Hosting an Exchange Student
Opening your home to an exchange student is a wonderful way to expand someone else’s world, as well as your own. Exposure to another language and culture encourages the acknowledgement and acceptance of diversity, fosters listening and communicating skills and makes us all more open to developing meaningful relationships with people not like ourselves. If you are thinking about welcoming a foreign student into your home, here are a few tips for making it a memorable — and fantastic — experience for everyone involved:
Make it Personal
An exchange student should not be viewed merely as a visitor to your home. He or she will likely be living with you for an entire school year, making it difficult and tiring for both of you to conform to standard roles of host and guest. Think about it: would either of you really want to wait on or be served by someone else for nine months or more? In one instance, you’d probably end up feeling resentful and in the other, burdensome. Neither option is a good one. Instead, welcome your student as you would a family member, offering love and safety in equal parts to discipline and accountability.
Part of creating a familial environment is establishing the ground rules that govern your family life. By clearly communicating both what you expect and what your student can expect, you not only help remove some of her anxiety about being in a new situation without knowing how to act, but you also help alleviate misunderstandings concerning behavior down the line. The rules can be as small as your usual meal times or as large as curfew times and expectations for schoolwork and conduct.
Give Some Space
As you fully embrace your student into your family’s life, you should also give him the opportunity to retreat when needed. A dedicated bedroom of their own helps exchange students recharge after especially hard days or when they just need some time alone. If your home won’t accommodate a private bedroom for your student, let him know the places he can go to be by himself and help ensure that other family members give him the space he needs when he needs it.
Create a Learning Environment (for Everyone)
Having an exchange student should be a learning opportunity for everyone. If possible, travel to new and different places. Visit as many towns and cities as your budget and time will allow. Ask her about her home country, and tell her interesting facts about the U.S. Try new foods and cook new recipes together. Share stories and experiences that allow you all to understand another way of life.
Think About the Future
Inevitably, the time will come for your student to go home. School will end and his visa will expire. Some college-age students might be able to extend their stays with Optional Practical Training (OPT), and some may even have other options after OPT expires. However, most will need to be prepared for reentry into their home countries. Make sure you discuss your student’s feelings about leaving you, returning home and how you can keep in touch.
Remember, hosting an exchange student should be a meaningful and fun experience for your student and your family. Try to enjoy the time you spend together so you have happy memories to reflect on in the future!
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