Advice for the Host Family

Norma at Dallas Blooms, Texas, 2007

Norma at Dallas Blooms, Texas, 2007

I hope you found this post because you are thinking about being a host family for a foreign exchange student. I wrote a post earlier offering advice to students thinking about becoming an exchange student and I wanted to balance it with a post directed toward potential host families.

I have tried to mirror the previous post as close as possible, sometimes word for word, for several reasons. First, I think most exchange programs already offer detailed advice on the actual nuts and bolts of hosting a student. Second, I feel that foreign exchange is a two-way street and I wanted to provide balance to each point given in the previous post. Finally, it was an interesting exercise to take all the individual points, flip them around, and look at them from the opposite perspective.

If you say yes to everything, then I think you are probably prepared to be a host family. If you say no to one or more items, I think it prudent for you to do some long reflection before continuing on in the host-family process.

Host Family Advice

1. The fundamental purpose of being a host family is to provide a young person the opportunity to learn a new language and to experience a different culture. This is the big fundamental. This is the point from where most everything about your hosting experience will succeed or falter. If you understand and believe this statement from the beginning, you will likely achieve positive results as a host family. If you dismiss or forget this statement, then you will likely find conflict and failure.

If you do not speak the native language of your country in your home, you should not host an exchange student. You will be denying your student valuable experience in practicing their new language.

The purpose of hosting is not to gain a babysitter or housekeeper for a year. Neither is it to gain a language tutor, to stack the local basketball team, or to provide a companion for yourself  or your children. An exchange student may fill some of these roles, but when it happens you should consider it a pleasant bonus.

Ask yourself, “Is this my purpose?” If the answer is “no”, then I advise you to rethink being a host family.

2. Don’t expect your exchange student to change your family or a family member in any particular way. Remember the fundamental purpose of hosting an exchange student. If you decide to become a host family because you think it “would be good” for a family member or will solve some preexisting family issue, then you are making a questionable decision. Hosting an exchange student can be a life changing experience, but you need to know those changes are unpredictable and not guaranteed.

Ask yourself, “Am I hosting for the right reasons?” If the answer is “no”, then I advise you to rethink being a host family.

3. Hosting an exchange student requires you to be a parent. You must be willing to take over the parenting role from the student’s natural parents. As with any teenager, you must be prepared to set rules, lay out expectations, and define limits. As with any teenager, you should be prepared for them to test you, and you need to be willing to apply discipline when necessary.

You should expect to deal with normal teenage issues and crises. Cultures vary greatly around the world, but being a teenager is amazingly consistent. You must also be prepared to help your student to deal with your culture, culture shock, and other issues unique to being an exchange student.

You will need to establish a nurturing parental role with your exchange student. The success of their exchange may depend upon it.

Ask yourself, “Am I ready to be a parent for an exchange student?” If the answer is “no”, then I advise you to rethink being a host family.

4. Be open-minded and beware of expectations. Although when looking through profiles it may seem like you are ordering a student out of a catalog, this, of course, is not the case. Every exchange student is an individual. They will each come with their own set of strengths and weaknesses. Some will be responsible, and some will not. Some will be excellent students, and some will not. Some will be family oriented, and some will not.

Remember the fundamental purpose of being a host family. If you remember the fundamental purpose, you will realize that you can successfully host a wide variety of students and personalities. For those families that have hosted multiple times, variety is something that makes hosting for several years fun.

If you decide to host, you are making a commitment to the student and their organization to host for the year. If the student is fulfilling their purposes of exchange, it is irresponsible to have a student removed simply because they are not meeting any other expectations that you may have, or because you have hit some minor difficulties with the exchange.

Ask yourself, “Am I willing to accept my student for who he or she is? Assuming the student is actively fulfilling the purposes of their exchange, am I committed to the hosting experience for a full year?” If the answer is “no”, then I advise you to rethink being a host family.

5. You need to be willing to follow the rules of the organization and honor the commitments. There are many rules in exchange organizations. Many rules are directed toward the exchange student, but many are for host families. In addition, your student will have commitments, such as meetings, that you must be willing to support. You will also have commitments such as host-family orientations.

Read through your program rules and ask yourself, “Can I and my family live with the rules of the exchange program? Is my family prepared to honor the commitments?” If the answer is “no”, then I advise you to rethink being a host family.

6. Take the time and effort, and be honest in picking out a student who will be a good fit for your family. The profiles may not be much, but they are all you have, so take them seriously. Hopefully, the students have taken the time to write a honest application. Students will usually list a few ancillary goals on their profile and they will be appreciative if the host family that chooses them is willing to support them in achieving at least some of these goals.

In reviewing profiles, reading between the lines is always necessary to a certain extent. Don’t get so caught up in the idea of hosting that you accept any student. If you don’t find a student that is a good fit, be prepared to tell the exchange organization that you will pass at this time. On the other hand, keep in mind the fundamental purpose of hosting an exchange student and remain open to students with different interests and personalities. You may never have been interested in high-school sports before, but you never know…being involved for a year with athletics might be an interesting change of pace.

Be forewarned that you really don’t know what student you are getting until they get off of the airplane. Applications are usually submitted six months to a year a head of time which is a long time for a rapidly changing teenager.

You should be brutally honest with yourself about what your family and community is all about. You need to set aside your ego and realize that not every student is going to enjoy living in your home. The selection process is not about picking the flashiest profile…it’s about matching the exchange student to a host family where everyone involved is happy and satisfied.

