Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student: Are You Ready for the New Family Member?

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When you signed up to host an exchange student, you were probably filled with excitement, eager to teach and to learn. But as your student’s arrival draws nearer, you may be feeling some anxiety. Are you ready for this?

Your foreign exchange student will be anxious, too, so to help you both get through the initial shock of your new arrangement, take the following steps to help you both be better prepared and — one hopes — calmer.

Communicate early
Your exchange program should provide you with an email address for your exchange student before her trip. Start communicating with her early so you can get to know one another. Send pictures of your whole family, too, so your student can start figuring out who’s who. If you both have the capability, schedule a few Skype chats.

Get your whole family involved, too. After all, they’ll all be involved after the student arrives.
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Make sure the paperwork is in order

Most of the paperwork involved will be the responsibility of the student and the exchange program. Still, to be on the safe side, you should double-check that all the exchange student’s ducks are in a row. Both you and your exchange student should make sure to have:

Prepare a place
When a foreign exchange student arrives, he shouldn’t feel like he’s checking into a hotel. Figure out where he’ll sleep, and make up the bed. He should have space to express himself with “his stuff,” but you shouldn’t present him with a sterile, empty room. If you’ve learned some of his interests in your early communications, use that information to add some welcoming touches, such as movie posters or a stuffed animal.

One nice idea is to have two or three small, empty picture frames ready for him to fill with photos of his family and friends back home. You might also put a few books or magazines on the bedside table to help keep him entertained.

Prepare your family
Hosting a foreign exchange student should be like adding a member to your family — and not just your immediate family, but your extended family as well. As a member of your family, your foreign exchange student should be welcomed to family gatherings of all sorts — holidays, birthday celebrations, even (if she’s comfortable with it) funerals. Make sure everyone in your family knows about the new arrival and that she will be a regular fixture for the months to come.

Especially talk to your children about your expectations for them. Your foreign exchange student comes to your home knowing no one, and your children — especially if they’re near the exchange student’s age — will play a large role in introducing them to other young people. You should also talk to your kids about any religious differences they might have with the exchange student, making sure they understand your expectation of tolerance and respect.

Phone home
When you get your new houseguest home, he should let his family back home know he made it. Some families want a phone call (or Skype) immediately, in spite of any time differences. Others may prefer not to be awakened early in the morning. If you’re not sure, ask your exchange student to send an email that lets his family know he arrived and sets a time later in the day when he will call home.

Let him rest
After a long flight (possibly two or three) into the United States, your foreign exchange student will be worn out and likely dealing with jet lag. Try not to overdo it when he first arrives. Make sure he knows where the important things are — the bathroom, the kitchen, his bedroom — and answer any immediate questions. His concentration level will be rather low, so information won’t “stick” if you throw a lot of it at him immediately.

Most of what you need to share can wait until he’s well-rested and ready to take it in.

A foreign exchange program furthers not only the student’s education, but the host family’s as well. Expect to learn as much about your student’s culture and language as he learns from yours. Keeping your mind, heart and family open to your exchange student can ensure that everyone involved has a positive, gratifying experience.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents hosting exchange students.

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