Realities of the Exchange Student Experience


If you are considering being an exchange student or hosting an exchange student, you may have gone to the internet to gain insight and information. Unfortunately, what you will mostly find from this resource is one-sided perspectives rather than realities of the exchange student experience.

Why is this the case?

First, I can say from personal knowledge that problems in student exchange can be extremely emotional and traumatic. It is understandable why students or host families who have had a bad experience need to express themselves and to find others with common experiences for support.  Second, people do not have the same need to discuss the positive which leads to a vast over-representation of negative exchange experiences. Finally, as we all know, horrible and sensational stories make better press.

What are the realities?

I think it is important to first understand the scale of student exchange. In 2007-2008 academic year, there were approximately 31,000 exchange students traveling either to the United States or from the United States to countries around the globe. Even if as many as 100 of these students had a truly horrific experience such as rape, injury, or death, that represents only about only one-third of one percent, 1 in 3000, of the students on exchange. For comparison, in 2005, the teen-death rate in the United States for all causes was 1 in 1500. In terms of days of participation (number of students * days of exchange), the incidence of a bad experience on exchange would be .0024 per million. Compare this to the fatality rate of skiing at .79, swimming at 1.26, and biking at .38.

This is not to meant to diminish even one tragedy that has befallen an exchange student.  However, the reality is that, compared with other activities of life, an exchange student has a more than reasonable expectation of a safe experience. Don’t be scared away from exchange by what you read on the internet. Bad things can happen to students while on exchange, but bad things can happen to students who remain at home. There are certainly different risks in traveling to a foreign country and living with new family.  For this reason all exchange students should be aware of those risks and how to handle them should they occur.

Another reality to keep in mind is that the exchange student experience is a convoluted mix of agendas and priorities of all four of the primary groups involved: the students and their natural parents, the recruiting organizations, the placement organizations and local representatives, and to a lesser extent the host families. Often these agendas and priorities are in conflict with one another. In other words, there is a certain amount of conflict that seems to be inherent in student exchange.  Students are supposed to be on exchange for language and culture, but they can also be seeking continued schooling or immigration. Recruiting organizations are supposed to send qualified students overseas, but it is difficult to deny a determined student with money to pay. Placement organizations should find quality host families, but they are under pressure to find placements or the students are not allowed to travel. When reading about exchange student problems, or dealing with them personally, keeping this in mind will help you understand why things sometime happen the way they do.

Finally, there are two common themes which I find often on the internet and which I feel need to be addressed.

Theme #1: All exchange students are spoiled rotten brats who are sent abroad by their parents to get them out of the house.

The reality is that out of ten exchange students, one or two will have serious issues, one or two will be the dream exchange student, and six to eight will need various amounts of support and guidance to successfully make it through the year. If you are a host family and your student turns out to be one with serious issues, act sooner than later to have the student removed from your home. A host family serves in a voluntary role, and there is no need to prolong the agony of a bad placement. But remember, it is also the job of the host family is to help the student through the difficulties of exchange…having a student removed at the first sign of trouble is irresponsible.

Theme #2: All exchange organizations and programs are evil and are concerned only with exploiting students and taking their money.

The reality is that there are good, mediocre, and bad law firms. There are good,  mediocre, and bad mortgage companies. There is no reason to expect anything different from exchange organizations and programs. If you are a potential exchange student, you should do your homework. When choosing a program, approval by the U.S. State Department and the CSIET is a good start but is by no means a guarantee. In your research, beware that of the stories you find on the internet,  some are true, some are false, but most lie in the gray area between. Most present only one side of the story. Another reason that you should be wary of individual narratives is that, as any person experienced in student exchange will tell you, your experience will largely be determined by your local representative. A bad representative can ruin an experience for a student in an otherwise quality program. Conversely, a good representative can mitigate the problems of a bad organization.

I would like to recommend that you also read my posts  Advice for Exchange Students and Advice for the Host Family. For a more balanced view of student exchange I suggest two forums: cultures-shocked for students and for host families.


53 responses to “Realities of the Exchange Student Experience

  1. Thank you for this website. You have done a great job with providing much information. With the help of this site we are taking in 2 girls in a few weeks.

  2. Well, I am a host dad. Ours just wants to get together with losers and party. It is a good thing we live away from the town where she goes to school, those loser friends could show up at my front door.

  3. thank you so much for this artical! I am really interested in being an exchange student in Spain this year, but my mom didn’t know about the risks and benifits, and quality articals are hard to find oon the internet. I think this one will really help her understand.
    thanks =)

  4. This is my seconf year and second student and I am having trouble again. Last years student was an unmotivated immiture boy who had already spent 1 1/2 years abroud and was a sophomore. In total he will spend 4 1/2 years as a teen ager growing up away from his own family. This year the boy has spent 1 1/2 years proir to this year. Both bys are 20 years old upon graduation. The problem seem to be the extent of time their family/culture allow them into other peoples home to educate them. These children should be in a structured boarding program, not in ‘do-gooder’ homes like mine. I was not prepared to raise another teenager, I was not informed that these children spend so much time here and away from their own parents unsupervised. I agree that the programs themselves only provide one side of the whole story and not much information is available about the realities of these programs to make a truly informed decision to bring a student into your home. The particular problem with my program in my area should alarm potential host families, they need to be properly informed.

  5. I’m sorry that you have had two bad experiences. One of the great challenges is reading between the lines on the student profiles.

  6. Thrilled to find your blog. I started one, with an emphasis on education (I am retired after teaching for 36+ years) but I am finding wonderful material on yours. I would like to add your site to my blog roll. ( if that is ok with you!

    • That is of course OK. And I’d like to add you to my blog roll. I am still in education…going into my 22 year of teaching music.

  7. Thanks! It is hard to get started getting dialogue and I’d love to hear from others about the topics I discuss, especially regarding education.