Ask yourself, “Am I willing to take the time and effort, and be honest in picking out a student who will be a good fit for my family?” If the answer is “no”, then I advise you to rethink being a host family.

7. Exchange students eat a lot of food. Boys and athletes eat more. Athletes who are also boys can consume calories at a frenetic pace.

Ask yourself, “Am I prepared for the expense of feeding my exchange student?” If the answer is “no”, then I advise you to rethink being a host family.

8. Host families must be open, honest, and communicative. You must be honest with your student, the natural parents, and the exchange organization. Never lie to any of these people, telling them “things are OK” when they are not. Your success as a host family depends largely on the communication you have with these three groups of people. You must be willing to communicate issues early on to the representative of the organization so that they can handle problems before they grow larger.

Ask yourself, “Am I willing to to be honest and communicative about my exchange student?” If the answer is “no”, then seek out a different type of program.

9. You are a host family. Hopefully, your exchange student is expecting you to take their language learning seriously and to support their taking part in the culture of the country, the community, and home. This can mean providing transportation to school, social, and other events. This does not mean unlimited taxi service anymore than it would for your own child. It can mean trips to buy athletic clothing or a prom dress. It can mean spending time planning a Halloween costume.

Being a host family means adding another family member to the household and accepting all the problems as well as all the joys. It means the exchange student will receive their fair share of family attention; Everyone in the host family must agreeable to this before you accept a student. Being a host family means being a true parent. It means providing a safe and secure environment. It means treating your exchange student as you would want your own child treated if they were overseas.

Ask yourself, “Am I willing to hold up my end of student exchange?” If the answer is “no”, then I advise you to rethink being a host family.

10. If you have problems, be patient and work through the system of your exchange organization. Hosting an exchange student is rarely trouble fee. If a problem occurs, work within the system. Solve problems first within your family, then involve the representative of your organization, then the regional or national office if needed. It is great if natural parents are on your side, but it is important for you to act as the parent while the student is in your home. When serious problems occur, be patient but persistent. Allow those in charge the time to gather all the details and work out a solution. Of course, if the problem is serious, you should expect your organization to move with due haste.

Ask yourself, “Am I willing to work through the exchange organization to solve most problems?” If the answer is “no”, then I advise you to rethink being a host family.

I hope that you will find my advice for host families helpful. Good luck!


48 responses to “Advice for the Host Family

  1. I wish our student’s school knew rule #1. The public school only takes 4 exchange student so she is at a private school. The school looked through the profiles and picked the students they wanted at the school – mostly asian students to be on the math team. The student we ended up with is Russian and hates math, the school only let her in because she played on the volleyball team…

  2. Sort of… The school took the list of 20 students coming to our region and cut it down to 4 that they would except. The school has a private and public part to it, and there is no way to know which students are which. Exchange students hav to be private because the school doesn’t get state money for them. So there is a $7000 tuition. But the school said that a community member or staff can sponsor a student. So I really have no idea who is paying her tuition.

  3. You message is clear but please remember even if the school allows a student doesn’t mean that child will be accepted. Monroe OH has three spotes and only one is allowed. Our family planned and had it changed becasue of a local school.

  4. Last August we accepted a 12 year old boy from Korea into our home. He speaks English better than most Americans. And is in advanced classes at the Junior High.
    This was a private agreement to be his host parents. His Mom is here now and they both do not like us, we have done nothing wrong and we feel if he hates it here so much he should go home. His Mom is going home in a week and half, but is leaving him here until June. They are both staying at the Holiday Inn during her stay.
    Do you know if we can make her take him home?
    He also treats me like a servant. Is this normal? And he doesn’t like to do anything I ask, so do I have rights? Any suggestions?

    • In a normal exchange situation, a host family is under no obligation to keep a student. In your case, I don’t know if you are working with an agency, if you are paid, or if a contract is involved. Neither am I a lawyer, so it would be inappropriate to give anything resembling legal advice. I personally don’t think I would try and force the student home. I would express to the mother that you don’t think things are working well and that you think her son would excel more in a different home. Hopefully she will get the hint. By doing this now, it will give them a chance to find another placement for the boy while she is in the U.S. If the mother thinks you are thinking of the well-being of her child, she will probably be more amenable.

      Without more information on your private agreement, I think this is about the most I can advise. I would suggest going to … there you will find host parents from a wide variety of backgrounds and programs, and some are program coordinators and managers.

  5. Very glad to read this enlightening blog. We were thinking of hosting an exchange student, and hadn’t thought of having to deal with teenage drama. We thought it would be enough that the child will be able to go to a good school and learn English. Sounds like everyone expects their host family to be servants and have active social life which is not us. So most likely we will not be doing this.

  6. To Ma: Well, maybe you shouldn’t host a student is right. You didn’t think about having to deal with teenage drama? Instead, how about being able to recognize ‘typical teenage behavior’? You thought it would be enough that the child would be able to go to a good school and learn English? Maybe you shouldn’t host a student. Hosting an exchange student is more than shoving a plate of food under their nose at the dinner table. Hosting an exchange student is beyond clearing the clutter from that musty couch in the garage to make it into a make-shift bed for the student. Many of these student’s parents spend thousands of dollars for their son or daughter to be able to come to the U.S. to learn about American culture and enhance their education. You don’t need to roll out the red carpet; you just need to open your heart and mind and treat these teenagers how you would like to be treated had you studied abroad when you were a young, impressionable teen thousands of miles away from everything you’re familiar with. Hope this helps.

