Being a teenager is all about experiencing new ideas, learning independence, and getting an education. Taking part in a foreign exchange program is one way for high school students to do all three. As a host family, you get the opportunity to set the stage for a student’s foreign exchange experience.
However, the idea of taking a stranger under your wing, especially one from a completely different background, may seem daunting. What if you aren’t sure how to communicate? How do you provide support without being suffocating? To help equip potential host families, here are our tips for hosting foreign exchange students.
Research Their Culture
Every culture has its own nuances, and being oblivious to these nuances can cause breakdowns in communication. To help set yourself up for success as far as welcoming your student goes, take the time to research the answers to the following questions:
- How do people greet others in their culture? Does this differ depending on age and gender?
- What are the unspoken social rules regarding communication, such as eye contact, personal space, and gestures?
- How independent are teens in this culture?
- What are the clothing norms?
- What holidays or traditions are important to this culture?
- Are there any food dishes you can try making?
Don’t fall into the trap of overgeneralization as you research, either. The goal of this research is to build a general idea of the environment your student came from, not to figure out exactly who the student is. Culture shapes each person, but each person is still an individual.
Prepare the Room
Your student will need to adapt to a lot as they come to a new country. Having a place where they can feel secure and safe will help them cope with the changes.
Make sure your student has everything they need in their room, such as an ergonomic desk and plenty of bedding. But don’t stop your preparations at the essentials. Taking the time to make the bedroom presentable will show the student that you value their presence.
Decide on Boundaries at the Beginning
Every house has its own rules and guidelines. To help make the transition smooth, make sure you establish these boundaries right at the beginning of their stay. Sit down and have a conversation about your rules. Take this time to allow the student to tell you of any privacy boundaries they may have as well.
Be Open and Supportive
It’s difficult to come to a new place, especially as a high school student. You may be that student’s only support system. The most important thing about hosting a foreign exchange student isn’t the house or food you provide—it’s a space where students can talk about what they’re going through and receive encouragement. You’ll be the one to help make that student’s experience great.