  8. I really liked your advice for exchange students! I’m going to Germany in July for a year, and this blog has really helped me prepare for what I might expect next year.

  9. Best Wishes Liza!! I hope you have a wonderful year. I took a group of students to Lohne, Germany for 3 weeks and everyone was so good to us! I’d love to go back myself! Keep us posted on your experiences, please!!

  10. I’ve been reading through your blog and think you have a lot of wisdom to share, especially in your advice to the Exchange Student and Host Family posts. I think success with the program is all about defining expectations and being honest with what you really want from the experience. I am the author of Van Diemen at 17, a novel about an exchange student in mid-nineteen eighties Tasmania, which is set for publication in December, 2010. A one sentence summary for this book is: “A troubled teenage exchange student falls in love with the counselor who’s meant to set her back on track.”
    I’ll be up front and say the protagonist, Kara Jagger, is not the perfect exchange student and she really could have benefited from reading something like your advice to exchange student post early on in her journey. But a lot of the insights you share on your blog are also touched on in the novel — especially competing agendas, expectations, personal growth, relationships between exchange student and family, student and school and organization politics. She also goes through one of those statistically low but very possible traumatic events your refer to above. I would love to send you an Advance Reader Copy, for your review if you are interested. Let me know by email if you are.

    Great blog and best wishes! Jeania Kimbrough

  11. Interesting, Jeania, that you have an exchange student as a character. Some places, like on tv sit coms, they employ such stereotypes in characterizing exchange students. Believe me (having had over 30 internationals with us) there is no one completely typical exchange student, any more than a completely typical teenager.
    Tasmania is a fascinating setting for a book. Have you been there??
    I’m a former school librarian…I sure miss buying stacks of books…bought 3 yesterday with my own money….ouch! They have gotten pretty expensive!
    Best Wishes with your book!! One of these days, I will start on mine…it may be a race to finish since I’m no spring chicken now!! Now I’m just blogging at Come and visit me sometime!!

  12. Hi Dianne, Thanks for your note. I dropped by your site and you have a lot of great information as well. I left you a note.
    Yes, the exchange student is not only a character, she is the main character and the story is told from her perspective. I’ve been told that by adult readers they want to reach out an hug her and sometimes strangle her but her point of view is definitely that of a teenager and sometimes that can be myopic and flawed, even if she is supposed to be more culturally aware, independent and perhaps adult-like than most people her age by virtue of being an exchange student. I am sure this sounds all too familiar to former host parents. BTW enough is never said about how great individuals and families are to open up their homes and lives to strangers. Students don’t always appreciate it at the time, but I can honestly say as a former exchange student, that I have been so grateful over the years to the families that hosted me. As an adult now I can well appreciate that it takes a lot of time, sacrifice, and sincere care and interest to volunteer for that job.

  13. Delighted to hear you were an exchange student!~ Wish I had been brave enough to do that when I was young! Thanks for the kind words! And thanks for visiting my blog!! As you probably saw, I’m going to Florence, Italy to visit a former e. student this fall~! I’m so excited to see him again, his family and his country!!!

  14. I’m glad I found your blog – very informative and practical. I’d like to note that I’ve been unable to register to join/use the “Host Parent Forum”. Not sure what the problem is but though I’ve tried different email addresses and different user names, I get the message that a) my email has been blocked and b) the username is taken. I highly doubt that either of these is correct!

    At any rate, my husband and I have had an exchange student for 5 months now, and it’s been a mixed experience. He’s been a good student and hasn’t presented any huge problems, but we do have two issues of note. First – he simply won’t do activities without us. He is involved in band at school, and will go to the football or basketball game, but leaves as soon as halftime is over. He hasn’t accepted any offers to do activities with other students. I have a close friend from his home country and she says this isn’t the way kids his age behave there, so it’s not a cultural thing. Help! We’d like some time at home without him.

    Also, I’ve discovered lately that he tells lies. He lied about meeting a famous quarterback since he’s been here, he lied about making up a popular internet poem, and he lied about meeting the president here in our hometown. What should I do about this? I’ve corrected the info when others have relayed it to me, but should I confront him? I don’t want to be antagonistic but it’s not a good quality.

    Anyone know of any forums for help/support for host families?

  15. There is a forum for host-families:

  16. I’ve tried that. I click on “register” and the message comes up that it has been disabled by the administrator…Do you know of any active sites?

  17. this probably sounds really greedy of me, but do any of you know of exchange programs where you just go over but no student comes to you? i would really love to stay at a boarding school for say two weeks to get the experince but i don’t want someone to stay with me.horrible i know! does anyone know how i could get this dream to come true? thanks 🙂

    • My first suggestion (off the top of my head) is to look for the website for teachers of the language in which you are interested, i.e. ATSEEL is the American Teachers of Slavic and Eastern European Languages and they have a resource page listing different schools and programs. My second suggestion is to google and see if something like that would interest you.

  18. We hosted before, 2 students in two different years and our experience was very good. We hosted a student from the Ukraine with the Flex program this year and it was nothing short of a nightmare. This student came with a “me and only me” attitude and if he didn’t get the amount of attention he wanted he would rebel. He basically did not like authority figures, the teachers at the school had trouble with his disrespectful attitude and he lied constantly. It was not a good experience for us and if he would have been our first experience, he would have been our last. His friends did not like us. It was just basically awful.

  19. North Dakota host family

    I have an exchange student from Sweden. She is 18 and doesnt feel the need to obey rules I set forth. She, like others mentioned above, has fallen with the wrong crowd. I’m talking the drinkers, partiers, and drug abusers. She is sexually active and doesnt see any issues with her behavior and feels I am out of line to keep close tabs on her. Just yesterday, I contacted the host company and requested her to be placed with a different host family. I will never host again.

