As a host family, you’ll welcome an exchange student into your home from a foreign country. Along with providing them with food and shelter, you’ll become their mom and/or dad while they are away from home. You’ll check to make sure their homework is done, give them a curfew, comfort them when they are sad, give them parental advice, and spend time teaching them about American culture.
Most foreign exchange students are high school students who stay with their host families for the school year. This means that they will arrive in your hometown in August and will stay until late May, early June. Other programs are only for a few weeks during the summer or one semester. F-1 Visa students can be in the country for as long as four years (for college students pursuing a degree).
For this article, we will focus on students traveling on the J-1 educational Visa. This is most common for exchange student programs.
Financial Responsibility of Host Family
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You’ll provide your student with room and board but they’ll receive a stipend from home to cover incidentals.
Your exchange student will depend on you for their basic needs while they are studying here in the United States. You’ll be required to supply them with a comfortable place to sleep and study and they’ll also need somewhere to store their clothes and other belongings while lodging in your home. If you’re limited on space, students on a J-1 Visa can share a room with another teen of the same sex. Students on the F-1 Visa, however, must have their own room.
Host parents are also expected to provide their students with three healthy meals each day. You don’t have to make any special meals. Simply serve the student whatever it is that you’d normally eat. Most students are happy to eat American foods like burgers and fries. If you dine out, you can cover the bill or you can ask the student to (as long as you tell them in advance).
If you are within walking distance of the school or if the student can catch the bus, you won’t need to provide transportation to school. Otherwise, you will be responsible for getting the student to and from school. Transportation to and from sports practices, club meetings and after-school activities is also expected.
You’ll provide room and board, but clothing and other necessities are the responsibility of the student’s natural parents. This includes the cost of playing sports, going to the movies or attending a live concert. For convenience, the natural parents will send a monthly stipend to their child for incidental expenses. Each student also has their own medical insurance policy. That said, you won’t have to incur any costs associated with dental or medical care.
Include the Exchange Student in Your Family
Your student will become a part of your family.
As important, you’ll include the exchange student in your daily life. They’ll go with you to the grocery store, help to prepare meals and spend the holidays with you. You can also share your hobbies and interests with them such as teaching them to fish or showing them how to ski. If you’re going on vacation, why not invite your student to go along? Some host families will cover the cost of travel while others will ask the student’s natural parents to chip in for expenses.
Along with cleaning up after themselves, your student is also expected to help out around the house with chores. You can assign them chores or they can draw straws to make sure the work is fairly divided amongst all the kids in the house.
Christmas and birthdays are special occasions for families worldwide. That said, you should plan to purchase gifts for your student on the holiday and honor them on their birthdays. This doesn’t have to be a big or expensive gesture, just something simple but endearing.
Parenting Your Foreign Exchange Student
You’ll open your heart and your home.
Your exchange student will typically be between the ages of 15-18 (although there are some exceptions). Thus, they will need to be supervised during their stay here in America. As with normal teens, they will require your support and encouragement. Even more so because they are so far away from home. You’ll help your exchange student through some difficult times. They may have moments of feeling homesick, lonely and out of place. They will also have to adjust to a new school, make friends and get used to speaking English daily and not their native language.
For their safety, guidance and protection, you’ll set household rules for your exchange student including setting a curfew. You’ll make sure they befriend the right kids and are keeping up with homework assignments and getting involved in extracurricular activities. If your exchange student plays sports or has a choir concert, like the other parents, you’ll be in the crowd cheering them on and showing them your love and support.
Am I My Student’s Legal Guardian?
Many potential parents have the misconception that they will be the student’s legal guardian. You are not as their natural parents remain their legal guardians. However, you will have written consent from the natural parents to make decisions for the student relative to medical care, school enrollment, and permission to play sports.
Meetings With the Exchange Student Program
Your exchange student program will host a few events throughout the school year along with regular meetings with your student.
Here is what the calendar year might look like:
August 9 – Family Orientation (This is required of all host families. It is lots of fun and will give you a chance to meet others who are hosting students in and around your community).
August 18 – Your student arrives. Pick them up at the airport. Your local representative will meet you there.
August 23 – Transport your student to student orientation.
September 15 – Your local representative stops by for a visit and takes your student to the ice cream shop.
October 29 – Exchange student program hosts a Halloween gathering for host families and their students.
November 15 – Your local representative stops by for a visit and takes your student out for lunch.
December 20 – Gift exchange for exchange students only. Your local representative hosts this at their home.
January 10 – Your local representative stops by for a visit and takes your student to a local coffee shop.
February 10 – The exchange student program hosts a trip for families and their students to the aquarium.
March 12 – Your local representative stops by for a visit and takes your student out to lunch.
May 10 – The exchange student program has its last gathering which includes a tribute to the host moms.
June 9 – You take your student to the airport for their return flight home.
As this is both an educational and cultural exchange, you should plan to do family activities that will expose your student to American culture. This is possible by celebrating holidays as a family and taking your student to historical and cultural attractions such as museums, military sites and city landmarks.
Becoming a host parent will be time-consuming and will require a small financial commitment. The experience of hosting and the joy you will receive from spending time with your student, however, will far outweigh the sacrifices you and your family will have to make.