Bring Culture Home: Host An Exchange Student

Exchange Student- Kid World CitizenHave you ever wondered how to host an exchange student? Here are some wonderful programs available that allow families to host a student from another country for 2 weeks to an academic year! By opening your homes, not only do you share your knowledge about your own country, traditions, food, celebrations- you also get to learn about another culture and language firsthand.

There are many organizations that bring exchange students to the United States to study, while living with host families. These students are often expected to be ambassadors in their host communities, and are encouraged to teach people about their country, culture, and family. Last year, we hosted Miriam- a 17 year old student from Norway, or Ethiopian descent. We were doubly lucky because she was able to teach us about both of her countries! It was especially exciting for us because my son is adopted from Ethiopia, and she was able to teach us to cook some dishes, share some Ethiopian traditions with us, and introduce us to the Ethiopian community here.

Exchange Student- Kid World CitizenEven if you can’t host in your home, consider inviting a couple of exchange students over for dinner or to celebrate a holiday with your family. Check your local universities for their “International Students” office, and ask to be matched with a student studying here from another country. Often times there are programs where families can “adopt” a student and bring them to their home for the evening, for the weekend, or over the holidays so that they can experience “real” family life. If you’re a teacher, invite a panel of local high school exchange students to talk to your class or school (see the list of organizations below), or to answer questions from your students. Contact your local high school to see if there are any exchange students or contact the following organizations that place enthusiastic international students nationwide.

The Council on Standards for International Educational Travel serves as a not-for-profit clearinghouse for accredited exchange organizations serving youth at the high school level. Their “Program Finder” is a phenomenal tool that points you to programs operating in your area, and offers guidance for starting new programs.

The Rotary Club brings students from around the world to study and live with host families in the US and abroad. Their students are required to give speeches to Rotary Clubs and are excellent candidates to come speak to elementary schools.

FLEX (“Future Leaders Exchange”) students come from Eastern Bloc countries to the US, and are chosen because of their excellent leadership, communication, and academic skills. They are encouraged to volunteer and act civically responsible while in the US, and are truly ambassadors to their host communities.

The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program provides scholarships to high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations. It is a highly competitive program, which brings excellent students to the US, and requires them to help educate Americans about their countries and cultures.

Jack O'Lanterns with Exchange Student- Kid World CitizenWe used the Center for Cultural Interchange (CCI), and were very happy with our local coordinator and the events sprinkled throughout the year for the host families and their students. During Miriam’s year with us, we took her trick-or-treating, on long roadtrips to Chicago (twice!), the beach, shared all of our holidays and celebrations with her- and my kids loved to play with her! Host families should offer their students a place to sleep, 3 meals a day, and support as they adjust to their new school. While most exchange students are expected to have a reasonable command of English, adjusting to classes does take a little time and families should be patient and resourceful to help their students. Overall it is a very rewarding experience, and I highly recommend everyone to check it out- even if only for a couple of week to start off. What a fun way to bring culture into your home!

Have you ever hosted? Where were your students from? Have you ever been an exchange student? Where did you live?

12 Responses to Bring Culture Home: Host An Exchange Student

  1. My family hosted Japanese students when I was about ten. They only stayed a couple weeks but I think it was very eye opening for me to come into contact with those teenagers when I was young. Later we had the opportunity to host a student from Costa Rica for several weeks. It is a wonderful opportunity and a beautiful chance to teach children about other cultures. AFS is another non-profit that organizes exchanges all over the world. I am a volunteer now with them in Spain and it has also been great fun (even though at times it is stressful for the visiting students).

  2. This is a great idea! I work at a university, and this didn’t even cross my mind! Thanks for opening my eyes! I can’t host an exchange student, but I will certainly contact our international students office to have a student come and visit us.

    • I worked at the Office of Int’l Student Affairs at a large university, and we would frequently have families “request” to invite a student over to their homes for dinner. The students LOVED it!!! My dad works at a uni. now, and we’ve invited over students of his from China for dinner, as a role model for my son (adopted form China). So now I just contacted a university nearby, and they actually have a program you can sign up for, where you “host” the student a couple of times a year in your house, so they can learn more about American families:). I love it!

  3. Hmm – never really thought about doing this until now!

  4. I’m going to inquire about this at the university where I work at. Should I just cook dinner? Then what else to do? My son is 4 yrs. old, and I’d love for this to be a learning process for him. Thanks!

  5. We did dinner, and then played a board game:). Another time we had other students bring pictures from home. One time I brought 3 exchange students home for THanksgiving from Latin America and they helped me shovel the driveway of snow- they had never seen snow and wanted to help!!! :) Sometimes we invite 2 at a time so they are not the odd man out- they like to share with each other things about their cultures as well. Have fun!!!

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  8. Let me tell you about the organization that I work with! PAX, is certified through the CSIET which is mentioned above – and we place both ‘regular/paid’ exchange students, and also the FLEX and YES students from the State Department programs that you mention in the article.

    I personally try to promote the State Department leadership programs above all others – the Student Ambassadors from those programs compete against tens of thousands of their peers for the opportunity to come here – making it harder to qualify for these programs than a top ivy league college! The kids have to give cultural education and presentations to their classmates and have to work doing community service hours — it’s a win-win-win program for our schools, families, kids! We are helping to develop strong, resourceful, U.S.-friendly leaders among the youth of the world – at the same time providing our own children with international friends who are very well managed, very motivated, and considered to be potential leaders in their countries! What a great way to ‘be the change that you want to see in the world – just by ‘sharing your America’!! http://www.PAX.org

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