  20. BrokenHearted

    I too just had a horrible experience…. self centered, unmotivated boy. Never once did he do the right thing…. If he did he would have been spoiled by us. He would say the minimum to us not talk to his host brother for a months plus….. They also do not tell you many of the students are atheists. I told him this is America and I respect your choice but you will need to respect our religion. I have never cried so much in a year. We had no help from our (agency) area reps… After two major problems of wanting him removed we felt guilty about making him leave, so sucked it up. Not one follow up from are rep to see how things were going. Worst year of my life – be ready for many heartbreaks. He has told teachers, his friends family how horrible and mean we were to him. Be prepared for the eyeball and being avoided at school functions by folks you use to have small talk with….. They sell the program that you will have an extended family… a sibling for your children…. He tried manipulating the situations between the children and cause many problems. I would think extremely long and hard about your decision! The last meeting we had – out of 20 students… 8 had to be removed from there original host families. Also if you do decided allow an exchange student… make sure they smile in there pictures they send over…… Dead give away…. you will have problems!

  21. Dear Brokenhearted, thanks for sharing your experience in this blog. It really hurts when host families have bad experiences, this ruins the student’s country’s reputation & also the agency, especially if the agency is not offering any help. I hosted about 8 students over the years, and most of them were with (agency) and other big organization. I found a small organization that I hosted with two years ago and found that much better to work with. My suggestion for future families is to pick smaller organizations where they bring less than 150 students each year. The big organizations bring about 2,000 students and that’s too much to keep track and too much for them to select the best students. the small organization that I dealt with dealt with problems right away and the students were better behaved. I feel bad when people have a bad experience. My friend hosted with (agency), a student from Korea and had a really bad experience and now she thinks that all koreans are like that which is not fair,but that’s human nature. anyways, don’t give up on hosting as there are many exchange students out there needing homes and that really want to be here. I know that some are spoiled as mentioned in this postings, but not all of them are, go for the smaller organization where they have a better track of students, their problems. I guarantee thsi will be better-I have had experience with this. good luck to you! I wish I could host this year but can’t due to personal issues. oh well, good luck to you

  22. I have an exchange student from Germany who is 15. She is very nice and respectful to us, but hasn’t made many friends since the month and a half she’s been here. She always hangs out with me at school at lunch and in between classes (which is completely fine) but I want her to branch out and make friends; I feel like she may be getting bored. How do I encourage her to do this?

    • I think the best way is to have one or two classes that provide social interaction. This could be yearbook, theatre, or even child development. What is your student currently taking?

  23. I had the same problem with our German Student. I told him he had to take Drama, band or something to get involved to meet new friends. His parents did not send him over to American to hang with me and the Dog. He started to say he love hanging with the bore club. But, them I discovered he was sitting home talking to his friends back in Germany. We even had a son that was the same age that took him around to meet kids…. but he just want to stay home. Maybe you should check her internet time.

  24. What we have discovered is that the quality of the representative determines the quality of the visit for the exchange student and the host family. There are quite a few decent, hard-working idealists out there. But all it takes is one rotten area representative to get a bunch of less than stellar local representatives.

    Troubles start adding up. If the host families complain, they get not help and the same goes for the exchange students. Rules and regulations aren’t followed. Neither host family nor student is properly informed of what the other party is like. And all it takes is one rotten area representative.

    Another problem that has arisen, especially in the US, is that there are so many students who want to go there. With the times being what they are it can be tempting for the exchange companies to take shortcuts to get all of their students placed. There is quite a bit of money involved and people are just people. This hurts both potential host-families and potential exchange students. If one or both of them has a terrible experience, then the ambassadorial job of either party fails.

  25. Wow…I should have looked into having an exchange student waaaay before I accepted them in my home.
    Well my husband & I accepted a girl from South Korea 2 1/2 years ago and she has Problemsssss. But Yes ALL of these students are from WEALTHY FAMILIES. It’s sad for me to say this but they just send their kids to different countries so they don’t have to deal with them.
    In my case this girl that I have her name is Carol has been away from her parents since she was 8 years old. She is now 19 going on 20 years old. Yes…she is still in high school. If you do the calculation it she should already graduated.
    I thought She was first Autistic but my sister-in-law who works with many kids with disabilities states she has a mild form of retardation.
    When she first came to me she was looking for some kind of acceptance into my family…she wanted to get baptised as a Catholic and have Godparents, she wanted permission from us to allow her to call us By “Mama or Daddy” and some when I mention the stories that I am today I am NOT exaggerating. She that that Human beings made eggs she did not know they came out of a chicken, she wants everything done right now at that moment- if not she will call her representative. She accused my niece of stealing her iPod (my niece is a spoiled brat & has every electronic item) I had some family over and she walked out with her dressed to her waist with her braw showing. YOU think I’m crazy…well let me tell you the worst part.
    She has a tutor that came to the house & the tutor came running out of the room as me for bug spray went into her room & there must have been over 100 fruit flies. I called her representative he got mad at her over the phone yelled at her and so forth.
    I was opening a home day care & was having a INSPECTION when I told my husband we better check her room (thank god I checked or I would have failed my inspection)
    Entered her room and found plates, cup, trash in her dresser drawer. Under her bed were moldy food that she did not bother to throw away.
    NOt to get you grossed out I opened her dresser drawer and found bags of DIRTY BLOODY SANITARY pads.
    My husband and I took it upon ourselves to clean the room and filled out 3 huge garden garbage bags that couldn’t fit in our trash bin..
    When we asked her why she did this her answer was “my mom told me not to leave my room just to study” she literally took her moms advise.
    Some people say that maybe I’m just imagining things. She wanted to cook some Top Ramen noodles luckily I was standing near by she put a paper towel next to the stove & it caught on fire. U say ok…that was an accident.
    My husband and I left and Luckily my oldest daughter was home I called her to check to make sure the burners were off…(my instincts were right)
    she didn’t completely turn the burners off..the gas was running. He has done this several times so I am forced to take the knobs and the burners off.
    WE went to a party and she went into the over living room, she sat on the couch and started swaying back and forth & started to cry.
    For Christmas she buys gifts and she hands the gift over and if you don’t open it at that time she will grab it back and open it for you.
    She has tutors the day she arrived here, during the summer I heard her the first time reading a book and she was reading a 3-4 grade level, I was astonished. My 2nd grader was reading much faster than she was. She must have taken the SAT’s so many times, I think your allowed 3-4 times a year.
    Much more gory stories that I want to forget.
    Her mom says their is nothing wrong with her daughter and her representative doesn’t want to mention it to the mother.
    Well muy husband and I are people who like to help and it hurts us to see this. For the amount of money they are throwing away, why cant they put their daughter in a place that she will actually learn. She’s in a private high school and it is way to hard for her, she has been going to summer school for the classes she has failed during the year.
    Her mother came to visit and accused me of NOT treating her daughter like my own. HOw can I? WIth the things she has done. ANd her mom and representative were angry of me blabbing my big mouth to the other HOST-FAMILIES how her daughter is. I have every right to release my stress and to talk about my worries and the problems with the girl.
    Because of my financial status right now, my husband has begged me to keep her and finish this year. I have literally gone CRAZY! I’ve had to take anxiety medication because of this girl. I hate this girl, I want her out of my house. That’s how much I dispise her.
    My husband says..” you have to see it has her representatives see’s it, this is $$$ to him and it’s $$ to us”