  7. Note to Connie:
    I have a full lovely bedroom that would have been great. I am a type of person that tries to be very helpful- not someone shoving food under their face. I am second generation American, and am more focused on my culture than typical “American” culture which also sounds like it might be construed negatively. I just started reading on the internet about how the kids treated host families like servants. I was hoping that someone would be kind to me as I always am to other people- even when I was a teen. I was raised to be that way- realizing what a gift I had, not having to go through what my parents went through. I think it only right that I should expect the same in return. I have a child, and I thought it would be fun for them as well, but again after reading that many of these students were mean to the kids and families- I decided it would be wrong to subject my daughter to that. And that if a teen was expecting a “typical American” experience, then they would not get it- and that might make things worse.

    • MA, the reality is that the vast majority of exchange students are wonderful young people. My estimation is always that only about one in eight actually has serious issues. The internet is full of people with axes to grind and host families are no different. If there is a lack of anecdotal evidence on the internet about positive exchange experiences for host families it is because those families do not seem to have the same need to make posts and express their feelings. It is true that some students can come with difficult attitudes, but to be fair we have to recognize that students can be placed with difficult families. Although it can be hard work, it is one of our jobs as host parents to send our students back better than when they came. It is all a part of the great adventure that is student exchange.

  8. Hi, I read your sections on advice for host families and for exchange students. I just recently arrived at my host family’s for a language assistant program of 3 months. I have been having some problems and am highly considering switching families as I am not happy…can you please just give me some advice – is it okay in this situation to switch? I want to do the right thing and I don’t want anybody’s feelings to be hurt in the process.

    Earlier this summer, I had almost chosen to get a different family with the program after speaking with them over the phone….I didn’t quite feel then that we matched either at that time as I told my advisor. But I thought that I was just probably over-analyzing it and wanted to give it a chance. I always try my hardest to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I wish now that I would have switched. I usually adapt pretty well to changes – I haven’t really had a problem with culture shock before so I do not think it is that.

    I just don’t really feel wanted here for anything besides English….I am not treated like family – I am on the top (fourth) floor of the house away from the rest of the family, and my family had said I could come down for breakfast if I wanted to the second day and I said that I would. They set out all of the plates around the table the night before and when I went down to the kitchen to fill my water bottle, there were just plates out for the 7 family members, I was not included. I do not want to make them feel bad or anything like that – that is just the way that they live, I suppose and have probably treated language assistants in the past….that is just not the kind of thing I wanted out of this program. The only expectation I had was that I wanted to be treated and live as family in the house just as the host family had said I would on the invitation when I received it earlier this summer. But I just feel like I am simply a “worker” to them – they said on the first day that I am here to help tutor the children, not create any extra work for them or their maids. I have cried the past two nights because I just don’t like this sort of lifestyle….I had really hoped to be treated more like family. This is part of my gap year before college.

    I have also talked to my friend today in Madrid, who is doing the same program as I am (I am American) and asked her how she felt about her family and if she was having any of the same problems to make sure that my situation wasn’t, in fact, entirely unique first. She was placed in the city at with a host family – I just went to the city today to visit her and her host family. They are so welcoming and helpful with living in a foreign country. She fulfills her expectations to help with English…and they fulfill their expectations to treat her as part of the family. Thankfully, they offered to help me too when it came to figuring out how to get my metro pass. I don’t really feel this way at all with my host family. The last thing I want to do is be picky or create a problem….I just want to be happy with the family I am with, grow close to them and feel comfortable with them and at their home, and have a good rest of the program for my gap year. I just don’t really feel comfortable here. I don’t want to hurt my host family’s feeling though either, but I feel I have to do what feels right to me. Also, when I was with them all yesterday morning….I was sitting with them at the table to spend time with them and they were all having a fast conversation in Spanish, and not trying to include me – I felt very excluded there. It’s like I am simply a worker to them and family time is just for them.

    And yesterday, when my host family’s mother’s mom dropped me off at the metro to get information about buying a pass, she just left and didn’t give me directions on how to get back….and plus, given the language barrier and my basic level of Spanish at this point, it was nearly impossible to understand what the person at the metro station was saying. I only understood bits and pieces….then had to attempt to get directions on getting back to my host home. My host family also knows that I did not bring an international phone with me. It all worked out in the end and I made it safely….it was a bit of an adventure, I suppose…but I didn’t really appreciate it. I just don’t feel I am getting the level of support that I need from my family – I would have imagined that they would at least be willing to take the time to actually walk with me to the metro and help me understand/translate what I needed to do. Is this an irrational expectation?

    I just really don’t want to hurt the feelings my host family either because most times they are cordial and everything, but they don’t treat me like family….I don’t know if it is something I feel I can ignore, merely hoping it will get better, and still be happy with the program.

    As of right now, I have spoken with my program coordinator about it and she said that I can switch….I am meeting her at the office in the city tomorrow. Is this a right situation to switch?

    • I do not know the specific expectations of your program, but with the knowlege I have I don’t think it unreasonable to ask for a switch. First of all, you and your host family seem to be a poor match. I can see where other students might like your position (no one caring much about what you do), but it seems it is not for you. Secondly, since it is only a three month program there is not much time to work things out with your family. I don’t want to see you waste your time waiting for something that is not going to happen.

