Deciding to take a foreign exchange student is a big commitment. Along with desiring that it will be a good experience for you, you are likely wondering whether your family is a good candidate to host a foreign exchange student. To be a good host family, you must be able to share your life with a student from another culture. That said, you must be patient, understanding and caring. As important, you must be able to provide your student with a safe, healthy and supportive environment during their stay in the United States.
What makes a good host family?
Along with an open heart, to be a good host family you should be active and involved in your school, church or community. You should like to do fun things and be willing to introduce your foreign exchange student to new things.
International Student Exchange Programs require that families go through a thorough screening process before being given a student. They’ll likely send a representative to interview you and your family. If you want to do a self-assessment prior to applying, there are a few key things to look at to help you determine whether you are a good candidate for hosting. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are we interested in sharing our culture with a student?
- Are we open to learning about a new culture?
- Are we willing and able to love another child?
- Do we have the space to take a foreign exchange student?
- Can we subsidize a foreign exchange student?
- Do you welcome diversity and different thoughts?
Do I have to have a large home?
No, they do not require families to have a large home to host a student. The representative from the agency will just want to know your student will have a comfortable place to sleep. Specifically, they must have their own bed (although some programs permit room sharing with another teen) and a place to study.
Is it important that I have children to be a good host family?
Although siblings are nice, some kids might not mind being in a home without children. That said, you do not have to have children to be a good host family. Young couples and retirees have often made excellent host parents and families. Your student will interact with American teens at school and you can also introduce them to kids their age in the neighborhood or at church.
Do I have to live in a big city to host?
No, you don’t have to live in a big city to host. Foreign exchange students come from all over the world. This includes huge cities like Sao Paulo (Brazil) and rural areas in Europe. Therefore, they have their own ideas of what they want their experience in America to be like. Some students usually like to have the experience of living in rural America. Trust your agency representative to suggest the right student for you and your family.
Am I financially a good candidate for hosting?
Most families have an adequate income to host a student because your financial responsibility is not much. You’ll simply be expected to provide your student with the basics of a comfortable home, food and transportation as needed. Your student will receive money from home for clothing and incidental expenses.
What about religion?
Both church-goers and non-church goers make good host families. All the programs do their best to match students based upon religious preferences. However, there are times in which the students and family have a difference in beliefs. For example, your student might want to attend church and you may not. Here, would you be willing to arrange transportation to/from church for your student? On the other hand, you might be active in your church. What will you do if your student goes to church a few times and then decide they don’t want to go again? A good host family is understanding and flexible as it pertains to church and religious services.
What will the international student exchange agency be looking for?
Once you ask about taking a student and past the initial screening, a representative from the international student exchange program will come to your home. They will sit and talk with you and the entire family about the program. They’ll want to know that everyone is in agreement and exciting about the possibility of taking a student. You should also be prepared to show them the room where the student will sleep and have a list of references available. These references can be from your job, church, school or community. The representative will also take photos of both your home and family to share with potential students. Don’t forget to include any pets in the photo as they are a part of the family.
Lastly, the representative will run a criminal background check. If someone in the household is a convicted felon, truthfully, they will probably reject your application. The representative will further talk to the school about your family if you have or have had kids there. Although your kids don’t have to be perfectly behaved, they will consider your kids’ school record including attendance before agreeing to let you host a student.
Even if you’re considered a good family, you cannot take a student without school approval. Your school might refuse to grant approval because they already have too many foreign exchange students. They might also reject taking a student from that program because it doesn’t meet district guidelines.
Be sure to research the foreign exchange program before you sign-up. Although you might be an excellent family, you’ll want to work with a program that has counseling services available for your student and family should problems arise. Lastly, note that you might be a good candidate for one program and not for another. If you’re not ready to make a long-term commitment, consider hosting a foreign exchange student for the summer or a one-semester program.