    So…I have put myself in a position where I don’t let her get to me now and if their is a problem (and trust me their are many) I let my husband deal with it.

    The other host family applaud me for what I”m doing but me…
    I feel like a Robot…. like my husband and her Representative. I have learned the hard way. Don’t let your heart love…like I have. I have gone crazy, lost my mind, but what can I do. I’m just trying to survive in this economy….

  26. Wow you’re getting paid? Anyhow it is not worth the aggravation, I would ask her reps to first talk to her and then if that is not working have her leave. I felt the same way with our student and in hind-site wish I would have asked to leave
    I have never cried so much in my life and he just enjoyed my agony and would not change.on his part. He did many things behind are backs so just think about your gal.

  27. How reputable is Nacel Open Door? I am
    a trip leader for AFS and have to sign a
    Travel Consent with Nacel for one of their
    students to go on this AFS trip. Based on
    research on the Internet, I question if I can
    trust Nacel in any agreement
    Thank you

    • Not that it means much in your case but they do have a full listing with the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel.

  28. I was an exchange student last year and to be honest I did have a good year 🙂 ,on one hand I loved my high school and the friends I met there but on the other hand I was sad because of my host family. I didn’t know why they took an exchange student but during the whole year I felt like I was a servant but I never complained because at first I thought it wasn’t that bad.
    I also had to babysit my host sister all the time (during my free time) and she had an anger problem so it was hard to live with her. She used to hit me and shout at me even if she was only ten ! Her parents did nothing so one day I had a serious conversation with her and it was better after that,she understood that I was her host sister and not a punching ball…
    I remembered that my friends were asking me to go shopping or go bowling but I coudn’t because nobody could watch my host sister, it was depressing.
    My representative never wanted me to change family even if some of my friends’ families wanted to host me. In conclusion at the end of the year : I never went to a football or baseball game, I missed a lot of events and I never tried typical american food.
    I only try to remember the good things ^^ and I feel sorry for the host families that had bad experiences with their exchange.S and I hope it won’t prevent other families from hosting a student 🙂

    • I am very sorry that your exchange did not turn out better. Babysitting is not acceptable for an exchange student. I would have advised you to make waves until your situation was changed. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

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  30. Just want to share my experience with hosting five 20-22 yr old female Japanese students over the past few years. All five had come out to Australia to study English. All five had shown us no respect, staying out all night without a phone call, not notifying us if they won’t be home for dinner. No respect for the security of the house, by leaving the front door unlocked. This is common with many host Families I have contacted with similar stories of rudeness. Its like due to their strict upbringing in Japan, they find an excuse to convince their parents they want to come abroad to study English, but in fact its to party run riot, sleep around. I wish I was wrong in my statement, but sorry 5 out 5 is convincing enough. Shame on you, Japanese girls. We have decided to never host another student again. And we know of many other Australian Families, that have had a enough of their rudeness. Pity for the good students who want to make their parents proud or want to improve their education, these party students are wrecking it for everyone.

    • The same with German Students….. I have been told that only to look at Asians Countries (Thailand or China), . I feel many of the organizations are just in it for the money sending out these spoil kids while we pay the way in America.

  31. Andrew in Toronto

    Reading the passages here brings me back to my own experiences with a student exchange in which I participated in 1980-1981 between the Canadian province of Ontario and three German provinces.

    When the prospect of the German exchange was raised, I thought it a wonderful way to improve my German. When I mentioned my interest to the teachers, I was told nothing but positive things about the whole experience. I would have preferred hearing a balanced and realistic portrayal of it instead.

    I think that my exchange partner and I were paired, because our birthdays were two days apart. Both he and I had very strong commands of the other language, so communication was not hindered by language barriers. My mother is German; my father was Dutch, so, I also had a solid understanding of German cultural do’s and don’t’s.

    In his initial letters, he said that he was told that driving instruction was a school subject, and, one that he wanted to take, in order to obtain his driving license. When I noted that my school did not offer such a subject, he ignored the answer, and, would ask again and again. When we first met, he, again, brought up the topic. Politely, I reminded him that my high school did not offer such a subject. Upon hearing that answer, he ignored me for three days.

    When he met others, he was usually quite rude to them for no apparent reason, to the extent that many people asked me not to bring the exchange partner to their homes ever again. It school. too, he was rude. I counted the days, until his return to Germany.

