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Guide To Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student (2024)

Author Icon Written by Shane Sentelle Updated 01/14/2024

The passing of the Fulbright-Hays Act in 1961 kicked off the popularity of foreign exchange programs in the United States, although many exchange programs existed well before then. The devastating effects of World Wars I and II left U.S. leaders wanting to create a permanent way for Americans to gain cross-cultural understanding, experience cultural immersion, and learn better foreign language skills.

The hope was to help prevent another global war by fostering cultural appreciation among nations. In 2022, there were more than 1.3 million foreign exchange visitors in the United States.

What Is a Foreign Exchange Program?

A foreign exchange program is an arrangement in which people from different countries come to stay with a host in another country. The term “foreign exchange” represents exchanging ideas, knowledge, and cultural practices that come with being a foreign exchange student or hosting one in your home.

Different programs allow students to study and live overseas. The two primary types are study abroad programs and foreign student exchange programs. Both programs offer short-term and long-term stays. The main difference is that study abroad programs usually require tuition fees, whereas the government funds most foreign exchange programs.

Benefits of Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student

There are many potential benefits of hosting a foreign exchange student, but to name a few:

  • Developing friendships with people who live all over the world
  • Developing or mastering foreign language skills
  • Gaining cultural competency by experiencing cultural differences
  • Learning new perspectives

Hosting a foreign exchange student can benefit a household no matter what it looks like. If you have children, they will experience a new culture and can draw from that experience for the rest of their lives. If you’re an empty nester, hosting can provide you with someone to nurture and build a relationship with. If you’re single or living alone, hosting may offer you some company without the responsibility of a more permanent situation.

Requirements for Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student

Becoming a host for a foreign exchange student is relatively easy, but you must meet specific requirements and be approved through an application process.

The U.S. Department of State and exchange agencies make specific requirements of host families, says Nedra Bunk, International Exchange Coordinator (IEC) for EF High School Exchange Year.

“The parents in a host family need to be at least 25 years old, have a stable homelife, appropriate housing, and anyone living in the home over 18 has to pass a background check,” Nedra explains.

A host family will not become the legal guardians of the foreign exchange student. The exchange program will take legal responsibility for the student during the program, although families are responsible for the student’s safety and welfare. Host parents will be given a medical release form if the student needs emergency health care, and the student’s health insurance will cover all medical expenses.

Housing and Home Requirements

Host families are responsible for providing three meals daily, a bedroom, a quiet place to study, a supportive environment where the students can experience American culture, and transportation to and from school.

Foreign exchange students are allowed to take the school bus, but they’re not allowed to drive. Students bring their own money to pay for their cellphone bills, social activities, personal expenses, and public transportation to get around to activities outside school.

Although not required, driving your foreign exchange student to extracurricular activities, social events, and around town can help develop a stronger relationship.

How To Become a Host Family for a Foreign Exchange Student

You can apply to become a host family if you meet all the requirements to host foreign exchange students. Below are some of the steps you should take to begin the process.

Research an Agency

Do some research to find a local foreign exchange agency to work with. An agency will help you start the application process and confirm that you meet all the requirements.

Choose an agency certified by the Council on Standards for International Exchange Travel (CSIET). This will ensure you are involved with a program that meets high ethical standards. According to its website, CSIET has strict rules for the programs it accredits, writing that the program must demonstrate the following:

  • “Commitment to the CSIET’s Standards of Excellence;
  • Engagement in the development and sharing of Community Preferred Practices;
  • Advancement of the educational value of international student exchange.”

Working with a reputable foreign exchange program is the first step to becoming a host family, and it will give you peace of mind to partner with a reliable organization.

Ask Yourself Questions

How long would it be best for you and your family to host a foreign exchange student? What type of student would you be interested in hosting? Would you prefer one gender over another? Is your home ready to host a student?

These are the questions you need to ask yourself (and answer honestly) before agreeing to host an exchange student. Once you have the answer to these questions, you can begin your application process to become a host family.

Undergo the Application Process

The agency you work with will walk you through the application process when you’re ready to start. Here are a few things you can expect to do during your application process: 

  • Fill out forms with the basic information about your family and housing situation. 
  • Provide references.
  • Undergo a background check (this is a requirement for anyone in the household who is 18 years old or older).

