It’s funny to think about the fact that one year ago we were also preparing for the arrival of an exchange student. After choosing her in February, N exchanged many Facebook messages and emails with us as we prepared for what would end up being an amazing year for all of us. I remember feeling like Saturday would never arrive – and I remember, so vividly, being desperate to hear her voice. I don’t know why but I just wanted to hear the kid I’d been thinking about and preparing for.
And yes, it is that strange, preparing to host. Many people have hosted and love it but deciding to, and actually doing it for the first time can be surreal experiences in themselves. After all, you are essentially considering taking in a stranger who has a completely different life journey from you and sharing some pretty intimate moments of your life. Your exchange student is always there. They are present for illness, tragedy, embarrassments and everything else and those are not the things you are thinking about when getting ready to host.
What are you thinking about? For us it was what we wanted in a student, and I regularly compared it to online dating. At first the organization we worked with (EF) would send us three or four potential students each day (in an email; we didn’t have random international kids on our doorstep daily… That would come later in the exchange year) – there was the boy with a very Italian name who lived in Zurich, some Swedish girls and more Germans than I could count. They all had things about them we found appealing. They also all had things about them that threw up red flags.
Please keep in mind that exchange students working with an organization worth its salt are all interviewed, vetted and prepared to come – but picking a student should not be taken lightly because you do want a good fit. And things can be red flags for you that are perfectly normal for others. In our household it would be difficult to host a student who wants to go to religious services regularly, for example. For us that meant:
An older student
Someone who would want to be a member of our family
A student who loved to travel
An animal lover
Someone who wasn’t a big Internet addict
An outdoors lover
An adventurous person not afraid of trying new things
Enter EF’s online database of students. Once we were fully approved we could search it by gender, age, country and interests helping us find N, who ended up fitting in beautifully.
Before choosing a student it’s important to ask yourself, and your family, deep questions about the level of commitment, view of exchange student and family roles, and financial liability you want to take on. We are childless thirty somethings who could afford to spoil a foreign student for a year. But you don’t have to be. We are incredibly active and involved and needed a student who wold be game for anything. And N was. This kid did more in a high school year than most do in four. There was only one time that she backed out of going to something and it was because she didn’t feel well. It’s vital to know who you are as a family and what you want in a student before choosing.
We chose to adopt a philosophy that the student would be a part of our family. Others may choose differently but we knew we wanted someone we could give a fantastic year while learning just as much about her culture as she did about ours.
And she was. And we did.
Take time, before selecting a student, to ask yourself questions like those below and then read through applications/profiles to find common denominators.
1. Is your family religious? How would you feel about hosting a student with a different religion? No religion? Can you commit to transporting a religious child to services if they are a regular attendee? Can you provide a quiet, distraction-free place for prayer if this is needed? If you are a non-religious family these questions are just as important!
2. Is your family active? Do you want a student who will be open to being active?
3. Are you financially ready to provide three meals and snacks? Can you pay for school activities or will the student? How will you handle expenses? Will you work with the natural parents ahead of time to decide on the student’s allowance? Will the student give you cash? Or will you have them pay for an equivalent dollar amount of things?
4. What are your family’s unspoken rules? Being aware of these is imperative – an exchange student will not simply intuit them.
5. What are your expectations for school? Chores? Technology? Dating? Curfew?
6. If you have other children in the house how do they feel about hosting?
7. Do you have pets? Have you honestly assessed their behavior? Have you shared any pertinent information about them with your student? What are the pet-related expectations for your student?
8. How long will your student be with you before school starts? How will you handle the downtime?
9. Do you have any dietary restrictions? Does the student? Is everyone comfortable with this?
10. What are your expectations around travel? Holidays? Family time?
Stay tuned for a post where we answer these and share what we learned from year 1 plus any changes we’ll make for year 2.
How do/would you select a student? What’s important to you and your family?