    While my exchange partner was still in our home, one day my Latin teacher asked how everything was going. I gave him a very accurate appraisal of my experience with the exchange partner. Although he never said, I believe that he had and used his contacts at the Ministry of Education, to see if I might switch exchange partners.

    I did switch, and, was to stay with someone whom I knew peripherally. I was very optimistic about the new start.

    The new family constantly asked me how much spending money I brought with me. This happened within three days of my arrival for a three month stay in this home. I was raised to believe that polite conversation did not include discussions about money. For a week, I was able to diplomatically sidestep this question; however, one day I was asked, and, could not sidestep this any longer. When I finally answered the question, I was bluntly told that I had too much money with me. This permanently changed the relationship with the new exchange partner. He was jealous and very insecure about money.

    From then on, I was left on my own; their interest in my shut off over the money issue. I resolved to make the most of the situation, and, made my own friends and acquaintances. When I asked how I liked the guest family, I always had two staple answers ready:
    1.) They kept a clean home.
    2.) They kept a nice garden.

    As I did not know who knew whom, I wanted to answer that question positively and truthfully. The two statements were factually accurate, and, put the family into a positive light without having to lie. Despite the fact that the family wanted little to do with me, I was still living under its roof, and, accepting its hospitality. As I was doing so, I was determined to find something about my situation to like, no matter how peripheral it was.

    After it was all over, I did not keep in touch with the guest family. Although I have been to Germany many times since that year, I have never had the slightest interest in renewing contact.

    The first exchange partner wanted to stay with us again several years later, and, even telephoned us from the neighbourhood for several days, before finally leaving us alone!

    What advice do I have anyone contemplating such an exchange?
    1.) Ask questions. Many of them. By all means, be polite, interested and positive; however, I believe that it is essential that persons have an accurate picture of things, not a one-sided one. Ask how the administration deals with issues such as teen sex, stealing, very poor fit. Do not be shy about this.
    2.) Ask if you could call several former participants at random to discuss their experiences. If there is any hesitation here, be circumspect. Why do they not want me calling people to ask. Usually, a student exchange is a big event in a teen’s life, so he/she would love to discuss it with anyone, who wants to listen.
    3.) If your situation is not, what you pictured, focus on its positive aspects, such as learning a new language, seeing another part of the world. I speak German with native fluency now, thanks in large part to that student exchange.
    4.) Become your own tour guide. I did, and, was glad for it.
    5.) Make your own circle of friends. I am still friends with one from school – and that experience happened 33 years ago!
    6.) If you are in a truly unworkable situation, and you will know if you are, consider pulling the plug on the whole thing. I know of several, who left their families prior to the end of the whole student exchange.

  32. I had thought when we chose a girl from Slovakia that this would have been a better experience than it had been with our previous 2 exchange students. There are things about her that we like, but I think the thing we don’t like most is the feeling that we were sort of duped by her. In that I am meaning the fact her mother pushed her into this more than what she was wanting it. She turned out to be very attached to her mother and I don’t think she has ever really gotten over the homesickness, she’s just came to the understanding that she can’t just hop the first plane out of here. It has been a rollercoaster with her. One second she likes us, the next she could care less, sometimes she says she likes being in the US, other times she doesn’t, she never really made any friends here other than the somewhat friends she made with my daughter’s friends, she never learned how to open up more to others, sometimes she says things that makes you feel like she knew a lot more than she lets on about, but used her lack of English to her advantage (even said that just a couple of days ago when we were out), she complains that she is bored and doesn’t get to do anything, but then doesn’t want to spend money when we do go somewhere.

    Multiple times we have decided to go out to eat for a treat and she will be all for it until I ask her how much she wants to spend on her food and suddenly she isn’t hungry or she will just eat here which ends up with us having to leave her here, then we feel bad that we’re out to eat and she’s sitting at home. It isn’t like my daughters haven’t had to occasionally buy their own food because they are both working now. We don’t consider chipping in for Pizza Hut pizza big dinner boxes at about $4 each a big deal. So many times we have heard about how she hates “American bread” because it’s apparently sweet, so I went out and bought her specifically European whole wheat, fresh baked bread at Fresh Market in JC which isn’t cheap. We took her to Asheville, we took her to Gatlinburg, she is going with my daughter to Chattanooga for a big concert that my daughter paid for the tickets to go, she is doing prom, she went to my daughters winter formal with her, we take her to the mall all the time, we go out to eat at places we don’t normally go to once a month or so, she went to Greeneville shopping with us, and my daughters are planning a “late spring/early summer” vacation with her, though they haven’t decided where they want to go yet. We had a big party here for my daughter’s birthday and then for her birthday we had a big sleepover (which is what she wanted). We have had cookouts, camping trips, hikes, trips to the mountains, and we will do more as Spring gives way to some more pleasant temperatures. There will be trips to the lakes, downtown festivities, trips to the pools, etc.

    We did the big Christmas thing with her and I had actually planned not to decorate so much this year or go with a big tree, but I did because I thought she would like seeing a real American Christmas. We spent more on her and she received more gifts than anyone else in our home. She even received Christmas money from my husband’s father like he sends for our daughters. It was actually funny because our Christmas tree decided it was on its last legs this year (artificial) and when we started to take it down multiple limbs snapped in half. I just took the whole thing and threw it away. Next year we will be doing a little shelf tree which we already have.

    The cleaning/chores lists that I created worked for a grand total of about 2 weeks before we were back to reminding constantly, but that is a teenager thing I suppose.

    Then there is the Senior thing she decided to do with the graduation (oh boy, *palm to forehead*). She is borrowing my older daughters cap & gown, which is fine, that saves her some money. She ordered her diploma cover, but she doesn’t understand that she needs to order her graduation tassel for the cap. I have been reminding her since January that she needs to get that ordered or hope with crossed fingers that they have extra’s when the orders come in. As you know, that’s a may or a may not situation.