Once you’ve completed the steps above, someone from the agency will conduct a home visit to ensure your home meets the requirements of housing a foreign exchange student. Then, the agency will help you find a match for your family.

Many agencies require host families to attend an online orientation before their student arrives. Sometimes there are in-person orientations that help you meet other host families in your area.

Tips for Preparing Your Home To Host an Exchange Student

How can you help your foreign exchange student feel welcome when they first see their new home away from home? Make some well-thought-out preparations before they arrive.

Before Your Student Arrives

You want to create an inviting space for your student. Consider adding plants and allowing natural light into your home to foster a calming, comfortable environment.

Clear out any clutter and thoroughly clean your house to freshen it up. Make it a priority to repair damages to your home and complete any maintenance or feasible upgrades, such as painting a bright new coat of paint in your entryway or adding gutter guards to make your home tidy on the outside.

Next, move a desk and chair into the bedroom where you plan on hosting your exchange student so they will have a place to study. Consider hiring a moving company to help you move furniture around to create an ideal environment for your exchange student.

Using a moving company may also be a good option if you have bulky or unused furniture in your home that you could move to storage. This way, your home feels more open and inviting.

After your home is ready, you may want to look up and print out your student’s school schedule and calendar. You can keep this on the refrigerator or place it on their desk for them.

Another thoughtful way to make your student feel welcome is to stock their room and bathroom with toiletries and essentials they may need when they arrive. This way, they can rest and adjust without rushing out to buy something they need.

When Your Student Arrives

Give your student a tour of the house when they arrive so they know where everything is and can adjust to your home as soon as possible. 

They may need some downtime to rest and get their bearings. Once they are rested and ready, offer to take them shopping for things such as clothing, school supplies, or a new phone. They may need to go to a bank to exchange currency.

Once your student settles in, introduce them to your family and friends. It may be nice to take them around the neighborhood and to see their new school.

After Your Student Starts School

When your student starts school, keep open communication with them and check in regularly to see how things are going. Invite them to social gatherings and suggest fun activities you can do together in your city.

Challenges Exchange Students May Face

It’s common for foreign exchange students to face challenges when they are far from home and anyone they know. You can help them overcome these challenges by watching for signs that your student is struggling to adjust.

Culture Shock, Homesickness, and Isolation

Many foreign exchange students struggle with culture shock and language barriers. They may feel isolated, unseen, or even discriminated against at school and in the community or have trouble adjusting to the U.S. education system or making friends.

Other common issues are financial pressure and digestion issues due to the new foods they eat. In these cases, it’s best to make it clear their home with you is a safe, welcoming space where they can reach out for help and support.

Mental Health Resources for Students

Most foreign exchange programs offer help and resources for students who are struggling to adjust. For example, the EF High School Exchange Year program has assigned international exchange coordinators (IECs) for each exchange student.

“IECs call or visit monthly with each host home and exchange student to ensure the exchange year is going smoothly and to assist if there are any problems. And the student or family can reach out to the IECs at any time,” says Bunk.

It may help to connect your student with other local exchange students. You can offer to take them to a local licensed mental health professional for therapy. If they’re not open to in-person treatment, apps such as TalkSpace and BetterHelp provide online access to licensed mental health professionals. These apps allow video messaging and chatting with a therapist, or the user can schedule a time to have a live video meeting with a therapist.

If they do not want to work with a professional, phone apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Moodfit can help calm anxiety and relieve stress symptoms.

How To Support Exchange Students

One of the best ways to support your exchange student is to make yourself available to them and spend time with them. Celebrating their holidays and traditions can also make them feel more at home and excited about sharing them with you.

Cooking some of their favorite food and dishes from their home country with them may help comfort them if they feel homesick. Also, having a reliable internet connection and a quiet space where they can connect with family and friends from home regularly can help them feel more connected to their loved ones. 

Ensure your student has enough opportunities to get involved and socialize with students their age nearby. This could allow them to develop friendships that make them feel more at home and help them enjoy their time in the United States.

Our Conclusion

Hosting a foreign exchange student can offer many benefits and be a life-changing experience for you, your family, and your student. Preparing your home to welcome your special exchange student is one of the most important steps you’ll take to become a host family.

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