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.

Conclusion

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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