  33. Continuation of the prior story…

    The high school here requires a diploma cover in order to walk across the stage and that took a long time to convince her of.

    There is a strong lack of interaction with us from Adriena. She comes home from school, goes straight to her room, and we only see her come out for supper or if she goes on a walk. It’s like we have a ghost in the house. The only interaction we get with her isn’t normally positive. We have caught her in multiple lies about stupid things like drinking all the soda in the fridge or eating all the fruit in a basket or eating a bar of chocolate that was set aside for someone else. I can’t keep a jar of Nutella in the house. I had bought many jars of Nutella because I had came across coupons and we stock up items when we have good coupons. I know there has been at least 10 jars consumed since she has been here. We freeze sandwich bread when we catch it on sale and we tell her all the time if she eats the last piece of bread in a loaf, that she is to go to the freezer, pull out another loaf to thaw, and then put it in the breadbox. Every time it isn’t done. Along with shredded and sliced cheese consumption. We also keep frozen cheese that only needs to be pulled from the freezer to thaw.

    The next sore subject is the way she dresses. Adriena is a bigger girl. She weighs around 165 pounds, she’s about 5’9, and has a larger chest size. Everything she owns is low cut tops, see through (to the point you know what color bra she is wearing), mini skirts, and half tops. We honestly have been embarrassed to take her places and I have told her multiple times that something is see through or inappropriate. She ignores me and wears it anyway with the excuse of, “my Mom knows I wear it.”

    On to the next topic, Skyping. She Skypes when she comes home from school, she Skypes every day or every other day. When asked about it, she lies and says she doesn’t. She is supposed to only Skype one day per week and only in English. She doesn’t, it’s always in Slovakian. Her parents do not understand English, so that is understandable, but other friends she has in the program are supposed to know English. When she is reminded of the rules, she logs off and swears she wasn’t doing it. We sat aside one day per week for her to Skype and that’s on the weekends when we do not have anything to do. She was told that occasionally she may not get to Skype because we may be on a trip or otherwise busy and that would be the only occasion that she would be allowed to Skype another day. Somehow that translated into whenever she wants to.

    Our overall opinion of this experience has been negative and has brought us to the realization that we may no longer want to participate in hosting. Not only is it an economical drain as there is no reimbursement for the time, energy, emotions, and money that you put into the program, there is also the fact that you may end up with a kid that doesn’t appreciate anything as happened with us. We have had 3 exchange students, the 1st was a total nightmare from Spain that was vindictive, a liar, and completely superficial, the 2nd seemed amazing in every way except she also had issues with her parents sending her money the way they were supposed to as well as she bought too many things to take back with her, then demanded that we send her the items on our own dime, then after we finally convinced her we didn’t have the money for that, she sent the money through her Dad, but it wasn’t enough to send everything, so we sent the important things (shipping and handling was over $100) and I actually ended up having to put some of my own money in, and now she’s demanding we send the rest of the items on our own dime, and the third experience is the one described above.

    All 3 students thought our 3 bedroom, 2 bath house wasn’t good enough, our 2004 Saturn SUV wasn’t good enough, that the US wasn’t what they thought it was, they didn’t want to come to Tennessee, but because the program is oversaturated with students in relation to available host families, they “settled” with us, and all of them didn’t realize how expensive things in the US are.

    Would we do it again? We still say maybe, only because we have faith that eventually we would get someone appreciative of the wonderful experience that foreign exchange would provide. The schools here are getting pretty tired of it and recently one of the most active school’s in foreign exchange has stopped allowing them. It makes us wonder at the longevity of the exchange student programs.

    • I am having a carbon copy situation with our girl from Thailand. Similar situation with your Spain child but he was from Germany. For what the parents pay for these programs it makes me wonder who is getting duped…. their parents or us Americans…. I will never, ever do it again!

  34. I was an exchange student and my host mother was a nightmare. I had to move from that house but she kept sabotaging my experience in the new family.

    Without falling into details… I was raised in a city of 8 million people and I was sent to a town of 5 thousands. The host family can not be a square family. My host mother never traveled in her life and she wanted me to be “this and that”, like the son she never had. So she was obligating me to do things without respecting me as a person, she was very selfish.

    My experience at school was amazing, I had loads of friends and it was awesome. I was with the marching band too. I was very popular. Half way trough the year I moved with another family and I had a great time, we were able to talk and communicate with each other. But when I went back to my home country I had the wounds of the first family.

    The huge problem when you are back to your country is that no one have a clue what you have been trough, they just do not get it. I was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. At the end we were about 20 exchange students that came back and we became super close friends because we understood each other. Going to the United States was very hard, families are just too idiotic, they made rules for anything just because they are bored.

    I am telling you this today that I am 39 living in Florida, I was an exchange student back in 1992. The priority is never the family, it has to be always the kid.

    Back home we had 3 exchange students from Europe and they had a great time. I was too a counselor for 3 years at the same organization who sent me, I was protecting the people who was living, returning and coming. It was a great experience.

