for your children and you cook large meals for your family. 
Therefore, it is easy enough to add an extra student to the routine. It is reasonable to use and enjoy the extra money that comes along with hosting a student. However, providing the most nurturing and caring environment for a foreign exchange student should be the biggest motivation for any host family. {Remember that not every organization pays, so ensure you check that on our FAQ’s}.

4. Lifelong Acquaintances

We all love making new friends!  It is normal though for people to get nervous about making new friends. However, you will end up with a lifelong friend once you get through the awkwardness. Having someone else to stay with you helps your relationship to grow and deepen. 

At the end of the study abroad student’s term, most students, hosts, and families keep the long-term friendship. In many occasions, host families have reported a continued relationship with their exchange student. The students stay in touch regularly with the host families after their program ends.
It is not a surprise that host families have been traveling to their exchange student’s home county to visit. They get the chance to meet their families and to experience their culture firsthand when they visit. It is due to the fantastic relationship between the host and student’s family that enables them to stay connected for life. 
These family connections are essential parts that excite the student exchange since the host parents are expanding their family throughout the continents.

5. Enhance Your Communication Skills

Today, our world is redefined by globalization. Hence, learning a foreign language is a faster-growing asset in the world of business. Hosting an exchange student is a door to learning a new language which benefits the student, host, and family. 
In fact, the best way to learn a new language is by practicing it with a native speaker. Most exchange students from different parts of the continent get the chance to improve and expand on their English capabilities. They not only think in their foreign language but also in English. 
The interaction also helps them to learn about various things that do not translate from one language to another. Beyond promoting direct, conversational opportunities, hosting exposes your children to international students. It helps the children understand the simplicity and the fun of learning a new language. 
They also learn to appreciate the beauty of foreign languages. Since communication goes way more profound than that, it enhances your children’s ability to collaborate, communicate and collaborate with others.

6. You Adopt a Mentor for Your Children

Most people believe host families ought to have either a teen daughter or son in the home. However, that is a mere misconception. It is because the exchange critically shapes the perspective of children’s of all ages. It impacts them with a long-lasting relationship with the rest of the world. 

Your teen children will love the opportunity to help a student get plugged into high school. The younger children are excellent hosts too. In most cases, the younger ones are open enough, and they bond more efficiently with their new “big sister” or “big brother.” If you only have younger kids, then they will have someone to look up to as elder siblings. 
Through the exchange students, your kids will also learn about some related cultural values and virtues in life. The knowledge will help mold and shape them to have a different world-view of everything. You may host a foreign exchange student with fluency in two or more foreign languages. It’s a motivation for your children since they will get inspired to be fluent in the foreign language they are pursuing.

7. Learn The Virtue of Sharing

By hosting an exchange student, you get the experience of sharing resources. Having a new family member means that the whole family will have to learn to stretch. Exchange students must have their bed. However, if you don’t own a spare room, it is okay for them to share a room with your children. 
Having to share a room with a new member is an excellent way to teach your children a good virtue. Also, there is a lot of other everyday things that everyone in the house will have to share. For example, if you own just a single computer and internet, everyone should have an equal chance to use it.

8. A Chance to Try New Foods

One of the most exciting parts of hosting students is that you get to try different new foods. Most exchange students would cook their traditional meals for the family at some point or another. 

Some will teach you how to prepare such types of traditional foods such as Swedish meatballs or Chinese dumplings. Food is a fundamental way of learning about another person’s upbringing and heritage. It is also amazing to experience that element of culture through your five senses.

9. Invest in the Life of a Foreign Exchange Student

As it may seem, the period spent studying abroad as an exchange student is full of potential and is exciting. But also, it can be a very challenging and lonely period. For example, in the beginning, when the student is trying to make friends, meet people and acclimate to their new culture. 
As a host parent, you are the student’s first line of guidance and help. Encouraging and nurturing your student in their new experience. You can act as a gentle push they require to help them step out of their comfort zones. Help them engage more with your family, make new friends, meet new people, to join a school team or club. 

It will enable them to get more out of their experience. Also, you have the chance to encourage them in their studies. It is by helping them attain the educational goals they set out to achieve. As a host parent, it is good to invest time and care you in your foreign exchange student. 
It is because you get satisfied to see the investment yield excellent results as the semester progresses. You genuinely feel proud of your role of helping a student reach their potential.

10. Develop Understanding

Most people assume that people from other countries differ entirely from them. If you host an international exchange student, you learn that we have a lot in common. 
Ones you allow an international student with a different culture into your lives, you cultivate an appreciation for some facts. That despite speaking different languages, living thousands of miles away, entertaining ourselves in various ways, following different sports, it is possible we all have the capabilities of maintaining a meaningful, genuine relationship with each other.

Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student – Final Thoughts

Hosting a foreign exchange student is a hugely rewarding experience for both you and the whole family. You learn a new language and culture even without leaving your own home or country. Inviting a new family member promotes a lifelong friendship with your new daughter or son. 

Once the term ends, and it’s time for your student to go home, you will have a friend in a foreign country. Hosting an exchange student makes your family members feel more close to one another. Supposing you have children, they will develop a broad perspective on the world. It is by learning more about international cultures and their enhancing communication skills. 
Also, they discover the virtue of sharing and promoting understanding. Younger children will benefit by having a big sister or brother from another country. You are also making a someone’s dream come true. Dreams come true when giving your student a gift to experience a new way of life. 
Last, as a host, you act as a great citizen diplomat. It is because you are breaking stereotypes, creating positive impressions about your county and the people of your country. You are also fostering respect mutual and understanding.
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Oh the Places You Can Go | Being a Foreign Exchange Student

Hit the Beach While Studying Abroad

If you are a prospective foreign exchange student who wants to travel abroad for a year of study, why not select a program near a beach? Of course, you’ll need to attend your scheduled classes and take part in all the other required activities connected to your academic travel. But during the off hours, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the option of spending some time at the beach? Here are eight of the better-known international destinations where a foreign exchange student can enjoy every weekend at the beach, weather permitting.

France: Nice

While most people seek out Paris as their destination for international study in France, Nice is the best-kept secret in the world of foreign exchange coursework. Offering some of the world’s most beautiful beach access year-round, you have the advantage of studying at one of several universities in the city and spending your free time on the warmest, cleanest, and most festive sands in the entire nation.

Spain: Grenada

You can learn Spanish in a U.S. classroom or spend a year in one of the gorgeous cities in Spain, only a few minutes away are some of the most scenic beaches in Southern Europe. Grenada’s universities are world famous, offering programs in management, language, and religious studies. You can also take all your courses in English if you prefer, or challenge yourself and choose one or two classes taught in Spanish. Students who have spent a year in Grenada report that the city is one of the friendliest on earth, and the locals are extremely supportive of foreign exchange students.

South Africa: Cape Town

It’s a long, long way from the U.S. to South Africa, and many students don’t even have the country on their “radar” as a place to spend a year abroad. However, Cape Town is a wonderful destination for those who want to spend their academic year abroad in an English-speaking nation that has some of the globe’s most awesome beaches. Situated, as it is, on the southernmost point of the African continent, Cape Town has for decades been a travel destination for people who want to spend time on the sunny, warm sands of Southern Africa.

Costa Rica: Monteverde

Costa Rica is already internationally famous for its beaches, but what many people don’t know is that it has some of the best foreign exchange programs in the world. Whether you want to study Spanish, science, business, or architecture, there’s no better place to have the luxury of top-notch international beaches nearby.

Greece: Thessaloniki

For foreign exchange students who want to see where all those postcards of breathtaking beaches come from, Thessaloniki is the place to go. With at least a half-dozen respected academic programs in the city, students can have their choice of major fields of study. At the same time, the region is one of the most famous on the continent for scenic, warm beaches.

Australia: Sydney

Sydney is perhaps the top destination for foreign exchange students. One reason is the city’s thriving cultural life, wonderful people, and incredible beaches. With the exception of New York, Los Angeles, and London, Sydney is said to be the most popular choice for year-abroad students. You’ll have your choice among more than 20 local beaches, and others are just a short drive away. Australia is one of the world’s most attractive continents for all sorts of reasons, their beaches being at the top of the list.

Indonesia: Bali

No “beach study” list would be complete without the inclusion of Bali, Indonesia’s jewel. Perhaps no other place on earth is renowned for its beautiful scenery, on land and sea, as is Indonesia. Not only is the local culture thriving and welcoming to all travelers, but foreign exchange students who travel to Bali for coursework always come home with glowing reports about the year. Whether you choose to study the local language or to take all your courses in English, Bali is an ideal location to learn about another culture and spend relaxing weekends at the beach.