      I assume one expectation of the program is that your host family is supposed to help you learn Spanish. If they are unwilling to do this, that would be what I emphasize as the reason for switching families. Again, you only have three months for this. If there are no expectations other than that you receive room and board in exchange for English tutoring, then your position is a bit weaker. Still, it sounds like your coordinator is not averse to a switch, so it sounds like she is understanding of your situation.

      I’ll end with a warning. There is no guarantee that the next family will be what you are looking for. You will have to weigh the risks. Good luck and return to give us an update. I also suggest going to

  9. I am a host family mother and overwhelmed. My exchange student suddenly found himself without a home (agency CETUSA will not say anything other than it was not the student’s fault) and on one week’s notice I was recruited because I have a four bedroom house and passed the State Department’s inquiry. I have never been a host family, exchange student or had anything to do with a program. My student has not made a single friend in the 3.5 months he’s been in the US – no outstide avtivities, no sports, just our family life. We have included him in every aspect of our family life and to that extent, he seems ajusted. I did not know what I was supposed to be his parent while he was here – I honestly thought I was just a “host”. I don’t want to be a parent – my youngest child is 21 and I’m delighted to be free and now I have an awkward, needy, clinging, virtually house-bound teenager on my hands. I was told my student was self sufficient, however he doesn’t go anywhere unless we take him and he spends every minute that he’s not in school with us. I emailed the program coordinator that I was exhausted, emotionally drained and her response was “you have every right to tell him to find an outside activity”. Not good enough. I made a terrible mistake by agreeing to this arrangement and feel like the coordinator dumped this poor kid on me. Can you suggest a way to resolve this?

    • The bottom line is that there is nothing forcing you to keep this student. Contact the agency and give them a specified length of time before they are to come and pick up the student from your house. If you do not want him then it is best if he is moved to another home.

  10. I am a host mom, and the only thing I took away from the experience is to NEVER do it again. I am hosting for the AFS program, I have found the student application to be full of lies and nothing like the reality. And yes, Students expect the host family to be the driver, cook, maid, it is like they are doing us a favor by staying in our house. But I am more angry at the lack of support that these organizations give to host families. I do not know what is being said to those students about what the difficulties, the responsibility and the financial burden that a host family must take up when hosting. In my opinion, most of these students think that they are a long vacation to the US , put pressure on host families to take them places and entertain them (at the family and US taxpayers expense).

  11. I agree 100% with Happy Bird, there are obviously exceptions but from PERSONAL experience i have found the students that come here expect the host parents to be their personal slave! Constantly requesting rides everywhere (even to places way across town), expecting ALL their meals to be made for them (contractually only dinner is supposed to be provided by host family, our house is fully stocked with food but they refused to make anything for breakfast or lunch themselves) they would never clean up after themselves after repeatedly being asked to, I know there can be a language bearer but it should be common sense to flush the toilet and put food back into the fridge. We have had 4 exchange students and only 1 has been an exception to the complaints I just listed. One other thing I would like to add is we also had a situation where they had taken possessions from our house and we had to contact the agency to get it mailed back to us from their parents.

  12. Thank you for this site. Lots of sound advise when there is so little to be found! We have hosted 2 times for a full year and 5 times for six-week sessions in the summer and winter. We know this is our calling – to live out culture and expereince new things with another person. To not host is a waste of our time. Time that I could have been teaching, mentoring, and sharing life with a moldable human being who is ready to learn more! My most memorable conversation was on a rainy night. I was driving us home from shopping and it was just me and my Polish student. A nearby car was misbehaving and she shouted “Horn the honk!” in the stress of the moment. After things calmed down I was able to explain how to say that correctly (and why the horn “honks”) and 8 years later, she and I still get a good laugh about it!

  13. I am a host Mom who was hesitant at first. My husband was so excited about hosting an exchange student, but I just knew that I would be the one shouldering most of the load, just as I am with our two young children, since my husband works in the evenings (law enforcement). I am so glad that I agreed to this.
    For the commenters above who are surprised or felt like they were expected to be cooks/ drivers etc.. Did you not realize that you were to be a host FAMILY, not a hotel, for TEENAGERS? Teenagers who are not allowed to drive in this country (at least with our program), are used to completely different foods and in many cases are used to having a lot more freedom at home than we allow. Would you be doing these things for your own teenager? We were told to treat our host daughter the same as we would our own children.. and we do. She has become a member of our family, she does chores just like everyone else. Yes, I do most of the cooking, but she is responsible for figuring out breakfast on the weekdays and packing her own lunch for school. These are all things that we made very clear from the beginning of our hosting. Our situation may be a little different in that our student already spoke EXCELLENT English, so the language barrier has been almost non-existent. This is something that you can tell from most of the profiles however.

    Unfortunately the forum does not appear to be active anymore. The registrations have been disabled atleast. I have been looking for a forum for host parents for a while now.

    • Yes, I don’t know what is going on with As of now I don’t know any other board dedicated to just host parents. Let me know if you find one.

  14. Thanks so much for this blog. What a great resource! I agree that there is too much negative on the internet. My husband and I have been teacher for around 20 years and have been fortunate to have worked with many wonderful exchange students from around the world. A year ago we decided to host, and it was the most wonderful experience! Our German daughter is headed back for a visit this summer already, and we have decided to host a girl from Spain this coming year. Do you have any advise over the bit of jealously we have already encountered from our first student. I feel horrible that she is bothered by us hosting again. Our neighbors have had the same experience, but their first student is actually angry with them. I know this will blow over in time, but I was wondering if you had encountered any of this. Thanks!