  35. I had a “strange” first hosting experience. My family accepted a young lady from France on a three week visit and although we knew she would be shy, we were not prepared for someone devoid of a personality, incapable of having a conversation and who sat around acting miserable all the time. Within days of her arrival, it was obvious that she was not assimilating to our lifestyle and I tried to make things easier for her by allowing her to watch movies with French subtitles and letting her gradually adjust to our eating times, etc…by the end if the first week, she still hadn’t hardly spoke a word, did not initiate any conversation, and had zero curiosity about anything. I downloaded Google translate to try and convey that I wanted her to be happy and to please talk to me if she wasn’t, but she merely said “ok” and went on. As we tried to get to know her, we discovered that she had no hobbies other than horseback riding (which is pretty expensive to do in my area and not overly convenient) and watching videos of people playing video games on YouTube (she did not play games herself)…she did not like sports, outdoor activities, art, dance, theater, crafts, cooking and the only movie we could determine that she liked was Avatar. She also had never done a chore in her life and never once offered to pitch in and help with anything around here. She didn’t bring a camera with her and seemed uninterested in recording her trip for posterity, which seemed kind of odd and you could just never tell if she was having fun or not. I finally contacted the coordinator and group chaperone for assistance and they said that she was one of the younger students and possibly not as well versed in the language as they initially thought, but after talking to her, she reported that she was “fine.” Ooooookkkk….every day I would try to find something to get her to talk a little more or to break the ice, but it just didn’t work and by week two I had ran out of things to talk to ask her (especially if she didn’t volunteer any information beyond a “yes”, “no” or “I don’t know” answer) she continued to sleep until 10:30 a.m., did not get dressed until 1:30 p.m. and wasn’t really hungry for dinner until 9:30 at night. (I finally curtailed this and insisted she eat when we did, especially after I realized that she would rather die than have a conversation with everyone and was content to survive here in Oreos, cupcakes and orange Fanta) My son and her never really gelled despite his best efforts and a shared interest in animals (he works at our zoo and was proud to have a “little sister” to show around, but she just didn’t seem to like him) however, she did like a couple of his friends a little “too” much and I kind of caught her throwing herself at one of them when the group (including my son) went for a walk around the neighborhood. (She later went off with these boys by herself and when I found out about it, I told her that was a pretty foolish thing to do considering she only met them a few days before! She kind of shrugged like “so what?”) By week three, I realized that this was not working out, but I didn’t want to be a quitter. After all, where would she go? I did make up my mind that I was no longer going to knock myself out to go places and pay my admission just for her to act sullen about the outing. In a last ditch effort to help her, I allowed her to get on the Internet and watch YouTube, but that probed to be a big mistake because she stopped interacting with us all together and just kind of “died” there. My husband finally told her to get off the computer and locked it down saying that if she wanted to get on, she would have to ask permission first…that she would have to actually talk to someone….needless to say that didn’t happen…she just started using her cell phone to get on Facebook, which was fine, I guess, but when my husband forgot to lock down the computer one night….he caught her helping herself. He said “huh-uh, you know the rules” and she logged off, but then she did it again a few nights later, being sneaky enough to log out a few minutes before my husband got home from work. In the entire time she was here, she said 4 sentences to me, and only used my name once. She never asked a single question about America, only took three pictures on her phone (of goats) and I can only imagine what she will say about us to her family back home. I told the coordinator that she never adjusted and that my family was pretty stressed out by the whole thing and she said that occasionally some kids just can’t come out of their shell, but when I came home, her Facebook profile was still up on my computer…I know I shouldn’t have, but I translated a few of her chats in hopes of finding out what we could have done differently…I discovered that she decided not to like us long before she ever got here. She called us a family of “sheep” (based on our hair, I think) and said that “only the father seemed normal.” She made fun of my son prior to meeting him and said that he was proof positive that God, Allah and Budda had a sense of humor and told her friends that she was bored hanging around the “fucking scout” (meaning my son.) I also read through one of her chats with the afore mentioned neighbor boy in which she told him how miserably bored she was and how she “needed” to see him and his friend again. (After he responded “when?” to her good-natured “F-you” she said “how about right now?” Yet in the entire time my son and I were around her we really never saw her say anything to this guy beyond “yes” and “no”) my husband is of course furious about all of this and wants to complain or at least get our side of the story documented, because we are cynical enough to worry that she could go back home with an inaccurate account of her time here that could come back to haunt us. (I did take pictures of her during every activity that we did so that the coordinator could see that she never appeared very “happy.” I am so sorry for the long rant, but I guess I was just wondering if we should report the experience to the organization we went through or will it not do us any good? I don’t want/expect anything out of reporting it of course, but I guess I still can’t “let it go” two days later. What do you think? For the life of me I can’t understand why she came her in the first place and when I think about the money her middle-class parents spent to send her…it just seems awful that someone would get so little out of the experience. Some have suggested that her parents sent her over here but she said that it was all her idea. I don’t know what to think but I’m heart broken by the whole thing. Any advice/thoughts?

  36. Andrew in Toronto

    Upon hearing how she referred to you, you should have placed her things in front of the door along with screen prints of her conversations. The little b*tch would instantly know what that meant. Let her tell the administrators of the exchange, what happened.

  37. AnonymousThursday, April 09, 2015 7:18:00 AM
    Yes, definitely yes to #1. Motivations checked, rechecked and confirmed. Student is a real dud at best.
    Exchange programs may have merit, but I think their merit is far over-rated and they are now really not much more than a vacation time for the kid even if the program says it is a cultural and study exchange. Yeah, nice in theory, but not usually reality. It’s even worse now with instant messaging and all of the cyber relationships with hand-held devices. There is no time for you as a host family, so forget about the “exchange” part of it. You are a hotel. Nothing more. A means to an over-privileged rich kid from a foreign country. As a host you have to be informed that 30% of the kids are placed in a different home because they fail to comply or adapt to their original host family. This according to AFS statistics. Don’t know what other agency stats are. Raising a teen is brutaly difficult work. One that has been raised by another parent for 16 years and then given to you is an impossible task if the kid is used to coming and going as they please. This is often the case with students as they are very well off financially in the country of their residence. Be warned. I would neither recommend it or encourage it until the kid is grown up a bit. College would be a far better time for someone to travel. If they want a vacation and no time with your family, the parents should save the money and just send them on a summer vacation. It would be cheaper and probably about the same value culturally. If you had a good experience, you are the rarity.

    • Thank you Jim…you summed up my exact thoughts. I regret putting myself and my family through the experiance. Id never recommend it, although there seem to be a lot of families who love it.