Make sure the program you choose offers coursework that interests you and fits into your major field of study. There are dozens of international academic programs that include the option to visit a beach regularly, so don’t feel limited by our brief listing above. Being able to relax near the calming ocean waters, and enjoy sports like scuba diving, swimming, surfing, and boating will only enhance your overall experience as a foreign exchange student. Academic travel need not be all about books and tests. There’s fun to be had, and you have a right to seek it out!

Immerse Yourself in Culture with a German Host Family

There are plenty of books, DVDs, audio programs and online lessons available for anyone wanting to learn German, but there is no real substitute for actually immersing yourself in the language. One of the best ways to do that is to date someone who speaks the language, or if that isn’t an option, to stay with a host family. It is true that German, with its logical order of words, and little assimilation of foreign words, is one of the easiest languages to learn, but it will be easier still if you are living and working in the country.

Think about it – by staying with a German host family, you are forced to speak German just to get by. Whether you are trying to decipher a restaurant menu, asking for directions, or making sense of the local television news, learning the language is so much easier if you are surrounded by people speaking it constantly. And not only speaking it, but speaking it fluently, pronouncing words correctly, using slang and colloquialisms, and using real everyday phrases – not like the phrases that you might find in an English/German phrasebook.

Having to speak the language just to get by and to make yourself understood is one of the best ways there is of becoming fluent – or at least proficient – in another language. There is a world of difference between simply repeating ‘Can you tell me the way to the railway station?’ in German, and actually being in a German town and asking that same question. More than one study has indicated that the most effective way to learn a foreign language is to surround yourself with people who speak that language – or better still to go and live in the country for a few months.

Of course, you can simply visit Germany and spend a couple of weeks in the country, and there is no doubt that you would pick up something of the language. However, staying with a host family gives you far more opportunity to listen, to practice and to really learn the language, rather than simply a few key phrases here and there.

Even watching the television or sitting around the dinner table chatting can help you to brush up your German, something that reading a book or listening to a recording just can’t do. Many people find that they become firm and lifelong friends with their host family, and that can be one of the most rewarding parts of the experience.

And staying with a German host family is about so much more than simply learning the language. It’s also about meeting new people, perhaps even making lifelong friends, experiencing a new culture and traditions, and having the opportunity for German travel. Staying with a family in a foreign country means that just about every experience is exciting and challenging, whether it’s ordering a beer in the bar, mailing a letter in the post office, or attending a sporting event.

Germany is a large country, and one of your biggest challenges may be deciding where in the country you want to stay with a host family. Berlin is one of Europe’s most exciting and cosmopolitan cities, famous for its nightlife, museums, and reminders of the Cold War. Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Dusseldorf are all large cities, offering all the cultural options that you might expect, while Munich is considered by many to be Germany’s most charming large city. And Germany has no shortage of towns that look as if they belong in a fairly tale, complete with castles, half-timbered houses, and narrow, cobbled streets, including Lubeck, Heidelberg, and Rothenberg.

And if you do go to stay with a host family to learn German, exploring the rest of the country is easy, thanks to the excellent transport infrastructure. Like most other large European cities, German towns and cities have comprehensive bus, tram and subway networks and the German rail system can speed you to the furthest reaches of the country in just a few hours. Staying with a host family in Germany also means you are well placed to explore the best of Europe, including France, the Alps, Italy and the Czech Republic.

If you are struggling to master the German language, staying with a host family can not only improve your German, but can also provide you with the adventure of a lifetime. Contact to find out more and to take the first step towards finding the family that is perfect for you.

How to Overcome Homesickness as a Foreign Exchange Student

Being a host family is one of the most satisfying and rewarding things you can do in life. And of course, the experience is just as exciting for the foreign exchange student who is sharing your home and your life for the next few months, or perhaps longer. However, homesickness is one of the most common problems faced by many students; think about the first time you left home, whether to go to college, travel or work overseas or perhaps join the military. Those feelings can be just as real for a foreign student.

Homesickness Is Inevitable

If you are a foreign exchange student preparing for your first trip away from home, it’s important to understand that being homesick is a normal part of the process. Over time, the feelings really will pass, and it’s important to remain positive and focused. Remember, this is only a temporary situation. And we all know just how important it can be to acknowledge and talk about our feelings, rather than keep them bottled up inside – talk to your host family and tell them how you feel. It isn’t anything to be ashamed about. Most feelings of homesickness will diminish after a few days or a few weeks, as you adjust to your new surroundings, become more comfortable with your host family and of course, are occupied with work for much of the day.

Keeping Busy

Keeping yourself busy is one of the most effective remedies there is if you are missing home, and although you may not believe it at first, the busier you are, the less time you have to even think about home. Of course, you are with your host family to work, but even when you aren’t working, being active, interacting with others and finding ways to pass the time can all help.

There are plenty of opportunities to find something that you enjoy and will keep you busy, including a local sports groups, joining a gym or fitness center, and outings to the theater or cinema. A temporary membership at the local library or YMCA can be a wonderful way to not only pass the time, but to make new friends too, and many places such as schools, hospitals, and churches are in desperate need of volunteers for a few hours a week.

Of course, most students need some time to simply relax and do nothing, but putting yourself out there and keeping busy really is an effective antidote to homesickness.

Bringing Home to You

Bringing some touches of home into your new environment is also a wonderful way to fight being homesick. Technology has made it easier than ever to connect with home, and you can get a taste of home by finding radio stations and TV programs from your home country.

Shopping for the ingredients for a meal you might cook at home, and then preparing it and sharing it with the host family is also something you can do to fight those feelings of being homesick. It’s also easy to video chat with loved ones back home, although be careful of spending too much time chatting with friends and family back home, which can actually make you miss home even more. Remember that as a student you aren’t alone; just about everyone gets homesick to some extent, and there may be other students in the area who you can talk to, perhaps even someone from the same country.

Host Families Can Help

As a host family, part of your responsibility is to make sure your foreign exchange student feels safe and welcome. It isn’t too difficult to recognize the signs of homesickness, although many students may be ashamed or reluctant to admit that they are missing home. Encouraging your student to acknowledge their feelings is important, and as we all know, simply talking about what’s bothering us can go a long way to making the situation better.

Your student needs their alone time, but if you sense they are homesick, make an effort to include them in family activities, helping to prepare a meal or cookout, taking them to a school or sporting event.

The hosting experience is exciting for both the exchange student and the host family, although it can have its challenges. Being away from home for the first time is something that we all face sooner or later, although like many of life’s experiences it really isn’t that bad! Acknowledging the feelings, keeping busy, remaining focused and maintaining those reminders of home can all help to minimize homesickness.

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Keys to Make Your Foreign Exchange Student Feel Welcome

Keys to Make Your Foreign Exchange Student Feel Welcome

Being a host family is one of the most exciting things that you can do, and welcoming a foreign exchange student into your home is a chance for you and your family to become familiar with another culture and learn about another country. Many families report that the experience is life-changing and many hosts remain firm and lifelong friends with the student placed in their home. Although the experience can be a positive one for the host family, it should also be an enjoyable learning experience for the visiting student, and making them feel welcome is one of the most critical aspects of any host student program.

Your home may be very different from the one they left to come to the US as a foreign exchange student. Take the time to show your student where things are and how they work, such as the television, shower and kitchen appliances. Introduce them to the members of the household – including pets if you have any – although you should keep in mind that they are probably tired, anxious and perhaps jet-lagged. More in-depth introductions are perhaps best left until they have had a good night’s sleep, although the important thing is that when you tell them to make themselves at home, you really mean it.

Although you want your foreign exchange student to feel at home, it’s also important that they understand and respect any house rules. If you insist that shoes are left at the front door, or that meals are eaten together, those rules should apply to your student too. Remember that they want to be treated as a member of the family and may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed if rules don’t apply to them, or they are treated differently. You should expect your exchange student to carry out the same chores as your children are required to carry out.

Few things make a foreign exchange student feel instantly at home than having a meal cooked that they are used to, and preparing their favorite food or meal can be the ideal way of putting them at ease. And of course, as the host family, it’s also a wonderful opportunity for you to perhaps step out of your comfort zone and prepare and eat something that you normally wouldn’t eat. Most students are happy to help to prepare a meal, and this interaction can also help to make an anxious student feel more relaxed and at home.

The Internet has made it simple to keep in touch with home and to communicate, and the days when you would have to ask the operator to place an overseas call are long gone. It’s easy to find television programs and movies online from just about any country in the world, and of course, chatting via one of the photo chat applications is a wonderful way to make a homesick student suddenly feel better.

A word about religious differences, as it is easy to see why these might cause a problem. As a host family, your approach should be to respect their religion, even if it is very different from yours. Allowing them to attend a local temple or church of their choice is an obvious way to make someone feel at home.

