This is Part 2 – if you didn’t read the first part please go here.
Do you get paid to host an exchange student?
This is one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to host a student. People ask how much we get paid or think that because we have an exchange student, we make money. If you host an exchange student in the United States, you cannot get paid at all. You are hosting out of the goodness of your heart. You do get a tax credit per month that the child lives in your home but it’s not that much.
So if you don’t get paid, who pays for everything they need?
The host family is responsible for providing room and board as well as 3 meals per day. The first year our exchange student had her own room, the second year my mother-in-law had successful knee surgery and could sleep in the guest room again so our exchange student shared a room with one of our kids. (Yes, they can share a room with another child). Providing three meals a day can be as little as tossing them a granola bar on the way out the door in the morning but also involves buying their meals when you go out to eat. As far as snacks, we always let them know that they had free range of the kitchen to get snacks or food as they wanted but they both chose to keep a few snacks that they purchased on a shelf just for themselves.
Anything else they needed during the year the student pays for with their own money including all school related fees (clubs, yearbooks, prom, school supplies, etc.), going out to eat with their friends, any entertainment, shopping, extracurricular activities and even toiletries.
Do they have rules?
The exchange organization we used had strict rules for the students involving grades and behavior that they had to adhere to or risk being sent home. However one thing that was highly stressed to us was that it was our home and our rules. One of the first things we did when they arrived was to sit down and go over house rules, curfews and how our home functions. For instance, we like quiet nights past 8pm so we stressed to them that they were welcome to stay up as late as they wanted but they had to be quiet past 8pm and able to get up on time for school the next morning.
Does the exchange organization ever check in?
Once a month our area representative would check in with us to see how things were going. She would talk to the students face-to-face to make sure that they were happy and healthy as well as go over an issues with us that might have happened that month.
Issues? There’s issues or problems with exchange students?
The two exchange students we’ve had have both been extremely well behaved and super sweet. However, you are still dealing with a teenager that you don’t know very well at first and different cultures. One year the school sent home a note saying the student needed glasses but her parents at home disagreed because culturally they weren’t seen as necessary like they are here in the US. Did they want their child to see? Yes but they just didn’t understand why she would have to have them to go to school because a doctor in her home country had just told them that they weren’t really necessary. The organization stepped in and handled that issue for us as well as a few other small things that happened during the years we hosted. The organization is there to handle problems. If you’re interested in hosting, make sure you have a great organization that will be able to go between and smooth it all out.
After all of it, has it been worth it?
It’s so worth it that we photoshopped our first exchange student into this picture because it’s not a family photo without her.
In the past two years we have come to know so much about cultures around the world. Not only have we learned about the cultures of the students we hosted but they met other exchange students here and we’ve been able to learn about their cultures as well. We’ve heard stories about the countryside in Mongolia and how they escape the smog of the city to small houses in the mountains when the weather permits. Our family has learned that Asia has a true love of Korean dramas and that they buy higher quality clothes and take extreme care of them. We’ve heard about the huge (400+) size of weddings in Kyrgyzstan and have learned a lot about the dining rituals in both Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan. Overall, it’s an awareness that we are not all the same in our daily actions but we are all humans deserving of love.
Our kids have learned how to tell their dad, “you’re not funny” in mongolian, dutch and russian.
We started shopping less because other countries just don’t shop like we do and exchange students don’t understand our fascination with shopping.
We have found ourselves traveling and exploring our communities more because you want to show the students all of the exciting and amazing places that you can while they are with you.
When you host you will find yourself laughing more. One year, the very first night they were with us, one of them came downstairs and told us that our pet bug was in the bathroom. They don’t have pets in Mongolia so she wasn’t used to pets and we already had more than anyone could imagine so why wouldn’t a bug be a pet? It was a roach in her bathroom drawer that I had to go kill.
Remember those people in your lives that will think you’re crazy for hosting an exchange student? One of the greatest joys has been watching those people totally and lovingly embrace these kids and treat them as if they were our biological children. Our parents treat the girls as if they were their own grandchildren and my sisters are the same way. Our church family just considers them one of ours without questions and actively tries to get to know them better. One of the greatest rewards for me is knowing that we’ve brought them to a place where they will be loved and are able to leave here knowing that no matter what they hear on the news about America, it was a place where they were loved.
The impacts on our kids have been huge. Not only have our kids had to learn how to live with someone they don’t know very well, there’s other hurdles in there as well. They’ve learned how to navigate cultures which is important in a city like Houston where there are many nationalities surrounding you at all times. They’ve learned how to adjust and yet at the same time, doing it without a mask of false happiness and we’ve been able to help them through that. Most importantly, we’ve given them two sisters – one in Mongolia and one that’s about to leave to return to Kyrgyzstan.
Our family picture has changed and all the sudden it’s no longer just about us but about who we can love without boarders or genetics.
So will you do it again?
Not next year. As much as we have loved the opportunity and think others should do it, we’re going to take a year as a family to regroup. The following year, if things go as planned, one of our students will be returning for college and we are hoping and praying every day that she does return because we miss her so much.
What’s the hardest part of hosting an exchange student?
For me there’s two parts that’s hard. One comes about two months after they arrive when everyone takes off their masks and the newness wears off. It’s also about the time that they will become homesick because the glitz and glamour has worn off for them. That’s when that you’re likely to butt heads or have trouble adjusting but once I realized what was happening, it became easier to set solid boundaries and communicate openly and it gets better quickly.
The second hardest part is the week that they leave to return home. You’ve spent months getting to know them and acting as their parents here in America and then you have to let them go and send them back to their real parents. It’s hard and then to top it all off, you have to drop them off at the airport and say goodbye not knowing if you’ll ever see them again. You can maintain contact and talk with them often, but will you hug them again in this lifetime? There’s not an answer for that and it tugs at your heart.
I’m interested in hosting, should I do it?
Yes, I think so if it would work for your family. Exchange students cannot drive while they are here so you do have to be willing to taxi them around town. Adding another child to your morning taxi routine as well as feeding another mouth is a lot and something you should think about before jumping in.
However there are perks to hosting. Many people ask us if they can babysit our other children. The guidelines that was suggested to us was that they are coming into our family as an older child of the family so anything that we would ask an older child to do, they can be asked to do. We have asked ours to babysit, cook dinner, help with yard work, take the younger kids on a walk or to the park. If having an older set of hands to help would be a benefit to you, then hosting would be a great thing for your family.
Last year I had two minor but unexpected surgeries back to back and our exchange student at the time stepped up and took my place as mom for two weeks while I recovered and then her parents send me a package of get well items from Mongolia, which was amazing. Hosting can be burdensome at times but it’s always a gift in some way or another.
Who should I call if I want to host an exchange student?
We used OCEAN International which is based out of Arizona but has area representatives throughout the United States. They have been very easy to work with the past two years.
I know there’s a lot more questions that you probably want to ask if you’re seriously wanting to host an exchange student. Please feel free to email me and I’ll be happy to answer them. If you’re just curious or just want to know a crazy factoid, drop those questions in the comments below.
Overall hosting has been a great experience for us. It’s taught us what it truly means to open our home and hearts to someone else and has provided us with family across the world. Who else can say that they have a daughter in Mongolia and one in Kyrgyzstan?
If you’ve considered hosting, do it. You will bless the life of a teenager and you’ll be amazed at how your life is blessed in return.