Have 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 allow people to host an exchange student in the United States; they come and 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, of 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.
Even if you can’t host and exchange student 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.
We 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?