Most foreign exchange students are only too happy to talk about where they are from, their traditions and culture, what they like to eat and what the differences are between the US and their home country. Ask to look at pictures of their parents, family or friends, or their home or school. If you don’t speak their language, it’s easy enough to communicate in sign language, and of course, your overseas student is only too happy to practice their English.

At the same time, keep in mind that one of the reasons they chose to stay with a host family is to experience as much as they can of life in the United States. The events and activities that you take for granted are probably new and exciting to them, such as watching the local baseball or football team, firing up the backyard grill, or enjoying an ice cream or a milkshake at your local hang out place. Even shopping for groceries or dropping the kids off at school can be exciting to a first time visitor to the United States.

Making your foreign exchange student feel welcome is one of the most important steps you can take as a host family, and can help to ensure a positive experience for all.

Gifts for Welcoming Your Foreign Exchange Student

There are several gifts you can give to a foreign exchange student. As a host family, you must be able to make the student feel welcomed — and part of the family as well. Whether for internships or international study programs, students will always feel excited and nervous about entering this new phase in their lives. For one, there is almost a language and communications barrier for most international students.

So how about a book or publication that helps these kids learn more about their new countries and traditions? While books may seem outdated, they are still the perfect resource for students that want to learn more about the countries they will be living and studying in. However, it is important to get books that are in their native languages –but with English translations as well.

Gift Ideas for Foreign Exchange Students

There are so many gift ideas available for foreign exchange travel students. In fact, you can check the Web for sites and blogs that offer many suggestions and options. From elegant and lavish flower arrangements to clothing and even wireless electronics — your choices as a host family is simply unlimited. However, since the student is here to learn and study –how about something he or she can use towards their education? Here are a few top ideas for gifts, as well as suggested ways to find the right items for exchange students:

  • Scientific calculators, educational books, resources, and materials that will help foreign exchange students in their new schools.
  • Gift cards for students to buy electronics, clothing, food, and anything he or she needs.
  • Ask the exchange student what they love the most? Computer games, video games, movies, clothes, footwear, wireless electronics, or other items might be what they are interested in.
  • You can also arrange a huge dinner at home — or at a local restaurant — to welcome the foreign exchange student to your home and country.

Sports is Universal

As a host family for foreign exchange students, you should know that many of these kids love sports. This includes basketball, football and especially soccer. In fact, the latter is the world’s most watched sport — and continues to soar in global popularity. If your student loves soccer — how about some tickets for a local game? From MLS to International Champions Cup, there are so many games being played across the nation. In fact, 2017 has been dubbed “The Year in Soccer” as fans and teams anxiously await the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia.

You can simply ask your student if he or she loves soccer and take it from there. However, if they do not like soccer — you can always introduce them to popular sporting events in America. This includes baseball, football, basketball, ice hockey and much more. Nothing is greater than spending quality time with loved ones and friends at local or professional sporting events!

Ceramics and Accessories

Since foreign exchange students will probably have their own rooms, how about trimming up these areas with cool accessories and ceramics? In fact, you can visit any local gifts store for some great figurines, toys, ceramics, and artwork. It should be up to you and the student to see what kinds of hobbies he or she likes? For example, the student may love to cook appetizers and entrees. Therefore, how about some cool ceramics like chefs, chef hats, and things having to do with culinary themes? Similarly, the student may love science fiction or the latest comic book movie adaptations. With this in mind, you can buy him or her the latest comic book action figures, novel, or even tickets to movies and/or Comic-Con events in your area.

Gifts from their Countries

While most foreign exchange students want to learn about their new homes, it may take a while for some of them. After all, this is a new cultural experience and lifestyle change for exchange students. With this in mind, maybe you can purchase some gifts that they like and are aware of. For example: how about a sari or garment for students coming from India? Similarly, how about some clothing items for students visiting from Africa or other parts of the world?

You can also purchase these items for you and your family, which is a great way to show students that you want to learn more about their cultures and traditions as well.

With so many items available — as long it comes from the heart — that is all that matters. For more information on gifts for foreign exchange students, simply check our blog or the Web today.

Tips to Have A Great Host Family Experience

To study or work overseas is one of the most exciting and rewarding things there is in life. If you are an overseas student planning to study in the US, or an au pair looking for work, one of your priorities is probably to find just the right family. It is important to know how to find a host family that will be a perfect match – or as close to perfect as you can get, and the right family can go a long way towards making a memorable, pleasant and rewarding experience. Many host families and visiting students become firm friends and keep in touch over the years, and it isn’t uncommon for the host student to return the favor one day and put up the family who hosted them all those years ago.

However, if you are a host family about to welcome your first visiting overseas student, or an au pair to help out around the home, there are steps that you can and should take to ensure a positive experience all around. Although there are no particular requirements to be a host family, most families who host a foreign student tend to be close, have a sense of fun and adventure, love to travel and meet new people, and don’t mind having a complete stranger living with them for several weeks or months. Of course, you also have to have a home that is large enough to accommodate an overseas student in his or her own bedroom.

One of the most important things is to treat your overseas student or au pair as part of the family. Of course, your student is in the US to work or study, but they also want to feel welcome, and feel as though they are not intruding, or overstepping cultural boundaries. Many overseas students haven’t left their home country before and are understandably apprehensive about embracing a new culture and meeting a house full of new people. Doing everything you can to put your new guest at their ease and making them feel comfortable is just as important as providing them with a room, bed, and meals.

Treating your overseas student as part of the family also means that they should follow any household rules that apply to everyone else. If eating at the table is mandatory, and taking shoes off at the front door is enforced absolutely, it’s acceptable to make sure your visiting student follows these rules. In fact, they wouldn’t expect anything else, and certainly, don’t want any special treatment. Most students are as anxious to please their host as they are to keep up with their studies and do well at college. If the same rules apply to everyone in the house, your kids will generally cope with the experience better, and it allows you to maintain structure and treat everyone fairly.

However, you may have to strike a balance between enforcing the rules and making allowances of the language barrier, and any religious or cultural differences. Achieving this balance is not always easy, but can go a long way towards having a great host family experience, and making your student feel welcome, secure and accepted. As we all know, religious differences, in particular, can be a thorny subject, and anticipating any such issues is always recommended the more you understand about someone’s culture and beliefs, the easier it is to interact successfully with them.

Involving your host student in your daily activities can also help to ensure an unforgettable host family experience. Decorating the house for Christmas or Halloween, cheering the home team at a baseball game, or helping to cook burgers on the grill can all be fascinating to someone who hasn’t visited the United States before. However, involving your foreign exchange student in the simplest of activities can also help to create a great experience – cooking a meal, doing the weekly shopping, picking up the kids from school. Remember, what is routine to you may be new and exciting for them.

Whether your spare bedroom is going to be home to an au pair who is looking after your kids, or a student who lugs their books to the library each day, try to remember that they are part of the family – at least for as long as they are in your home. Remember that your student is probably homesick, nervous and overwhelmed when they first step into your hallway. And not only that – they probably can’t figure out how to work the shower either.

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Tips for a Host Family – Hosting Your First Foreign Exchange Student

So you’ve taken that leap of faith and decided to become a host family. And now you’re wondering what on earth you’ve gotten yourself into. If this sounds familiar, first of all, don’t panic. It is entirely normal to have some jitters about this new adventure… and the good news is that these jitters are no indication of just how amazing your experience is going to be with your foreign exchange student as a new part of your family.

Helpful Hints When Hosting an Exchange Student

1. Be upfront about expectations and house rules.

You may not think that you have a lot of strict rules in your home, but sit for a moment and think about anything that would disrupt your home life in any way. For most families, a curfew is a vital part of host family success. Be sure to go over house rules and expectations in interviews with students. This will help to ensure that there isn’t any unnecessary friction once they arrive at your door. It can also help you to make certain that you find the best fit for your family.

2. Stay in touch with your new family member before their arrival.

Let’s face it – this experience is going to be a little uncomfortable for both of you for the first week. You can lessen that feeling of the unfamiliar by staying in touch with your student before they arrive. This will not only help you to feel more at ease with welcoming a stranger into your home, but it will also help them to feel less nervous about traveling alone to a distant country.

3. Let your children know a little of what to expect.

This may be difficult if you yourself don’t know exactly what to expect, (don’t worry – we have tons of articles to help you out)… however, it is important to speak with your children about the changes that will take place in your home. This will help them to get more comfortable with the thought of having someone new around to help to provide them with care.

4. Go ahead and figure out the taxation on their pay.

It can be a little confusing to try to figure out how to pay taxes on the pay of your au pair. For this reason, it is a good idea to speak with a tax expert ahead of time to help get the ins and outs settled before your student’s arrival. This will help to keep you out of hot water with the IRS, and it also will prevent any unnecessary headaches in the future.