  38. Andrew in Toronto

    Penny and Jim, I agree with both of you. My experience (Andrew from Toronto) certainly draws parallels to yours. I, too, would not recommend one; instead, I would look into an overseas language stay in a dormitory at a college or university. With that, you have several advantages:
    1.) No “guest” in your home;
    2.) You can choose the destination, which you child visits;
    3.) You are not beholden to anyone;
    4.) Your child is likely to have a higher degree of privacy in a dorm room.

  39. Truly, I’m very sorry for all that have had a bad experience hosting. My family is going on number 9 and possibly 10. This has been a life changing experience for myself and my family. Each and everyone of our students have been different and that has been a joy. Has it all been great, NO…as having a teen in your house, not everything is great. For any family considering hosting, please read the articles that are mentioned by this author…that is exactly how it is. Please consider the advice very carefully. I truly love everyone on my exchange daughters around the world. They have giving me so much joy as they move through their exchange year and now their lives in their home countries. I can not stress communication is so important. Don’t make them a guest in your home, day one they are a family member. Written rules and guidelines are extremely important. Many failed exchanges are due to the kids didn’t have guidelines and rules. Reach out to your organizations when you feel overwhelmed and frustrated. Your contact in your organization is there to have you and be a cheerleader for you throughout the year. Remember not every day in a year is wonderful, there are down days and there are up days. My advice to other host families….make them participate in school sports and activities. Put them in control of the experience (with your guidance of course) they would like to have in the U.S. Tell them to step out of the box and try new things. And as my students will always tell the next ones… is not right, it is not wrong, it is different (our culture). Preparing your students prior to their arrival by chatting with them about your life, school, and communities can make all of the difference in how they adapt. For those of you looking to host or willing to step up to this experience. ENJOY!!!

  40. My husband and I have hosted many female exchange students. 3 from Brazil and 3 from Japan. We had a great time with all of them. So we decided to have a male student from China. It is not going well. He doesn’t clean after himself. It looks like a bomb hit his room. Only speaks to us when he wants something and has never eaten dinner with us. The manager is finding another placement for him. It can’t come fast enough.

  41. Natasha Hassett

    This year i went on an exchane to france for three months. I am a canadian grade 9 student in late french emission. My experience hosting our exchange students (my twin sister had an exchange student too) wasnt that bad, we definitely had a couple problemes with them but every host family has problems with their exchange studen., It was my experience going to france that wasnt that was the problem. When i first signed up for the exchange i really knew nothing about them and how much work you had to put into doing them, i never thought anything though. I had a lot of troubles starting with the fact that i’m not that good at french. Improving my french was the main reason i was going on the exchange for but when i got to france and started to try speaking french i got really embarrassed and started speaking as little as i possibly could. Her family file lied about how she was like and how her family was like, many of our personality traits matched on the file but they did not match in really life but wrost of all her parents attached a letter explaining about how perfect their family was, which it was not.My exchange student and i werent similar at all and didnt connect at all, while we kept a good relationship though out the exchange weren’t friends. Her school treated me horribly, they would forget to give me things that i needed and then would get mad at me for not having them, the school complained to my family that i wasnt doing any work even though i was doing as much as i could and they constantly compared me to the other canadian exchange student there saying he was better that me. The only good thing about school was that i made a bunch of my own friends (I couldn’t stand my exchange students friends). But the worst problems lied within there family situation especially her mom. The first 3 weeks i was at their house I remember thinks there’s something going on with her parentsher dad would just disappear for a couple days and come back ( my exchange student told me before that her dad went on a lot of buiness trips so thats what i thiught it was) but every other days he was there in the morning and afternoon but something was really off. Finally three weeks into the exchange my partener told me that her parents were getting a divorce and they had been separated for serval months (as it turns out her dad would drive to her moms house every moring before we got up and every night after we went to sleep!!!) The only reason her parents were staying so close together was for her little brother (3 years old). They had a nanny that took care of him most of the time but half way though the exchange the nanny’s dad got sick and she had to leave. Handling her littlr brother ended up being to much for my host mum because the last to weeks i was there she had some sort of break down and we had to go to her grandparents house. it turns out that her mom had a bad history with severe depression and wouls sometimes go months without working. Also her mom just didnt like me, was very judgement about everything i did, she criticized me, she got angry at me for the weirdest things and more. In the end i felt very betrayed but the family (you should have to tell your exchange student about everything that’s happening in your family but in your parents are getting divorced or one of your parents has a rocky history with mental illnesses your exchange student NEEDS to know!!!!) There were times I wanted to leave the family but then i felt to bad to actually go because they seemed to want me. Dispite evey thing that happened my exchange was pretty good. My twin sister on the other hand who was just as in unconfindent in speaking french had a great family and school, she had a amazing time on thr exchange. Please, please if you have any sort of problem with the family file do something about it or your going to regret it.

  42. I have stumbled across this blog in my efforts of learning as much as I can before my daughter goes to the USA on exchange next month. Its quite daunting reading negative posts although I must admit there are just as many positive experiences being discussed. Its been a really hard decision to send a child across the other side of the world, not knowing to whom or where she will stay. My daughter is a good child, a normal child, fun , loves to laugh, friendly but sometimes she has attitude, is messy, has tantrums and hormonal . I’m hoping the family she is placed with can be honest and open in communication with her/me but at the same time I am scared to know too much because as a parent you want nothing more than to be there for your child….. and I can’t be. She has been in lockdown in her room for the past two months and i am worried she will do that on exchange. I have told her she had better not as she is there to experience America and she assures me she wont. She has put alot of effort into making the exchange happen and I can only hope her experience will be a positive one. Can anyone recommend the best ways of setting her up with money, phone etc before and once she arrives or are these questions for the host family once she has one ? also as a parent I am happy to contribute to household bills but our organisation tells me I cannot. I would love any feedback from past experiences
    Many thanks 🙂

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