  15. Hello,
    We have offered to host a studnet for 4 weeks as a welcome family. The student is in the US for the full academic year. The student has now been with us for five weeks and we are recieving no real response from the agency. I have been in contact with local and regional directors telling them that we are no longer able to host and that this is not what we signed up for. I have heard excuse after excuse and am not sure what to do next. Any advice, who could I file a complaint with and get this poor child out of our house…I should have added my husband and I our expecting our second child and we need to get our extra room ready to be a nursery hence the urgency!

    • Call and email (copy the national office) as many people as you can in the agency, including the national office. Leave messages if no one is home. Give them a hard deadline – I think one to two weeks is still reasonable at this point. Let them know that if the student is not removed from your house by the deadline then you will be dropping him (or her) off at the local coordinator’s home and that someone should be there to greet the student.

  16. Thank you for this text. Often the organisation tell you how great it is and some little things you have to pay attention to but I think it’s gonna be much more demanding. I’m now 17 as an exchange student and my (real) family is goning to host coming school year. Now I get a little idea what a host family really has to sacrifice and I never felt like I gave it ever back in any way. I hope I will be able to use my struggles to help my “new” brother in a very few months. I’m afraid my parents are still some greenhorns. 😉

  17. This is a great resource! Thanks for all of your effort. We hosted for the first time last year and although it did not go well, we are hosting again this year. Why? Because we’ve learned from our mistakes and feel we have what it takes to welcome another teenager into our home.
    Our first student did not want to change her expectations and was not patient while we worked to make things better for her. Although she moved to another family, they demanded that she leave their home two weeks after she moved in and she went home.
    I felt like a failure but realized that we weren’t the only ones needing improvement, just the only ones to recognize we did. 🙂 I am sure she still thinks that she did everything to make the exchange work, telling everyone that Americans are stupid, the same thing she told me many times.
    There were flags in her application that I should have picked up on and you can bet I reviewed closely the applications of the students we considered this year. I didn’t want lip service that they played sports and liked dogs, I made sure they mentioned them in their biographies. I also checked English competency and if they’d been to the U.S. very often. Our first student was fluent, had been on many trips here and thought it would be like vacation – not here for the right reasons.
    Our new student arrives next week, early so he is ready for soccer tryouts, his English is decent and will definitely improve while he is here and his dog has been on his lap every time we’ve skyped.
    I don’t expect it will be all smooth sailing (I have two teenagers of my own and it isn’t always with them, either) but I am confident that we will have a better experience as he is coming here to improve his English and take more responisbility for himself. We can help with that!

  18. I am interested in being an exchange student host, but I am reluctant to give my Social Security number to the young man who is running his own Homestay program. How does a person check out credentials of an agent? I’ve tried going online, but outside of his own website, there is nothing about this agency, Global Student Housing.

    • For whatever it is worth, I do not find this organization listed with CSIET. Personally, this would be a deal breaker for me. This agency seems to deal with college students – perhaps you can ask at the local college or university. Finally, you could ask the agency for references. Good luck.

  19. My husband and I just went through a horrible experience with a exchange program…we picked up our student on Thursday Aug. 15th…had her enrolled in school…took her shopping and were well on our way to being a family unit…in the blink of an eye the organization we worked with came and took her away the day before school started…siting the reason as the school got anonymous calls saying we were unfit to have a child in our home…we soon found out it was from a neighbor who was mad at us about a petty disagreement we had with them a couple of days earlier…we are devastated and were given no chance to address the allegations that were launched against us…we have been shut off by the organization and the student was told she had to delete us from any form of contact…we are at a loss cause we did NOTHING wrong…we are good people who opened our hearts and home to a young lady who wanted the experience to be in the US…how is any of this right??? We never put her in harms way…we supported her and tried hard to help her adjust to her new environment…how does someone come back from this…being blackballed and made to feel like a criminal when they did nothing wrong…this has made me very anti-foreign exchange…they would not do any sort of investigation so we are left with this stigmata of being bad people…it is a horrible feeling…I strongly discourage anyone from being a host parent…cause one incident like this when being a host parent can destroy your life.

    • I am sorry you went through this experience. Although not exactly the same, we had something similar happen to us. All I can say is that in the end, most of our worrying was for nothing. The incident was soon forgotten and we hosted several girls afterwards. Many more people understand the truth than you think. If you want to be proactive, make an appointment with the principal and give your side of the story.

  20. I’m a new Host Mother to two International students. One of the girls English is not as good as the other so I make extra efforts to help her with words. I’ve recently been getting frustrated becuase she’s been Skyping a lot with family/friends back home but she doesn’t speak English even if the they know how to speak English. I’ve repeatedly told her she needs to speak English when calling home if it’s possible but she’s not making the efforts to try and her 3rd week of school she has a D in Match. Do you have any advice for me?

    • It may already be time to involve the local representative or coordinator. Before that, sit her down and discuss the reasons she came on exchange and if her actions are in line with her goals. It’s a conversation we have all had if you have hosted enough students. Be prepared to find out her goals are not to improve her English…if not, then you need to decide if you want to continue to host this student. This is a partnership and you should expect certain behaviors from your student…otherwise, you are just a inexpensive boarding house.

      Achieving minimum academic standards is usually a program requirement. If she is not meeting standards, let the organization take care of this matter.