5. Know the limits of labor.

Before your student arrives, go ahead and become familiar with the limits on au pair labor. (Bet you didn’t think about that, right?) In the U.S., for example, an au pair can be required to work for up to 10 hours a day, but no more than 45 hours per week.

6. Read up on the student’s home country.

While you are bound to learn a great deal about the student’s home country once they have been in your home for a while, it can help make their travel easier if you take time to learn about where they are from. Knowing the customs in their country can help you to connect with your foreign exchange student.

7. Ask your au pair about allergies and other important details.

Is your new family member allergic to shellfish? Do they rash out at the mere thought of peanuts? Do they get hives when they ingest ham? These are all great things to know ahead of time. This will help your exchange student to feel more at ease trying new foods that may be foreign to them. (This is especially important as many students will only search “how to find a host family”… not how to stay safe in a new country.)

You will also want to learn any other important medical information that you may need to know to ensure the health of your au pair. Learn about these health concerns by doing a little research.

8. Be Open to Learning

As the host family, it’s up to you to make your foreign exchange student feel welcomed and comfortable in his or her new situation. You’ll find this much easier if you are tolerant of your guest’s feelings, culture, traditions, and norms. Hosting a foreign student can be a two-way exchange. You can learn just as much from your guest as he or she learns from you. By learning to appreciate cultural differences and norms, you can develop long lasting friendships that continue long after the foreign exchange program is done.

9. Help Make Things Happen!

If your student comes from a totally distinct cultural environment, he or she may desire to partake in local activities and events not offered back home. As the host family, you can help make things happen, giving your student happy memories of his or her time in the U.S. For many students, visiting the U.S. on a foreign exchange program is a dream come true. Any effort you make to give your student an enriching experience will leave him or her with a positive impression to share with others back home.

10. Make the Best of All Situations

Hosting a foreign exchange student comes with its share of challenges. Things may not always go as you hope or plan. By staying positive and making the best of all situations, you can overcome “snags” that threaten to put a damper on your venture. Look for solutions to difficulties as opposed to placing the blame. When problems arise, your student will look to you for help and guidance. By showing you care about his or her welfare as a parent, you can often diffuse difficult situations before they get out of hand.

11. Set Ground Rules

Every household has rules, whether you’re hosting a foreign student or not. Be sure your student knows the rules and is willing to abide by them. Having boundaries may even help your foreign exchange student feel more secure in a strange, new place. If you have teens at home, your family may have strict rules about meals (i.e., timings, use of devices, cleanup, etc.) that can help your student integrate easier into your household. For older college-age students, you may need to adopt some rules to accommodate a more independent lifestyle. By being willing to give and take, you can make your situation work without compromising your family’s standards.

12. Be Prepared to Deal with Homesickness

At some point in time, your foreign exchange student may begin to miss home. Homesickness shouldn’t put a damper on this adventure of a lifetime. There are various ways to battle homesickness so your student can continue to enjoy his or her time with your family. Sometimes incorporating local cuisine or customs from your student’s home country into your household helps them feel more at ease. Show interest in learning more about your student’s family and friends back home and encourage him or her to stay in touch with loved ones, so he or she doesn’t feel completely cut off.

13. Give Your Student Space

No matter how eager your foreign exchange student is to get involved in his or her new situation, there will be times when he or she simply needs to be alone. If your student doesn’t have his or her own room, try to create a quiet place in the home or yard where your student can have some “down time” on his or her own. Young people naturally value their privacy – how much more so when living in a foreign country among strangers for the first time. Having a quiet place will make it easier for your foreign exchange student to catch his or her breath when necessary and adjust to all that’s going on.

Here’s an anecdote of how powerful a foreign exchange student can really be.

Foreign Exchange Students Bring Message of Hope

Tachikawa and San Bernardino exchange students show their solidarity with the rest of the world in praying for a stop to all the hate, anger and hopelessness that is pervasive in real life and even more so in social media.

Japanese foreign exchange students Aina Kobayashi, Kaho Moriyama and Miku Takahashi, all from Tachikawa, Japan, and Jake Tivey, a native of San Bernardino were at the Humane Society facility in San Bernardino on Wednesday to paint stars of hope. The three girls are student ambassadors from the San Bernardino-Tachikawa Sisters City foreign exchange student program, a program that allows senior students from both cities to exchange places and learn about each other’s culture and way of life through immersion. Jake has just returned from Tachikawa and is also currently hosting a Japanese exchange student.

Stars of Hope in San Bernardino

Lynn Hildebrand, who teaches at the humane society and a passionate supporter of the Stars of Hope program, says that the message of the Stars of Hope is amazing. “These little pieces of wood can change a life,” she has said. According to her, with all the hate and negativity that seems to surround the world, these 12-inch wooden stars are a surprisingly effective antidote, melting hostility, anger, and rage so that love, compassion, faith and respect can flourish in their place.

Kaho decorated her star with painted flowers on a pale blue background, along with the Japanese word for ‘love.’ Aina decorated her star with swirls of yellow, orange and pink, while Miku chose the Japanese word for ‘smile’ to decorate her star. Tivey chose to paint his star to look like earth, complete with blue oceans and green landscapes. Painting these stars hold a special meaning for the Japanese exchange students since they also learned that Kansas kids painted Stars of Hope that brightened Kesennuma on the first anniversary of the tsunami.

From Japan to San Bernardino and Back: Compassion without Borders

These stars have been shining brightly all over the world, over countless places that have experienced destruction and loss. The stars shone brightly even amidst the destruction in Kesennuma after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan.

Japanese schoolchildren who survived the tsunami passed on the message of goodwill, hope, and compassion by painting stars that eventually made their way to other places, like Breezy Point, NY. Children from Breezy Point who survived Hurricane Sandy painted Stars of Hope that made their way to Newtown, Connecticut. Countless other stories of stars created by children from various cities around the world lighting up places visited by terror and destruction, natural or man-made, speak of the power of these simple, wooden stars to give light, hope, and love in places that desperately need them.

Stars of Hope is a project of the New York Says Thank You Foundation and has done countless projects in Japan. Suzanne Bernier was delivering stars in Japan when news of the London terror attack broke. Because she had some blank stars with her, she made a quick detour to London before making her way back to San Bernardo, her way of bringing back hope full circle.

About Stars of Hope

The Stars of Hope project started with the Parness and the Groesbeck families. The Parness family lived in New York City and thought of the project as a way to pay forward all the love that the city received after 9/11. The Groesbecks from Texas thought of the project to pay forward the support they received from New York Says Thank You, volunteers, who helped rebuild their home after a devastating tornado.

Graphic designer and artistic director Fran Sheff-Mauer remembers the first time she came to San Bernardino to hang painted Stars of Hope on the memorial at the corner of Orange Show and Waterman after the attacks on December 2, 2015.

One of the best things that the stars create, according to her, are the connections forged between children all over the world who have experienced loss, tragedy and pain, and the chance to share kindness, compassion, encouragement, and goodness, from San Bernardino to Palestine to Israel. Another volunteer said this of the wooden, 12-inch stars: they bring out a sense of calm after the storm. They stand out against destruction, showing the precious goodness of humanity.

Through the San Bernardino-Tachikawa student exchange program, the Stars for Hope brings the message of hope, courage, and compassion back full circle to the city, as these Japanese students paint stars that will shine a light to other cities that need them.

There’s nothing like hosting a foreign exchange student to expand your horizons and give your family a taste of the world around them. As a host family, you have a wonderful opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of young people from countries all over the world. By planning ahead, you can make this a truly memorable experience for everyone.

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All You Need to Know About Studying Abroad

Become a Better Leader by Studying Abroad

Americans who study abroad have the opportunity to develop leadership and character skills that can help kick-start their future careers. When you live and study in a foreign country, you inevitably face situations and circumstances that challenge you to learn and grow beyond your comfort zone. 

Studying abroad can help you expand your horizons by giving you opportunities to explore new cultures that have much to offer on a social, academic and professional level. Your experiences as a foreign exchange student could be the catalyst that propels you into a better and brighter future.

Key Benefits of International Study

The benefits of participating in an international studies program are many and varied, for both high school and college students. As a foreign exchange student, you will face situations that challenge you physically and mentally, prompting you to develop positive traits and skills that will help you overcome them. As you grow in such essential areas as communications, creativity, teamwork, problem-solving and people skills, you have the potential to become a strong and confident leader.

Studying abroad may be an expensive venture but the short and long-term benefits far outweigh the costs. Finding a host family to live with during your studies can help curtail some of the expense. It also gives you an opportunity to make new friends and experience a new culture at the grassroots level. 

Many foreign exchange students have found living with a host family a delightful experience. Through living and studying with a host family, you can gain greater insight into your new environment, practice local customs and norms and learn to speak a new language.

