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Every year, a host of students come from all over the globe to attend a school exchange program in the United States. If you’ve chosen to host an exchange student, prepare for a life-changing experience that you and your family will learn from and enjoy immensely.
A Fun Welcoming Party
When your exchange student arrives, it’s best to just greet them with your family so they’re not overwhelmed. However, once they’ve settled in, say after a week or two, feel free to throw a fun welcoming party to introduce them to your family and friends and help them start building connections in the states. You can do a fun “Welcome to America” theme that’s just as much hokey as it is heartfelt. Tell all your friends to dress in their best American garb for the occasion, and make sure your exchange student doesn’t feel left out by providing them with something funny, like an American flag fanny pack. Greeting them with humor and a good time is sure to help you guys start off on the right foot, and is a fun way to take the pressure off of meeting new people.
Prep Your Children
If you have kids, there are different worries to concern yourself with after you commit to hosting a student. As mentioned earlier, you’ll want to consider yourself to be gaining another child, so that means your children are gaining a sibling. What do siblings do? By and large, they fight, they argue, they have little tiffs. It’s all a part of adolescence so be prepared for it to happen, especially after introducing a new person into your home. Encourage your kids to be welcoming, and when arguments occur, make sure you handle it through clear communication. It will likely be wonderful learning experiences for both parties involved, and don’t be upset if your kids don’t become best friends with their exchange student within the first few weeks—there’s an adjustment period for everyone.
Maybe your exchange student will be an open book that loves to chat, or perhaps they’ll be a bit more reserved, and either is okay. However, don’t assume that because they’re not forward with their thoughts or personal facts means you shouldn’t show an interest. Ask questions about their friends from home, their family, their culture, and anything else you can think of. Hosting a student from a foreign country should be a learning experience for you as well, so take the opportunity and help make them feel more comfortable by expressing a sincere interest in their life.
Allow Them Room to Breathe
It’s not always a possibility, but if you have the room to do so in your household, give your exchange student their own room. They’ll have a lot of adjusting to do in the first few weeks, and they’ll need a space where they can just relax and take a breather from all the new things being thrown their way. If you can’t provide them with their own room, let them know they’re welcome to use any quiet part of the house when they feel the need to get away, provide them with some nice headphones so they can escape the outside world for a bit, and don’t be offended if you see them needing to retreat from you every once in awhile.
Try to Travel
The United States is huge, with plenty of places to explore. Make sure your exchange student gets to take in the bevy of different cultures and experiences that come along with the different geographical areas of the nation. If you can afford to travel with them, do so. Even seeing places you’ve visited before is sure to be a new experience as you witness it through their eyes. There are many sides and facets to our nation, so encourage a comprehensive experience while they visit.
Prepare for Homesickness
In almost every situation, an exchange student is going to deal with homesickness at some point or another. They may not be vocal about it, so you need to know that it’s there without them having to acknowledge it verbally. Don’t take affront; homesickness isn’t about you, your family, or the meal you cooked last night. Let them know it takes time to forge new relationships if they’re concerned about making friends at school. You can also give them little reminders of home. Whether it’s dinner out for a meal of their origins, or access to your computer for a Skype session with their family, they’re sure to appreciate your efforts and feel more comfortable coming to you with even the hard issues.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Texas Military Department.