    • I know this is an old post but I thought I would respond anyway if someone is going through a similar situation. I’m just curious, why would you require that a student speak English when calling/Skyping home? I am American, and I was an exchange student to Venezuela my senior year of high school (2002), for one year. I was completely immersed in Spanish and spoke Spanish only with my host family, with my new friends, and at school. International calling was expensive at the time but when I was able to talk to someone back home, let me tell you – what a RELIEF it was to get to speak my native language! I worked really hard at Spanish, and I read everything I could get my hands on in Spanish. By the time I left, my Spanish skills were excellent and to this day I continue to translate as part of my professional duties. However, sometimes it was nice just to have a little mental and emotional break. Speaking your native language feels like a small piece of home when you are in reality very far away. All I’m saying is, cut your student a little slack. 🙂

  21. Thank you for the advice. I spoke with the Director and we’re working on it.

  22. I am new Host mom to a 16 year old German Boy. I am very happy to open my home and be an adopted mother for 10 months. I just slowly finding out upon conversation that he was not totally honest in his application. I started learning these things as he keep on complaining that he really frefer to be in the city. He is very picky about his food, picky about clothes, thinks that people who shop at Ross are just poor people. Clothes here in America are not good enough. I tried not react but be calm and make excuses that someday he will appreciate living in a town that is an hour away to the big city. Because he is not happy with the location i tried to compensate it by cooking foods that he likes, finding ways to make him appreciate to be in my home. When I applied, I was never given a chance to look and choose who will be the exchange student. The organization just asked me if I want a girl or boy. They just called and informed me that I have a boy from Germany. I can see that he feel at home but still I keep on hearing that he wishes to be in the city. He is very articulate and persuasive to let him do what he wants even I said no. He always wants reasons why I should do things differently and start telling me how his parents allow him to it. When he keep on comparing, I admit it gets into my skin. I wonder if this is a sign that things will not work out. I have a control how my house will run so that he have a pleasant home but I can’t control that he is not happy because of our location.

  23. I am glad to have found this forum. I hope I am not too late to contribute and ask for some advice.

    I have been a host mom since four years ago. Our first student came to us quite by accident. My son had lived in China for two years, after returning home to Canada and being fluent in Mandarin he made a few local Chinese friends here. One girl was not happy with her living arrangement as a Chinese student going to college here. My son suggested that maybe his parents would be open to having her move in with us since she was so unhappy. We met with the girl and discussed the rules of our home and her requirements. She moved in with us and lived with us for two years while finishing her degree. For the most part this worked out pretty well. I helped her with her homework when the English was over whelming for her and with essays as academic essays were not taught in her Chinese high school she was often at a loss as to how to research, site references etc. We became very close and while there were a few problems this worked out well.

    This girl liked our home so well and her parents were so pleased they told a friend of theirs about us and the friends soon wanted their daughter to come to our home too!! This time I contacted the school directly about the girl and their exchange program as I wanted a contract this time.

    Well, this time things are not going quite as swimmingly. The girl is quiet, studies hard and is academically doing well. The problem is that she just simply does not follow ANY of the house rules. If I sit her down and discuss this with her she will smile at me, say “Yes, I understand and Okay” and then do the polar opposite of what the house rules say we are all to abide by. I am treated like a maid. She is doing things that are ruining my hard wood floors even though I asked her not to many times. She isn’t unpleasant about it but, rather just ignores me no matter how many times I explain the reason for the rule. Her room is an absolute mess all the time and I’ve asked her to please de clutter. In short nearly everything written in the house rules is ignored. Some of it is damaging to our home. I get the impression this girl has always had all the money she ever wanted, has had a maid, has never learned to do any cleaning, cannot even boil water on her own and wouldn’t want to learn. She is disrespectful when she ignores the rules and our numerous family meetings. She seems to have the attitude that if she wants to do something you can go pound sand because she willfully will do what she wants and no rule will stop her. All while smiling at me in the most pleasant way. I’m getting worn out cleaning up after her constantly.

    I don’t want to be mean but, I simply feel with this student, things are not going to work out. When my son is home visiting she can clearly see him cleaning up after himself, helping out all round and will sit and smile and never do anything but, be on her laptop. I explained to her when she moved in that I had purchased 300 gigs a month for everyone to use. She is using SO much streaming that my company is now throttling our use. She is streaming Chinese videos constantly. Which I think is another issue since she just refuses to participate in anything that is not Chinese.

    We have a newly renovated home, her room has all new hardwood flooring, new furniture, new windows, freshly painted. It actually looks like a storage unit in there now since she has boxes, and bags and clutter all over the place, make up spilled all over. I’m just exhausted trying to keep up after her. I also am feeling resentful that I am being treated like she is living in a hotel with a maid instead of her being part of our family. I include her in all family outings, cook things from her home country, explain things to her, help her with homework and take her around anywhere she wants to go. I kind of feel like with this particular student that I’m doing ALL the giving or that she thinks I am her employee. Really, this is discouraging. I did have some issues at first with our first student who would also not understand about the house rules, say “Yes” and then do as she pleased but, after talking it out with her one time things were fine. Not so with this girl who seems to feel it’s okay to completely ignore the rules and is extremely willful about doing everything HER way. Hate to cause a real problem but, I am too stressed out with this situation where the respect isn’t flowing both ways and am soon going ask her to leave.

  24. Hello!
    I’m glad I found this blog post! My husband and I will be hosting a 15 year old boy from Spain this year and we are over-the-moon excited, but we’re feeling a real lack of support. I would love to be connected to a host parent community where I could talk to other people, see what they’re doing, and what their best tips are. I think this would be a tremendous help as my husband and I are 25 and have no kids of our own, so we’ve very young to be hosting. I’d love advice from seasoned host parents. Any connections to facebook groups, websites, forums, would be WONDERFUL.
    Ps. The would not work for me, as I’ve heard this one referenced above. Any help there would be great too.