Here are a few more ways in which international studies can be of benefit to today’s students.

Global Awareness

In today’s global economy, it’s important for upcoming generations to develop a sense of global awareness. Studying abroad can help you develop an understanding of global affairs from alternative perspectives other than your own. As a foreign exchange student, you will be exposed to cultural differences, lifestyles, and viewpoints unique to your way of life. Such differences will give you a greater understanding of the world around you which will be a tremendous asset in establishing a career in an international firm.

Career Advancement

An international studies program that promotes cross-cultural knowledge and skills can be an invaluable tool in advancing your career. International leadership skills can open many doors for employment within today’s ever-increasing global society. Individuals with strong leadership skills are among some of the most sought-after employees for management positions in top businesses today. Studying abroad offers numerous opportunities to hone communications, problem-solving and people skills that are essential to leadership.

Personal Growth and Development

Participating in a foreign exchange program puts you in a marvelous position to learn and grow on a personal level. Living and studying in a foreign environment requires that you learn to adapt to situations far different from your norm. In the process, you learn new aspects about yourself and discover abilities and traits you were unaware of before. There’s nothing like getting you out of your “comfort zone” to help you grow.

The more exposure you get to a new culture, the more opportunities you have to expand your creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. During your tenure as a foreign exchange student, situations may arise that require quick thinking and “out of the box” solutions. You may find yourself changing the way you operate or think concerning social, economic or political views. Open-mindedness is a valuable leadership trait as it fosters greater communication and teamworking.

Studying abroad can also boost your confidence and self-esteem as you learn to overcome challenges in your daily schedule. People are more apt to follow leaders who exude strong confidence in their abilities and skills.

People Skills

Studying in a foreign country is bound to grow your people skills as you learn to get along with individuals from another culture, beginning with your host family. Learning to communicate effectively will make it easier for you to progress in your academic studies and make new friends. 

Different countries also have different etiquette, customs, and norms. It’s important to learn what’s acceptable and unacceptable in your new environment so that you don’t inadvertently offend others during your stay.

An international study program has much to offer individuals who desire greater input from their academic studies. By studying abroad, you can develop strong leadership skills that will give you an edge over your counterparts in establishing a successful career.

Common Obstacles to Studying Abroad and How to Overcome Them

If you hope to one day travel abroad as a foreign exchange student, it helps to get sound advice from others who have trod the path before you. The good news is that millions of people have spent years studying abroad and know well the pitfalls and myths associated with this type of venture. Here are some of the most common obstacles and myths about being a foreign exchange student:


U.S. schools carefully screen overseas programs for safety factors. If there is any question about the security of visiting students, the program is either put on hold or canceled. This happens rarely because most schools are extremely selective in the first place when it comes to setting up study programs in other nations.

Still, you should expect to sign a routine release, stating you won’t hold your academic institution responsible for unexpected things that could happen to you. In reality, you’ll be in no more danger (and possibly less danger!) than if you were to simply stay at your homeschool in the U.S.


Many students have unwarranted fears about the cost of overseas programs. In the majority of cases, such year-abroad coursework is either less expensive or costs about the same as studying in the U.S. for the year. One reason for this is the typically low cost of tuition in European and especially Asian colleges.

Plus, there are dozens of scholarships and grants you can apply for as a prospective international student. Ask your college advisor about grants, scholarships, and any financial aid packages that are unique to your school. Many college students are pleasantly surprised when they begin to research the costs of studying abroad.


The fear of social chaos, not having any friends, being away from family and similar phobias are typical and widespread among students who intend to spend a year overseas. Fortunately, these fears are nothing more than the common human reaction to a new, unknown situation.

In fact, nearly every overseas exchange student meets more new friends than they expect to, and often begin several life-long relationships while studying abroad. The typical homesickness tends to wear off after a few weeks, as does the fear of general chaos.


Some students are afraid they’ll have no place to stay while studying abroad. Schools are very careful to make certain that each student has housing accommodations worked out before departure, so there’s really no need to worry about housing. Whether you live in a dorm with hundreds of other students, share a small house or apartment with someone, or reside with a host family, there are literally dozens of housing options for foreign exchange students.


Because English is the international language of education, it is easy to find coursework delivered in English for the entire year-abroad program, no matter where you go. Japan, Russia, France, Brazil, and even Iceland have international education programs for students where all the courses are taught in English. The so-called language barrier is really not a problem for U.S. students who wish to spend a year studying overseas.

Falling Behind Academically

With proper planning and the right amount of input from your guidance counselor, you can make sure all your overseas courses will apply to your graduation requirements at your homeschool in the U.S. Sometimes you might have to use up a number of electives, but there’s no common college major that does not lend itself to overseas study, at least for a year.

For students who want to spend more than one academic year overseas, special arrangements might have to be made, especially if you are a pre-med or architecture major.

Medical Concerns

Because every nation has a different kind of healthcare arrangement for its own citizens, U.S. colleges have been careful to make sure that overseas students are either covered by their own medical plans or are able to get a short-term medical plan under the auspices of the host country.

Most major medical insurers in the U.S., for example, offer regular coverage for students who are under their parents’ medical insurance. This is the case with most overseas students, who are almost always under the age of 23, a standard cutoff age for large, U.S.-based carriers who offer family coverage.

Before You Fly to Your Destination

Realize that every trip abroad is different, so you might not encounter every one of the situations mentioned above. However, it’s wise to become acquainted with as many of the possible challenges as possible before embarking on your incredible adventure as a foreign exchange student and discovering the wonders of international travel.

How to Get Mom and Dad to Let You Study Abroad

If you have always loved to travel, and your idea of a fun read is to browse through the world atlas, you may well like the idea of becoming a foreign exchange student. It’s one of the easiest and safest ways there is to not just travel somewhere new and exciting but to immerse yourself in a foreign culture for a year or so, and enjoy the experience of a lifetime while doing do.

However, you may have a hard time persuading mom and dad to let you out of their sight for that long to study abroad, especially if the furthest from home you have been up until now is the other side of your home state. Of course, all parents are naturally protective and to convince them that you aren’t going to be kidnapped or run off to get married if you become a foreign exchange student, you should try these strategies.

Getting a Job

You may not realize it but travel isn’t cheap! If you spend just a few minutes researching online, you will get some idea of how much it costs to fly to Europe or anywhere else in the world. And of course, the flights are just the beginning – if you are going to study abroad, you will need money for food and public transportation, as well as the inevitable souvenirs.

Even a foreign exchange student needs a day off every now and then, and some money to spend on that day off. There are also various study abroad fees that will need to be paid, and if you don’t have a passport, that’s another cost.

You are probably assuming that your parents are cheerfully going to pay for all of this, but it would certainly make a strong impression if you were willing and able to pay some of these costs yourself. And that means getting a job and systematically saving up money towards the costs of becoming a foreign exchange student.

Not only will this convince your parents that you are mature enough to travel and study abroad, having a job is the best way there is of understanding the value of money – how long it takes to earn it, what it’s worth and what it will buy you.

Save Up For Your Trip

Getting a job is all very well, but if all that hard earned money is being spent as soon as you have it, it doesn’t help you. Not only do you need a job, but you also need to save up money for all those costs we mentioned above. One of the best ways to do that is to simply open a separate savings account and make a point of depositing at least 30 percent of your pay in that separate account every week or month.

That may sound like a lot, but after a while, you won’t even notice that you don’t have that money. Mint and Pocket Money are just two of the useful apps available to help you to save if the concept seems too difficult. Think about how impressed your parents will be if you are saving up and you have a job – surely they just can’t say no when you mention that you are interested in studying abroad.

Research Your Program

Your parents are also more likely to say yes if they feel you have thought this whole thing through and properly researched it. That means looking carefully at different study programs and making a sensible decision based on the big picture, rather than how many parties you are likely to be invited to. And if mom and dad feel they have some input into the decision too, they are more likely to give you the go-ahead to study abroad and become a foreign exchange student.

Telling Your Parents

You can maybe see that it’s much better to let your parents know about your desire to travel and study abroad if you already have a job and are saving up money. The more you know about what you want to do, where you want to go and about how much the whole thing will cost increases your chances of winning the approval of your parents.

The goal here is to let them know that you really are mature and sensible enough to handle a study abroad program, even if you weren’t always the most sensible of children. And remember your parents may be reluctant at first – it’s up to you to show them just how serious you are and how much you really want this life-changing experience.

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Tips for a Host Family, and How You Can Grow From the Experience

Congratulations – you have decided to open your home to a foreign exchange student, an experience that can be incredibly satisfying, exciting and may even cause you some serious culture shock. Many host families find that they become lifelong friends with their student and keep in touch long after the student has returned home.

