Perhaps you studied abroad or had a best friend in high school that was a foreign exchange student. For this reason, you are excited about the possibility of becoming a host parent but your spouse is not as enthused.
Hosting an exchange student can be a life-altering experience. Taking a student you’ll gain an extra family member and have a chance to share your home, community and interests with an exceptional teen. Telling your spouse about these benefits and more just might get them on board with your plans. They are also likely concerned about what your role will be as a host parent. Clarifying what your responsibilities would be might also help.
What is Required of You as a Host Parent
Along with helping your student with English and supporting them in their education, you’ll also become their parent. Whether they are with you for half-a-year or a full school year, your student will look to you for guidance and advice. You’ll also provide your student with room, board and transportation to school and extracurricular activities. Unless your student is on an F-1 Visa (which is not very common), this is all voluntary meaning you will receive no compensation or reimbursement for the costs. Consequently, you and your spouse have to agree to these added family responsibilities.
More Benefits of Becoming a Host Parent
Whether you already have children or will become a parent for the first time when hosting a foreign exchange student, you’ll enjoy bonding with and sharing new experiences with your exchange student. Many host families still keep in contact with their exchange students, ten, twenty or even thirty years later. Because it is a cultural exchange, you’ll also get valuable knowledge about their country, customs and traditions. If you have children, they will gain a sibling and close friend. The experience will make them more accepting of others with different beliefs, backgrounds and lifestyles.
There are various reasons why your spouse might not want to host. Along with the financial responsibilities, they might be concerned about the time commitment needed to be a good host parent. In terms of time, the student will require some of your attention, much more in the first month or two of their stay. Like with any other teenager, most will meet friends, join clubs and get involved in sports. Before you know it, you’ll rarely see them. As with your own children, you will hopefully cheer them on from the stands at their games and attend their graduation ceremony.
The exchange student program will also have periodic meetings and gatherings for host parents and their students. You might attend a theater performance together as a group or meet up for a picnic in the park. At these activities, you’ll get to meet students from many countries. You’ll also have the chance to meet other families that have an interest in different cultures.
Sure, you might see a tiny increase in your water or electricity bill. However, you will see the biggest difference in your grocery bill. Truthfully, teen students can eat a lot (especially growing boys) but you don’t have to eat fancy meals or dine out all the time. Your exchange student will be perfectly happy with simple American foods like spaghetti, fish and chips, burgers and pizza (of course).
Your spouse might also be thinking about the cost involved with your exchange student playing sports, going to the movies or renting a tuxedo for prom. All of these incidental expenses are the responsibility of the natural parent and not yours. The natural parents are required to send the student a monthly allowance to cover things like entertainment, clothing, cell phone, and school fees.
You’ve Already Planned a Cruise in the Spring
Many host families have planned vacations during the time the exchange student will be staying with them. If you know about your trip in advance, let your local coordinator know and they will help you find someone that your student can stay with while you’re gone. The student can also stay with a school friend or one of your family members if they prefer.
You Don’t Have Space to Take an Exchange Student
Space can be a genuine concern for many host families. However, all that an exchange student needs is a comfortable bed, a place to store their clothes and somewhere that they can study. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just something clean and safe. If you’re limited on bedrooms, most programs will let the exchange student share a room with a child close to their age and are the same sex.
You’re Empty Nesters
Often families without children assume they won’t be good host parents. This is far from the truth. Many students enjoy being in families without children. They like the attention they’ll get and won’t have to worry about sharing you with other kids. You might also have a wealth of wisdom that you can pass down to an exchange student that will make their trip even more special.
Your Family Might Not Get Along With the Student
Your spouse may have heard nightmare stories about exchange students. You can assure them that most experiences are very positive. Just like host parents are screened, the exchange student program will also do a background check and will require references from your student. Before accepting a student, you and your spouse will be given the chance to read their essays and learn something about their home country, family and reasons for their wanting to study abroad. The local program coordinator will then let you select a couple of students that the family thinks will fit well in your home.
Again, most host parents get along well with their exchange students. Additionally, both you and your student will take part in an orientation that outlines the policies and expectations of the program. You’ll also receive assistance for setting rules and helping your student adjust to their new home. If for whatever reason you and your student don’t work out, the exchange student program can and will move the student.
Hosting a student really is a worthwhile experience. But if the entire family is not on board, it can be a tough time for both you and the student. That said, talk with your spouse and even meet with your local program to learn more. Afterward, if your spouse is still reluctant to take part in the program, perhaps it would be best to wait until they are.