If you want people in your life to think you’re crazy, tell them that you’re going to host an exchange student. I guarantee you that very few in your life will understand what goes into hosting an exchange student or why you would even want to do that.
I’ve been thinking about writing about our experiences hosting for a long time and I had always planned to write funny stories and tell you more about the girls themselves but then I started writing and it took a different turn. Maybe in the future I’ll share more personal tidbits but for now… because I don’t want to add anything to this very long post…. let me answer a few questions about hosting exchange students.
How did you decide to host an exchange student?
I would love to say that our decision to host an exchange student came with a ton of preparation and thought but that’s not true. My husband and I went to dinner one night and were talking about what we should do with our guest room since it was rarely used. Plus to be honest, we both love kids and wanted to help a child or young adult out. We were not ready to foster or adopt at that time but hosting an exchange student did come up as a possible idea. Fast forward to the next morning when my husband asked a friend, who is a high school counselor, if she has any experience with exchange students and a few minutes later we were given the contact information to an area representative for an exchange student organization.
After a long talk with her a few days later about all that it involved and a conversation with our kids, we applied to be a host family for one school year.
How does the process of getting an exchange student work?
The process might be slightly different depending on what organization you go with. We happened upon a smaller organization that arranges students for either one full school year or one semester of a school year that stay with you that entire time. The longer we’ve been involved in the exchange community the more we’ve heard about pros and cons of both large organizations and smaller organizations as well as organizations, such as the Rotary Club, that switches the student between different host homes every 6-8 weeks. We have been extremely happy with the smaller organization because they respond quickly whenever we need them to assist us and we haven’t had to jump through any hoops.
For us though we started the process by applying to the exchange organization that we picked. The application was very long and detailed. It took us hours to fill out all of the paperwork and organize it all together to send back. The application also involved photos of all of our family members, pets, and detailed pictures of our home and neighborhood. After we submitted the application, the area representative came to interview us and answer any questions that we had.
Once we were approved we were given the detailed list of available students and we could request more information on students we were interested in. The information given to us involved letters from their teachers in their home country, a letter from their parents, their grades, english competency scores and a long detailed bio of the student that told about their interests and life in their home country.
My husband and I spent days pouring over profiles and trying to decide what student would be a good fit for us. We knew we wanted to host a student with a culture very different from our own. There was a student from Mexico the first year that we both were really interested in but we live in South Texas and didn’t think it would be fair to her to bring her to an area with a similar culture and large hispanic community. We did not involve our kids in this decision at all, nor did they know we were even looking at profiles.
Once we picked a student, the organization then presented our information to the student and her parents. In the application we had filled out information such as our daily routine, our work hours, information on each family member and pet, how much we went to church, what we ate, our hobbies and so much more. The student and her family was given all of that information and the pictures and then they were given the choice to accept us as their host family or pass and wait to see if another family would chose them.
You’ve Chosen an Exchange Student, Now What?
Once we were notified that everything was approved and the student had agreed to come, it became a waiting game. You learn that dealing with huge time differences is a major pain in the rear. Once it was set in stone, we had to wait for them to contact us and simply because of the time differences of the exchange offices contacting and dealing with each other, it took days.
Those days of waiting are nerve wracking. You don’t know if they’ll like you or if you’ll be able to understand them but it’s all tinged with a lot of excitement. Both years the students waited to contact us until they had all of their flights booked and could tell us their travel arrangements.
From that point on, we just spent the time chatting with them through social media and getting to know more about what they liked so we could have some comfort items waiting on them when they arrived. Our first student loved Harry Potter so we added some Harry Potter themed decor to her room before she arrived.
Then before we knew it, time was up and it was time to meet them at the airport. The first student went off without a hitch but Hurricane Harvey stranded our second student in Phoenix for a week and then we had to drive to Dallas to pick her up since the Houston airports were still closed.
The airport pickup is fun and exciting but it still has a huge side of the unknown and questions. One of our students later told us that she just said yes to everything that first day because our kids were talking so fast to her that she couldn’t understand us. It’s overwhelming for the students. Think about it – they’re about to get in a strange car with a strange family that they’re going to live with in a strange house for a few months and they only know about you what you filled out in your application. It takes a lot of bravery.