For a student studying abroad, the experience can also be life-changing, and a welcome alternative to an anonymous hostel or dormitory.

Things Your Exchange Student or Au Pair Would Like You To Know

They are going to be exhausted.

One of the most important things you should know is that when your student arrives with you, their chosen host family, they are almost certainly going to be tired, overwhelmed and nervous, although they may not come straight out and tell you that.

They want to learn your family’s routine, and how things work.

Most foreign exchange students appreciate having an overview of all the essential things they need to know – how the shower works, the names of the people they will be living with, and what the immediate neighborhood is like. But keep in mind that they may not take all that in as soon as they walk through the front door; a rest or a good night’s sleep might be called for once you have made the initial introductions.

Attempting to adapt to unfamiliar routines and rules can be just as daunting as tackling the language barrier, and the host family should give their student some idea of what is expected as far as a routine, meal times, any curfew, or anything else they might need to know.

A written manual to your household and your routine might be a good idea, as many students are too shy or nervous to ask questions or ask for help.

They need you to understand their personality.

Understanding the personality of your foreign exchange student is also essential to ensure a positive experience on both sides. He or she may need their alone time and may retire to their room after dinner, or they may sit and watch TV with you all evening. Most students who are studying abroad are outgoing, friendly and curious. Most wouldn’t have signed up for such an experience if they didn’t want to travel, meet people, and experience a foreign culture. But that doesn’t mean they may not be shy.

They want to know your rules.

Some students will likely be wary of violating any unwritten rules you may have. As a host family, you probably have family rules that have been in place for as long as anyone can remember, and your foreign exchange student is anxious to follow those rules.

Whether you won’t budge on eating as a family at the kitchen table, taking your shoes off before entering the house, or keeping the dog off the furniture, it’s important to explain these rules clearly so that they can abide.

Yes, there are cultural differences, but you shouldn’t be afraid of enforcing your family guidelines. In regards to religion, your foreign exchange student may well have completely different religious beliefs and practices from yours. They want their views to be respected, just as you do yours.

They are here to learn about your culture.

Finally, don’t forget that to a foreign exchange student studying abroad, what you see every day may be fascinating and new to them. Your student may want to immerse themselves in the culture and traditions of the United States, and experience as much as possible.

Of course, they are here to study, but as their host family, taking them to the local diner, a drive-in movie theater, a baseball game, a parade or a good old-fashioned cookout can create wonderful memories. If you live in town, take them into the countryside for something different; if you live in the suburbs, give them a taste of the nearest big city.

Being a host family to a foreign exchange student is perhaps one of the most rewarding experiences there is; following the tips above can make it even more special.

Tips on Creating Memories With Your Family and an Exchange Student or Au Pair

Take a moment to think back to when you were a little boy or girl. What do you remember the most about your childhood?

From Saturday morning cartoons and cold cereal to playing board games around the dinner table with your grandmother, the memories that we make in our lives stem from spending time with loved ones and sharing in a ritual that defines our relationship as a family.

These rituals can not only hold a family together but keep bringing them together as the years go by. If you are looking to bring your bunch closer, here are 5 ways to help make rituals easy and special for all of you. Even your au pair.

Keep it “Regular”

Events that happen just once in your life may seem pretty special at the time, but events that happen over and over in your family’s life can become memories that last a lifetime. For example, if you held a 50s style party once – you would remember it, but if you did it every year or every month, then you would never forget it.

When you are consistent, it can show children that life’s good moments can be consistent. It is the negative ones that are only temporary. From going to sporting events on a regular basis to gathering together for worship inside or outside the home, when you make an event a regularity you create a memory that stays in the forefront of their minds forever.

An Exchange Student or Au Pair’s Role in Rituals

An exchange student changes the dynamics in your family so it will take some work to figure out where their role will fit within your family. Your new family member may change your rituals or even introduce you to new ones that they enjoyed with their family in their home country.

Encourage your exchange student to develop their own rituals with your children. This will deepen their bond and it will also give them lasting memories of your extended family member. It will help them to remember the time they shared when they shared their home with someone who learned to love them like a sibling.

Make Changes

Every ritual began as a change in the life of a family. Parents have to decide that a change is necessary in order to create a ritual that sticks. Introducing their children to a special routine like snowball fights every first snow of winter or water balloon fights every Friday in the summertime when a parent introduces the ritual to their children and makes sure to be persistent — they create change that becomes a ritual.

This consistency also shows your children that you can be trusted by them. It shows that you will persistently be there for them throughout their life to help them create good memories, deal with difficult moments and get through life together.

Rituals are an important part of bonding your family together and they can also help to welcome your exchange student into the family, showing them that they matter to you and that you care about them as extended family. It can really help your exchange student to feel like they belong when you include them in your special rituals.

Being so far away from home, feeling included can make all the difference. Be sure to ask them about their own rituals and traditions and try to work these activities into your home as well. It is a show of respect to your new family member and further bonds you to the newest member of your family.

*Helpful Hint: If you are having trouble including your exchange student or au pair into your rituals, try creating a new ritual together.

How You Can Grow From Hosting A Foreign Exchange Student

As a host family, welcoming a foreign exchange student into your home can be almost as overwhelming for you as it is for the student. And while it’s true that not all student hosting experiences are the same, almost without exception every family who takes the plunge will have a rewarding, enjoyable and memorable experience.

If you still have your doubts – and it’s normal to do so – the following might help you to realize that it’s a wonderful thing to do.

A Learning Experience

Of course, being a host family to a foreign exchange student is one of the best learning experiences you can have – almost as good as actually traveling overseas yourself. Picking up the language here and there is only the beginning; a foreign exchange student in your home can teach you about their country’s history, culture, and traditions.

Preparing and eating an authentic meal from your student’s homeland can also be a fascinating shared experience. Hosting someone from another country in your home allows you to not only experience their culture but to also see your own life and routine in a whole new light.

Although you may take these things for granted, many overseas students have never enjoyed a backyard cookout, been to a baseball game, or decorated the house for trick or treaters on Halloween. To share these experiences with someone else is a unique opportunity to see your own life differently, and to appreciate what you have.

Even taking your student shopping at the local store, or getting the kids after school can be exciting for someone who has never actually done that before. It’s no exaggeration to say it can even be a humbling experience.

Stepping Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Sometimes we all just have to make ourselves step out of that comfort zone and do something that might surprise others, as well as ourselves. If you have never seriously thought about hosting an overseas exchange student, ask yourself why you wouldn’t want you and your family to have this experience.

Sure, it means more laundry, more dirty dishes, buying extra food every Saturday morning, but the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks; just about every host family wonders why they had any doubts in the first place. Most matches are entirely successful, and most students remain lifelong friends with the family who hosted them in a strange country all those years ago. Some students even return the favor at some point in the future and welcome the host family into their own home.

Having an extra person in your home also makes it easier for your family to interact as a family; meals are taken together more often, and family activities suddenly become more appealing to your teenage kids when a foreign student comes along. And if your kids have moved out and you don’t especially like the empty nest feeling, the advantages of being a host family are obvious.

International Peace Efforts

World peace may be an elusive thing, and of course, we can’t bring it about with by ourselves, but you can play a small part in contributing to the overall relations between the US and the rest of the world by hosting a foreign exchange student.

Keep in mind that students from some countries may have a negative view of the United States, its policies, and what it stands for, depending on the news coverage in their country. Becoming a host family is your opportunity to set the record straight in an admittedly small way, and show the world that you can find good people anywhere, despite what they might have expected.

Imagine the overall positive effect if every family in America with a spare room decided to give it to an overseas student. You really can make a difference, and there is also a lot to be said for simply knowing that you’re helping someone others enrich their lives and experiences.


It’s normal to have second thoughts about this hosting process, and they often happen on the day you are expecting your foreign exchange student to ring your doorbell.

Remember that the student is probably a lot more apprehensive and doubtful that you are — after all, you haven’t even left your home. They have traveled halfway across the world and left friends and family behind. Again, it’s worth pointing out that almost every host family and every student has a positive experience, and your story won’t be any different.

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Where Should You Travel to Become a Foreign Exchange Student?

Shanghai or Beijing

Shanghai and Beijing are proving to be attractive destinations for the adventurous foreign exchange student. Both are international cities with established expat communities and numerous international schools that offer various courses along a wide range of disciplines. Taking up a course in either of these cities is also a proven way to brush up and even master your Mandarin!

Beijing, which is the political capital and Shanghai, the financial capital, both offer amazing opportunities for education if you are looking to take up undergraduate or further studies. Both cities also offer a unique and in-depth look at Chinese culture as you immerse yourself in daily living in school and in your communities.