  25. So what do you do when the boy needs help and cant get the sponsor organization to act? Who oversees these organizations? Our young mans profile and application is full of misleadings and exaggeration . .. right from the start asked for tutor…he is failing his classes and is nothing like his profile says…he is only half trying and has no interest in learning the American culture, he is obviously here cause his parents chose this for him…he aint ready for this and there has been no help from the sponsor….run around and lip service? The boy is miserable thus making us the same…we wanna help, but we sure was looking forward to this being a great positive experience

  26. Pingback: Why You (Yes, You!) Should Consider Becoming a Host Family! | Immersed

  27. Another maid here… and tutor and nurse and taxi, etc. I will not go into particulars. I love and treat the child as my own, but I do not get respect back. It’s really hard.

  28. I have had my first experience with a fine young man from China. It is not what my husband thought it would be. However, I am very happy with this sophisticated child. He has an apartment in my home, and is very independent. He is wealthy and loves to travel.. I treat him like a hotel guest for the most part and a parent and caregiver when he needs that from me. I wish I could clone him. He is an independent free spirit. I will miss him when he leaves. I encourage him to explore and not let the grass grow under his feet. There is so much to learn and he must make as many contacts as possible. I love him and will miss him terribly when he leaves. but hey. Its business.

  29. No, no, no, you shouldn’t be anybody’s maid, nor taxi driver, nor tutor, nor nurse. I don’t know which organization you work with, but this is not the way to do it. I have had two exchange students and one of our goals have been making them independent. If they don’t understand class assignments they have to look for a tutor, not us, if they are sick, they have their own insurance, if they want to go out with friends, their friends better have cars to pick them up or drive them back. Yes, include them in your family activities and provide basic transportation like school, doctor,etc. If it is recreational and it is not a family thing then they have to find their own ride. If you don’t get any respect back and the student doesn’t agree with you, it’s time for you to tell him/her “if you don’t like it, there is the door”. You should not tolerate any bad or disrespectful behavior because this is why a lot of people don’t want to host again, and there are so many wonderful students out there that would love to have this opportunity.

  30. HELP…. my daughter is going on exchange shortly and I have no idea what to send as gifts for the host family. I would love to hear any suggestions from past hosts or students. My daughter is going to the USA .

    • Hi Ozmum – not sure if you already got something but my favorite gifts from my last exchange student are my Starbucks travel mug from Russia (would love to have one from every country some day) and a Russian stacking doll Christmas ornament (will think of my host daughter every time I put it on the tree).

  31. I hope this forum is still active…

    We have taken in a 17 year old girl from Italy, “Mia”, here to New England, via AFS. She’s been with us for 6 weeks, and is going to be here until next June, 2018. She’s a Junior in our local school. Our family is my wife and myself, and our 13 year old daughter, in 8th grade.

    Overall, I would say that Mia’s doing well—she’s on the varsity volleyball team, and is pretty persistent about making friends and socializing. She has minimized our driving her around, having high school friends that drive. And she’s pretty good about keeping up on her end of chores and responsibilities at home.

    Compared to the accounts on this blog of other host parents, our situation is going fairly well. And yet… we wish we could actually get to *know* this girl. We are hoping it’s still early, and things will evolve.

    There were two months prior to our student’s arrival when we had contact with her and her mother in Italy. Our communications were mainly frequent texting via WhatsApp, and a few times when we had video Skype calls.

    I am somewhat reminiscent of the long-distance phase we had with Mia, because they were much more substantive conversations than anything we’ve had with her face to face. We really thought we were taking in a conversationalist because, well, she was a conversationalist—online. But in our actual house, her answers are blunt and as short as possible. And as her host parents, we feel as though she is simply “dealing” with us, wanting to get away to her social engagements, online media (mostly Italian) and school responsibilities.

    She gets along well enough with our 13 year old daughter, who wishes she could see a little more of Mia, but we understand that she’s busy.

    I would say that compared to when she first arrived, and certainly since we had contact with her, she’s pulled back a bit as far as being familiar is concerned. She just seems more remote. We really wonder if she’s happy—but when asked, she’ll just say “I’m fine!” and that’s the end of it—she has a way of shutting down a conversation before it can even begin. Attempting to have a real conversation with her seems unlikely. There’s a lot of awkward silence and politeness.

    She’s had her monthly AFS liaison meetings, as have we, and she’s not expressed any issues or problems that we are aware of.

    Does all this sound normal, under the circumstances? Mia is a good kid, studies hard and speaks English fairly well. We can’t really say much that’s bad about her—just that she continues to feel like a guest, not a part of the family. She’s formal and the situation so far is not evolving to something more familiar. If this lasts a year it won’t be the end of the world, but we were really hoping to know her in some way. We feel like we actually were on the road to getting to know her, then it stopped.

    We’re really hoping to not have a guest for nearly a full year, but someone who is a part of the family.

    In retrospect I think we should have limited our contact with her during the long-distance period of our relationship; but at the time it was easy to talk to her, and we did so in the interest of getting to know each other so the transition would be smooth. And it’s possible that a 16 year old expresses herself differently in text than face-to-face. And we understand that when she was Italy, we were “cool” because we represented the next chapter in her life in America, but once here we became “parents”. And how rare is the 16 year old who wants to talk about much of anything with adults, much less ones that are acting as host parents?

