Whether you’re hosting a high school exchange student or your relatives from abroad are visiting, these quintessential American activities are sure to break the ice. You’ll be creating opportunities for intercultural conversations, while also supplying unique insights into your hometown (and national) culture and values.
If you’re welcoming an exchange student into your home for the year, bookmark this link in your browser or print and hang the list on your refrigerator for easy reference. Hosting an exchange student is a fantastic idea for so many reasons, and enriches the lives of both visitors and their gracious hosts.
There’s no shortage of interesting things to do with an international visitor – kick the school year off right with fun seasonal outings, and read on for the rest of our 19 best exchange student activity ideas.
1. Attend the homecoming football game
Yes, that’s American football. Homecoming traditions vary from town to town, but it’s a safe bet that your town celebrates homecoming with some blend of these ingredients: a parade, a cook-out, a football game, cheerleading routines, and a pep rally. Sit up in the bleachers and cheer on your team! School spirit is fun, contagious, and definitely an American phenomenon.
2. Get lost in a corn maze
One great thing about our nation’s vast countryside is that we’ve got plenty of room to roam. Or in this case, run, as we find our way out of the maize.
3. Carve jack-o-lanterns in October
Just before Halloween, grab a pumpkin and (safely) teach your exchange student how to carve a spooky face or a clever design. On October 31, place a candle inside and display it in a window or in front of your home for the whole neighborhood to see.
4. Bake some red apples
Baking red apples is considered a New England classic, but you can do this activity anywhere in the United States. Pick the apples yourselves if you have a favorite orchard nearby, or buy them at your local store. Add cinnamon to the apples, cover them in tin foil, and bake. Include ice cream on the side for an extra burst of flavor.
5. Find a Drive-in Movie Theater
Drive-ins might seem like relics of an older time, but they’re still around (although you may have to search online for locations and showtimes). Catch a classic flick to match the old-time mood, or share the experience of a new film.
6. Host a potluck
Invite friends and neighbors over to your home, or meet at a community center. Ask everyone to bring a dish that feels “traditional” to them. Invite your visitor to prepare a cultural dish from their own country’s or family’s traditions.
7. Eat at a local Dairy Queen
Few culinary institutions evoke the American roadside like DQ’s iconic angled rooftop. Treat your exchange student to a tasty treat at a Dairy Queen near you. And let’s not forget about those famous Blizzards – beware of the brain-freeze!
8. Give a tour of your hometown
Play the tour guide, and teach your visitor about each of the major landmarks (bank, library, school, cafe, statues, etc.) in your town. This might require a little research on your part, but you’ll probably learn as much as they do. To stage a mini-cultural exchange, ask your visitor to describe their own local landmarks, too.
9. Tie-dye some old shirts
Get in the flower power mood! This perfect sunny day activity can help the conversation blossom into a discussion about the 1960’s and the origins of youth activism and volunteering in America. Tie-dying also leaves your international visitor with a memorable souvenir.
10 Seek out local musical acts
Is there a nearby grill that hosts a jazz or folk music night? Exposing your visitor to the sounds of live American music will surely bring joy to you both.
11. Take out your wallets
Here’s a fast way to unfold a quick history lesson: by comparing banknotes and coins from your wallets, you and your exchange student can teach each other about some major historical figures from your respective countries.
12. Attend a baseball game
There’s more ritual ingrained into America’s Pastime than meets the eye. From the sing-alongs to the seventh-inning stretch, we’ve made a grand tradition out of baseball games. Attending a spring or summer game at a local field or in the nearest large city offers an authentic cultural experience.
13. Visit Town Hall
Whether it’s in a guidebook or not, your town is full of recent history. The United States is less than 250 years old, relatively young by international standards, so there’s a good chance that your town was founded during a major movement to expand the country’s size (colonial, pioneer, homestead, industrial, etc.). Your local Town Hall likely houses a variety of artifacts that document the early days of your home right up through the present.
14. Go to the nearest V.F.W. Post
All over the country, Veterans of Foreign Wars (V.F.W.) Posts provide a venue for military veterans to congregate. There are few more obvious places to meet those who served and to learn firsthand about the conditions that led to the nation’s entry into those global conflicts. It’s easy to find a post near you.
15. Enjoy a Thanksgiving Feast
Turkey, cranberry sauce, and family togetherness pair well with recounting an important chapter of the nation’s history. Sharing your family’s holiday traditions also provides your visitor with a comfortable opportunity to discuss traditions of their own.
16. Visit a farmer’s market
You don’t have to be an expert in local agricultural economics to appreciate the taste of fresh foods. Pick up snacks or collect ingredients from a local farmer’s market to make a delicious baked good or a big meal.
17. Attend a county or state fair
Where else can you find a corn dog, candy apples, and kettle corn in one place? Our advice: ride the rides before you eat, not after.
18. Go shopping at the grocery store
It’s not just that we love food (although it does bring people closer together). Strolling through the aisles of a grocery store provides a powerful lens into a culture. On top of that, American supermarkets are known to dazzle (and even mystify) foreign visitors with the abundant selection of products.
19. Snowy? Build a Snowman
Grab an extra scarf, a few sticks, and a carrot for the nose! Building a snowman is a creative, classic way to enjoy an afternoon in the frostier months.
20. Work on a jigsaw puzzle together
Because sometimes the simplest moments count the most.
***There’s no question that these ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. Every hometown has plenty of traditions and local character that make it a fascinating place for an exchange student to explore.
Share these exchange student activity ideas with your family and friends, and learn more about becoming a host family for an AFS Exchange Student now!