Choosing Between Beijing or Shanghai

Climate and Location

Beijing is known for its dry and frigid winters and hot summers. Shanghai enjoys more humid summers, mild weather in spring and fall and very hot summers. Students who are picky about local climates, especially those dealing with allergies and seasonal health issues should look at the different climates in both cities to see which climates are more suitable, and easier to adapt to.

Attractions and Things to Do

Being the cultural and political capital of China, Beijing is home to numerous historical and cultural attractions that draw visitors from all over the world. 

These include the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. Traditions and values are widely kept among the majority of Beijingers which is seen in their local attractions. Famous attractions include the Peking Opera and the Wanfujing Street Market.

Shanghai has a thriving expat population so you see numerous international attractions in the city such as Disneyland, malls, hotels and resorts. Sightseeing is also one of the main activities in Shanghai. 

People flock to The Bund, which is where you can see the world-famous Shanghai skyline. It is also home to the French Concession which is dubbed the Paris of the East due to its French colonial history. With a large expat population, Shanghai is definitely a great option for those looking for an international feel even while living in a Chinese city.


There are schools located in Beijing that do not have campuses in Shanghai and vice versa. Your course will often determine which city you eventually live in so it is important to look at universities and what courses they offer before making your decision. Both cities have national and municipal universities and private schools that accept international students. 

Courses are varied ranging from political science to finance courses, social studies and the arts to medicine and law. There are many universities such as Tsinghua University in Beijing that offer graduate level courses in English. Beijing is also home to other notable universities such as Peking University and BLCU. Shanghai, on the other hand, is home to Fudan University and Jiaotong University.

Cost of Living

Shanghai is more expensive than Beijing, especially when it comes to food and accommodations. For example, a meal in McDonald’s may set you back more in Shanghai than in Beijing. Apartments also cost more, with units 500-1000 kuai more expensive in Shanghai than in Beijing. 

University tuition prices are not exempted, since they cost more in Shanghai as well. However, there are many student-friendly accommodation and meal options in communities surrounding most universities and your host family, if you decide to stay with one, can help you make wise buying decisions so you can learn to stretch your kuai in areas that matter.

Beijing and Shanghai both offer rich academic experiences and opportunities for the global student. However, you can choose which city is the best fit for you by looking carefully at what each city has to offer and what your preferences are. With the right choice you can enjoy your life as an international student as you study and get to know local Chinese culture even more.

New Zealand

Congratulations – you have made the life-changing decision to study abroad as a foreign exchange student and stay with a host family in New Zealand.  While Asia and Europe are understandably at the top of the list for many students, you may also want to consider New Zealand, a country well known for its stunning scenery and laid-back lifestyle.

People and Culture

Like its neighbor Australia, New Zealand is well known for its casual and relaxed lifestyle, where spending time relaxing outdoors or at a cookout is just as important as working or studying. And like Australia, New Zealand has always been something of a melting pot, attracting people from all over the world looking for a better quality of life, although the country’s native Maori culture still thrives. The diverse population is reflected in the diversity of the food, and the culinary emphasis is very much on fresh, healthy and organic fare. If you visit here as a foreign exchange student, sooner or later you will probably be invited to a barbecue or cookout. When that happens, you can expect to be served fresh and tasty meats, fish and a choice of vegetables, instead of the usual burgers and hot dogs.

The Scenery

New Zealand arguably has some of the most beautiful and spectacular scenery anywhere in the world. Even if you have never visited the country before, if you have seen any of the popular Lord Of the Rings movie trilogy, you have already had a tantalizing glimpse of what to expect.

Snow capped mountains, fjords, lakes and rivers, and miles of unspoiled forests await you when you have some free time as a foreign exchange student in New Zealand. The country’s most famous and visited tourist attraction, Milford Sound, is a World Heritage site and has been described as the 8th wonder of the world.

Away from the sparsely populated countryside, the major cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch offer everything you would expect in the way of shopping, nightlife and dining out, arts and culture and sporting events. Wellington is the most southerly capital city in the world, while Auckland was recently voted one of the world’s most livable large cities. And Christchurch may make you think that you are in England rather than in the southern hemisphere.

Extreme Sports and Outdoor Adventures

If you love exploring the great outdoors, there is no better destination than New Zealand. The residents of this small country like nothing better than skateboarding, mountaineering, skiing, white water rafting and bungee jumping; in fact, the sport had its origins in the country, and some of the highest jumps anywhere can be found here.

Queenstown has become known as the extreme sports capital of the world, although wherever you go, there are always plenty of sporting options available. Of course, you don’t have to be into extreme sports to appreciate the country’s glorious scenery, and there are plenty of tours available, allowing you to enjoy the best scenery New Zealand has to offer at a more sedate pace.

The Universities

There are only 8 universities in New Zealand, although they all have a positive reputation, and the make up of the students reflects the country’s diversity. The University of Auckland is considered one of the most innovative universities in Asia and the South

Pacific, and over a dozen of its subjects are ranked in the top 50 in the world. Like the other colleges, the University of Auckland prides itself on making overseas students and staff feel welcome and some of the subjects on offer at the country’s universities sound intriguing. Some of the courses offered include wine studies, anthropology and Maori/Pacific studies.

If your goal as a foreign exchange student is to travel, New Zealand makes an obvious choice. In fact, you can’t travel much further than that – the country is literally on the other side of the world. It’s different enough to feel exotic and exciting and make you realize you are in a foreign country, but at the same time has many of the familiar trappings of home.

And of course, they speak English in New Zealand. The high-quality food, welcoming and easy-to-get-along-with people, wonderful scenery, and opportunities for adventure sports and enjoying the great outdoors, make New Zealand a choice destination for travel.

Rural or Urban?

When it comes to a study abroad program, there are a lot of factors to decide on. Not only do you need to determine what country you want to travel to, you need to decide if you want to stay in a rural area or in the city. You may think that this will be something easy to decide on, but once you start researching, you may find that it becomes harder.

With that said, there are a variety of factors you will want to consider for both locations when you are trying to decide on a foreign exchange student program.

Urban Program

When considering a study abroad program, the first things most people consider is going to a large international city due to all the opportunities there. They have seen pictures in magazines, the Internet and in movies and want to experience it for themselves. There is also reliable internet, television and public transportation to get around. Depending on the age of the foreign exchange student, there are a lot of other elements such as clubs and dancing.

Cities also tend to have a lot of cultural areas such as buildings, museums, public sights and attractions to keep you busy. While you are visiting these places, you will probably be exposed to a lot of different people and a variety of languages which can enhance your experience.

One benefit to a large city is that you will be able to find things that are familiar when you are having a bit of homesickness. There will be a variety of shops that you can buy food you know and may even be restaurants that also reflect your home’s culture. It may be easier to find other foreign exchange student to talk to and learn what you should and should not do while you are there.

But, as with everything else, the above come with a price. In a big city, the cost of living is much higher. The cost of living, food and entertainment can be significantly more than where the student is coming from and can cause both financial distress and culture shock. For someone who does not have a lot of money, it can be a huge when looking at the various study abroad programs.

Not only can a person experience shock when they travel elsewhere for school but they may also have a lot more distractions. If they come from a small community, and now have access to a large city, it may be difficult to settle down to school work when there are movies, museums and any other variety of temptation outside their doors.

Depending on a person’s personality, it may be more difficult to adapt and become comfortable, as traffic, population density, and many other factors can be overwhelming for new city-dwellers. It can be harder to function and get around which could result in some loneliness and isolation. If you are in a study abroad program where you stay with a family, they can help you to cope with the changes and get comfortable.

Country Program

If you choose to take a study abroad program in a rural setting, you will likely have a very different experience than others that choose an urban area. Rural areas tend to be more natural and have less of the amenities that you may find in a larger center.

Typically, a rural foreign exchange student will be in a small center which will be less polluted, with less crime, and lower living costs. You will likely stand out as someone who is not from there which can be a good thing. People will engage you in conversation and want to know about life back in your home country and why you are visiting their country. Depending on the languages involved, this can be a good way to enhance your language skills and for them to practice theirs.

It is hard to say what you may or may not have in a rural setting. You could be in an area that is only a few hundred people and has limited access to things like Internet and public transportation. You could be in an area that is close to a larger center and makes it easier for you to travel to a nearby city to explore.

There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to where you should be a foreign exchange student. But it is important to figure out what you want to get from your study abroad experience when you are making your decision.

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How to Become a Foreign Exchange Student and What to Expect

How to Become A Foreign Exchange Student

Ask anyone who has already done it, and they will probably tell you that studying and living overseas as a foreign exchange student can be one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences of your life. If living with a host family in another country appeals to you, there are some steps you need to take to make sure that you don’t miss out on this wonderful and unique opportunity.