    So, our situation is not a disaster, but not as fulfilling for our family as we had hoped. We are accepting the fact that we apparently had unrealistic expectations about this experience, and just need to concentrate on keeping Mia safe, fed, in school and immersed in English.

    Do you think there’s anything we can do to break the ice? Is this typical, and will it evolve? Do you see warning signs?


    • I have never hosted an Italian, so I can’t speak about cultural issues.

      On your initial contacts with your student, she may have had a comfort in written communication that she has not found yet in the spoken word.

      She may communicate differently online. I have a former student with whom I text regularly, and our written communication is much more warm and personal than when we talk face to face. This is a girl who has come back twice to visit.

      At this time, she is moving out of the “honeymoon” period and into the most difficult part of her exchange. She may also be feeling that she had unrealistic expectations coming into the exchange and second guessing her choices. Let her know you are there to support her. Celebrate an exchange milestone with chocolate or a trip for ice cream. Students move to a more positive period at the end of November and into December.

      You did not say anything about family activities. On your part, if you are not planning these activities, you need to start. On her part, It is not an unreasonable expectation that she participate. If she is not, that is a problem that needs to be addressed. Otherwise, it sounds like she is a good girl and student, but one who hasn’t yet found her stride.

      Finally, consider personality differences. She may act the way she does because that is the way she acts with her own family, and it may be a sign she is comfortable with you. I have hosted enough students to see that some are huggy and family oriented, some are more aloof, but both personalities can be appreciative of the opportunity you are giving them.

      Good Luck!

  32. I am currently hosting a student and all of this is great advice! I didn’t realize how much it costs to have an extra kiddo! Although she is very loved, I find myself feeling overwhelmed quite often with the extra financial burden and taxi services. I really think people need to be aware of the cost of an extra person. Divide your grocery bill between the number of people in your home and then add that number to the monthly total. Also they are supposed to pay for their own toiletries and feminine needs, but what parent would ever send a teenager to the store to buy her own feminine items? It is definitely a gift to have her but be aware that it costs around $300 more per month. ( In my experience.)

  33. I’ve enjoyed reading the responses to being a host parent. I’ve hosted a few international students over the years. Each one has been different. Some have become like family while others never seemed to reach that same level of intimacy. I always hope to form strong bonds with exchange students, but everybody’s different. Some students have more interests or personalities that sync better with my family’s than others.

    Here are some things I’ve found:
    Like most teenagers, they need things clearly stated and boundaries set. The comments made above about helping set expectations are good. For example, I do not wake kids up – they are to get themselves up for school. If they miss the bus, they are truant and I tell them if they are kicked out of school by missing too many classes they will be sent back to their country. (Missing the bus only happened once.)

    The comments made about discussing goals with each student are right on the mark.

    Regarding transportation – most international students have NO CLUE how far apart things are in the USA. They also do not understand we can’t just take time off work whenever we want and have limited vacation days. Ask them how many vacation days their parents get and then tell them how many years you worked before getting two weeks vacation. Once, a host daughter asked me to spend the day with her and then slept until noon. I was upset since I could have put in half a day of work. I told her what it cost me in vacation time – time I expect to use the way I wanted – and felt she didn’t value it. (Okay, I did get laundry and some fun reading in, but it was the principle of the thing. It also helped hearing a profuse apology)

    Regarding constant YouTube watching- it’s hard to say they have to stop spending all their free time watching stuff on their phone, but ask they can at least join you in a common space instead of being sequestered in their room. I don’t enjoy it, but I ask them to show me their favorites. I’ve found some to be entertaining. If the student is doing well in school, I don’t grouch too much about their phones being an appendage. There’s usually a phrase or something that “clicks” from watching something online and it becomes a shared joke between us.

    Regarding disrespect – maybe what they say or do is acceptable in their country but make it clear when you feel disrespected. Ask them what their parents do when they are disrespectful. Whenever I hear foul language, I tell them they need to expand their vocabulary and come up with other words to use. I do not permit swearing. If the disrespectful behavior doesn’t stop, write down what will happen. Send a copy to the student’s organization. Whatever the disrespectful behavior is, once it is made clear that it is unacceptable be sure they know what the consequences will be if it continues. Address it early. Follow through.

    Some things though, are not worth squabbling over – like squeezing the toothpaste in the middle. With one student each morning, I ever so carefully worked the tube from the bottom to re-establish the shape I felt was right. My host daughter saw me doing this one day and said, “my dad does the same thing” Choose your “hill to die on” carefully.

    For girls – don’t ask if they “need anything at the store” and expect them to know what you mean. Show them where pads or tampons are kept, demonstrate where you want items disposed, threaten to charge their parents $2,000 if they put items down your toilet, and stress any inadvertent soiled linen will only make you seriously unhappy if not communicated.

    For guys – if you’ve never had a son in sports before having an exchange student son, I recommend Tide pods when washing their uniforms. And buy a laundry tub with a lid. And Febreeze.

    Household chores – you may be the first person ever to expect them to help out with something it seems even a 5-year old could handle. It’s easier to demonstrate it up-front during the first week than get frustrated later.

    Sometimes a negative feeling comes out of nowhere and ambushes me. I have to stop and figure out why. Usually it’s a cultural difference or something I never knew was an unspoken, “that’s how its done” kind of thing. Exchange students have taught me some interesting things about myself.

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