Hosting an exchange student with AFS-USA is not only a wonderful experience for a teen from another country – it’s a unique opportunity to provide you and your family with new cultural experiences and foster connections, both near and far, that will last a lifetime. Here are seven reasons why you should welcome an exchange student into your family:
1. You’ll experience a new culture within your own home
“We have learned so much about other parts of the world from our students. We’ve eaten spaetzle and tom ka gai, learned to make paella, celebrated St. Nicholas Day and Three Kings Day, and learned how birthdays are celebrated in other countries. – Michelle Kulas, Host Parent of Sako from Japan
No matter who you are, you probably have a lot of things going on. With work, family, school, and everything in between, life can be pretty busy; many people don’t have the time to travel and experience other countries and cultures as often as they’d like (or at all.) When you host an exchange student, you’re immersing yourself in a new cultural experience that fits into every day life. You and your family will learn all about your host teen’s country through trying their favorite foods from home, celebrating their holidays, and getting to know them and their culture firsthand. Families often travel to their host student’s country to visit after they’ve returned home!
2. You’re providing an opportunity for a young person to make a difference in your community – and their own!
“[What keeps me coming back is] meeting all of the awesome kids who are daring enough to leave their comfort zone to live and learn abroad. It gives me real hope for the future of our world.” – Cynthia Cornelius, Volunteer
Students hosted through AFS-USA are often very ambitious and ready to make a positive impact on the world. While living in your home, your exchange student will have opportunities to volunteer in your community, educate their peers about their own culture and customs, and meet other people in the AFS community who will shape their educational and professional future. AFS participants are encouraged to take their experiences in the U.S. and use them to enact change in their community back home. Many AFS alumni go on to become global leaders, educators, and innovators who are paving the way for the next generation – and that starts in your home!
3. You will gain new family members for life
“We never knew we could love a person who was not of our own blood as much as we love her.” – Chris M., Host Parent of Adriana from Germany
Host parents often say that their exchange student has truly become a part of their family. Over the course of their exchange program, your host student will connect with you and your family in many ways. Whether it’s sharing meals, watching movies, playing games, or exploring the outdoors together, your host student will become an important part of your lives before you know it. Your children and their host sibling will develop a relationship that is sure to last, and that doesn’t stop after their program ends. Hosting will not only have a profound and positive impact on your host student, but you and your family as well. Many host families find that this connection grows beyond just one new member; oftentimes a host student’s natural family will become part of your own, whether that’s through future travel, connecting via video chat, or staying in touch on social media!
4. Hosting a student will have a tremendous impact on the course of their life
“This year changed everything for me. I became more mature, more independent, and more open-minded. I feel grown up now and like I can do anything I [put my mind to]. It is by far the best growing experience in my life and I am so thankful for it.” – Mikea, Hosted Student from Albania
Exchange students hosted through AFS-USA come from all over the world and are very different from one another, but they do have one thing in common: they describe their exchange program as life-changing. Living abroad will increase your host student’s confidence, provide essential intercultural experiences, and yield lifelong connections that will impact their character and their values as they enter adulthood. They will overcome exciting new obstacles and learn invaluable lessons from you, your family, and your community. You’ll play an important role in this journey because your home will be theirs as they experience, for the first time, life in the U.S. Hosted students often attribute the most positive aspects of their program to time spent with their host family.
5. Your exchange student will spark curiosity and cultural awareness in your own children
“I think having host kids is a way that I can expose my children to other people and other beliefs. Because sometimes, you know, people think that whatever they believe, or what are they, whatever they grew up with, it’s the best, it’s the only way. But I want my kids to be able to appreciate multiple perspectives. And I think hosting…it really truly does help you with that.” – Sheri Belton-Gonzalez, Host Parent and Volunteer
Many children and teens in families with a hosted student find that it truly changes the way they perceive and interact with the world for years to come. Connecting with a young person from another culture will teach your children patience, compassion, and curiosity. Host siblings can inspire your children to grow up with an open mind and learn lessons that are not often found in a classroom. Children with host siblings are likely to study abroad themselves and develop a passion for understanding the world beyond their own borders. Embracing cultural awareness at a young age is an essential skill that will benefit them throughout their lives and allow them to connect with people of many backgrounds, cultures, and identities.
6. Living with someone from another country will challenge you and your community’s perspective
“Even though my students have access to the internet…they don’t really know what’s going on in the world, from the perspective of somebody who’s actually lived somewhere else. Abbas has taught us about how his entire life, his country has been at war, which is very eye opening for us…it’s just something we can’t even really, truly comprehend. And, in addition, [he brings] excitement to the classroom, like he has gotten involved in anything you could possibly get involved in. And so I think other students see somebody who comes to America and is excited to learn…and wants to be [involved in] everything.” – Brandi Asher, Teacher of Hosted Student Abbas from Lebanon
Oftentimes we forget that there are many kinds of people out in the world living vastly different lives from day-to-day. It’s easy to tune out everything else and focus only on what’s right in front of us. When you build a connection with your exchange student within your community, obstacles that they may face both in their own country and in the U.S. suddenly affect you, too. Hosting a student from another country will open eyes to the complexities of diversity; living with somebody different from you will challenge biases and provide a foundation to examine your own identity. You will find ways to connect with your exchange student by uncovering common ground and identifying how you may be alike. Your community will learn to empathize with somebody else’s lived experiences and gain a new appreciation and understanding of those from different cultures and backgrounds.
7. You’ll join a worldwide network of host families, educators, and community leaders
“Hosting literally changed our lives. We went through our marriage and kids coming into being and we had a very contained life. It’s sort of like in a house, knowing your bedroom and knowing everything about it, you’re comfortable and happy. But then all of a sudden you open your door and discover another room with so many wonderful, amazing things and you’re like, ‘Wow. Now I want to see the whole house.'” – Tim, Host Parent of Lison from France
Joining the AFS community is more than just opening your home for the short-term. Your participation in our exchange program will provide a foundation to meet like-minded people from all over the world. Our community is one that’s filled with passion, drive, and the sincerest of friendships. Whether it’s connecting with other host families and students, volunteering with your local AFS-USA community, discovering professional development opportunities, or exploring new intercultural activities, you’ll find that being a part of AFS-USA is beneficial for years to come.
In truth, seven is just a good number for a list – there are so many more reasons that hosting an exchange student will change your life for the better. If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of hosting an exchange student through AFS-USA, visit afsusa.org/host.