Plan Ahead

It can take at least several months, and sometimes up to a year to plan your exchange student experience, so you should plan accordingly. You may need to talk to your school or college, and if you are under 18, you will need your parent’s written permission for you to leave the country for that length of time.

You will need a passport, which can take at least several weeks to receive once you have applied, and depending on which country you are going to, you may need to apply for a visa too. If you aren’t sure which country you want to go to, do some research and find out what interests you; it may be the art of France, the cuisine of Italy, or the history and culture of Greece.

If there is one country that you have always wanted to visit, going there as a foreign exchange student can be an affordable, practical and fun way of experiencing it. Ask yourself how far out of your comfort zone you are prepared to be; it is a lot less challenging spending a year in France than a year in Japan or China.

And of course, you will want to make sure that you find the perfect host family. Depending on how quickly you are matched with the family that sounds ideal, that process can also take several weeks or longer. Planning ahead will also make it easier to save money. Not only will you save money on the airfare, but you will also be able to plan out your spending for after you get there.

Learn the Language

Planning your foreign exchange adventure ahead of time also means that you have plenty of time to learn the language spoken in the country you are visiting. True, as a native English speaker, you have an advantage, as English is spoken just about everywhere, including most European countries.

However, you will have a better experience as a foreign exchange student, and your host family will appreciate it, if you at least make some effort to speak the language. And being able to communicate in the language of your chosen country will play a big part in making you feel more settled, more at home and less of an outsider or someone who is just visiting.

The Internet has made it easy to learn to speak a foreign language.  You most likely won’t become fluent in time for your trip, but if you can order a meal in a local restaurant, or be able to decipher even the most basic communication, it can make your experience a lot easier, and give you a head start on learning the language once you arrive.

Embrace the Experience

Planning to go overseas to stay with a host family can be fun, as can anticipating the trip for months ahead of time. However, it isn’t unusual for many foreign exchange students to have second thoughts about leaving home. It’s important to understand that these feelings are natural, and will almost certainly pass after a few weeks.

You can fight those feelings of being homesick by immersing yourself in the experience and getting as much out of it as you can, while at the same time keeping in touch with your friends and family back home. Video chatting with your loved ones in the US every week is easy to do and doesn’t cost anything. It can make a huge difference if you are homesick and just need to see a friendly face.

It’s also worth remembering that almost all matches between host families and exchange students are successful; in fact, many students and families become lifelong friends and keep in touch after the hosting.

If you still have doubts about becoming a foreign exchange student, talk to your family and friends, as well as other students who have had this experience already. Staying with a host family is a once in a lifetime experience for most people, and you may well find that once you are with your host family, you are having such a great time that you just don’t want to come back home.

What’s Life Like as a Foreign Exchange Student?

As a foreign exchange student, you have a chance to experience life in a completely new and unique culture. If you immerse yourself in that culture, you can certainly learn a lot, even if you’re there for only 6 months. At the same time, studying abroad can be a challenge. By accepting the “bad” with the good, you can come away with tales to tell and lessons that will last you a lifetime. 

Things Will Be Different

No two countries are exactly alike when it comes to language, culture, and norms. If you choose to study abroad expect your life to be very different than it is back home. Complaining about the differences will get you nowhere. Embracing the differences will make your stay as a foreign exchange student more enjoyable. It’ll also help you make progress in your studies.

Learning the language, accepting the culture and following your host country’s norms are all a part of embracing the differences. You may have to change the way you talk, dress, or act slightly in the attempt to fit in in your new country and comply with the new culture. 

When it comes to your studies, you’ll need to be open to new teachers and teaching methods if you hope to make progress. Take into account that you’ll be the new kid on the block and will be starting from scratch when it comes to making friends and taking classes. As a foreign exchange student, adaptability will be one of your greatest assets because it puts you in a position to learn and grow.

Host Family

If this is your first time away from home, the thought of living with a strange family can be scary at best. It can also be a tremendous learning experience. To make it work, however, you’ll have to do your part. Your host family will undoubtedly have house rules they expect you to follow. 

Being considerate of their rules and customs opens the door to a good working and living relationship. Your family may also expect you to help around the house. If not, you should volunteer from time to time to show you’re willing to pitch in.

You may have to forgo certain habits, such as smoking, eating at all hours or staying out late on weekends, if that doesn’t sit well with your host family. Some of your habits may be offensive to your host family or raise questions in the area where they live. By being willing to give and take, you can likely to a come to a compromise that suits you both.

If conflicts arise with your host family, try to find common ground. Look for ways to make your situation work rather than bale out. While it’s true that some foreign exchange students change families during the course of their studies due to unresolved differences, many do not. The lessons you learn in adapting to your new situation will serve you well later on in life.

Culture Shock

It’s not unusual for foreign exchange students to suffer from culture shock due to all the differences between their host country and home. It may take you weeks or months to get adjusted to your host family, school and life abroad. Some people adjust right away while others feel “lost” for quite some time. Culture shock can put you on an emotional roller coaster as some days you may feel confused and fearful while other days you’re happy and excited to be where you are. For the most part, culture shock is normal, and your emotions will level out over time.

If you’re having a hard time adjusting, reach out to your host family. They can provide valuable help, counsel, and support when you need it most. Your host “parents” can help keep you on track, so you don’t lose sight of your goals. It helps to be on good terms with your host family as they can keep you “grounded” when your emotions run wild. You’ll also find it more enjoyable living with “strangers” if you take time to turn them into friends. The closer you become to your host family, the easier it is for them to make you feel at home.

Fear of the unknown and fear of failure can put a damper on your experience as a foreign exchange student. These are normal feelings, so take them in stride and try not to let them overwhelm you. Once you overcome language barriers and embrace cultural differences, you’ll begin to make friends and enjoy your life abroad. In addition to being educational, studying abroad should be a venture you never forget.

What If They Don’t Like Me?

Meeting your host family for the first time is a little like going on a date, meeting your classmates or arriving at work on the first day of a new job – it’s natural to ask yourself what if they don’t like me? Most foreign exchange students have those thoughts, and you would be unusual if you didn’t feel that way.

You Aren’t Alone

Everybody gets nervous when meeting someone else for the first time, and being anxious, nervous or even having second thoughts about the entire venture are certainly not unusual. As well as meeting your host family for the first time, you are probably also nervous about spending several months in a foreign country.

As soon as you get the chance, it’s okay to talk to your host family and tell them how you feel. They may be just as nervous and as uncertain as you are – most families are. And if they are quite used to having a foreign exchange student in their hose, they can sit down with you and reassure you, and explain what they expect from you.

Host Families Can Get Nervous Too

Although it may not have occurred to you, the family you are about to meet is perhaps just as anxious as you are at meeting their foreign exchange student for the first time. Excellent communication and telling each other just how you feel are essential, even though you have only just met each other.

Remember that your host family wants you to have a positive and enjoyable experience, despite the fact that you are there primarily for school. Talk to them and let them know how you feel. Being homesick often goes hand in hand with being apprehensive or anxious, and if you have never been so far from home before and are missing family and friends, talk to your host family. Skype is an excellent tool to keep you in touch with your family and friends.

Other Concerns

Many foreign exchange students are nervous or upset because they find that the family they are staying with are not quite what they pictured. Just about all of us form a mental picture of the person we are going to meet if we have talked to them, seen their photograph or read their biography.

Often the reality is a little bit different from the anticipation, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it just takes some getting used to. You may have submitted your application to be a foreign exchange student a year ago, and during that year you have probably changed a little bit yourself.

Don’t let that preconceived idea of what your host family will be like make you anxious and spoil the experience. Keep in mind that to truly get to know each other can take weeks or months, although it’s never too soon to start.

Not What You Expected

The environment in which you will be spending the next few months can also add to your nervousness or homesickness. Perhaps you aren’t used to living in the big city, and your host family lives in an apartment on a busy street in a large city.

Or perhaps you thrive on the sounds of traffic and your chosen family lives on a farm, or in what might be politely described as the middle of nowhere. Those preconceived ideas of what to expect can be just as upsetting.

Remember, one of the reasons you wanted to be a foreign exchange student in the first place was to experience something different and to see how people live in a different country and environment. Embrace the changes – what seems odd and overwhelming at first won’t always be that way.

Remember, it is reasonable for both the exchange student and the host family to become anxious about the experience, and perhaps even have second thoughts about the whole thing. If you are away from home for a year, that can be a long time, especially if it’s your first time away from home.

And there may be challenges. Being a foreign exchange student can be hard work, and the study time can often seem a lot longer than the free time. A new and different environment does come with its challenges, whether it’s how to operate the television or shower, cope with a barking dog or small children, or simply try to overcome the language barrier.

Many host families become firm and lifelong friends with their overseas exchange student, and by embracing the experience, you can have that positive relationship too.

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