In today’s era of misleading headlines and political divisions, separating fact from fiction can be tricky, especially when it comes to learning about another culture and its values.
That’s a prime reason why becoming a host family for an international exchange student has fascinated and delighted several generations of Americans: hosting is a simple act of kindness that opens doors to new perspectives and builds bridges of friendship between people of different cultures.
For the past 70 years, AFS Host Families and Exchange Students have come together to bridge cultural gaps and clarify misunderstandings that are often taken for granted or easy to overlook. Over countless car rides, dinner discussions and game nights, host families and exchange students get to learn about each other’s cultures, traditions, and points of view. They learn about what’s true and what’s false, point out the differences between a fair generalization and a harmful stereotype, and most importantly, shed light on how much they have in common.
For example, are all Italians striving to achieve la dolce vita—the sweet life? Sure, there might be a sprinkle of truth to that theory, but similarly, it’s also a bit of an exaggeration to say that every American is obsessed with attaining the American Dream.
By getting to know a person whose cultural background is different from yours, you have the ability to develop a good grasp of another culture’s values while increasing your understanding of how our world is connected by common interests.
Hosting gets the whole family—and sometimes the entire community—involved in an interactive, firsthand cultural exchange.
Most exchange students consider themselves teenage ambassadors, so they’re ready to represent their countries and have those “I don’t know if it’s true, but I heard this…” conversations with you. Plus, they make great role models for young children and can help inspire your children to become fluent in a second language.
Because AFS students attend a local high school, they’ll spread their knowledge and perspective amongst classmates, clubmates, and teammates. And with the help of local AFS Volunteers, these students have also been known to schedule visits to elementary schools, accept invitations to radio station interviews, organize volunteer projects with Girl Scout troops, and a whole lot more.
Of our 2,000+ students that come to the U.S. each year, Italians are one of the largest groups. In fact, 15% of our students come from the boot-shaped Mediterranean nation.
Welcoming home and hosting an Italian exchange student
Italians are generally known to be happy, easygoing, and ready to have fun or to laugh at a good joke. Italians are passionate in the way they talk, with lots of gesturing and emphatic facial expressions, and are passionate about food. Meals are an important gathering time for families to relax, laugh, and engage in long conversations. They’re big soccer fans and love to dance to all types of music, from pop and rock to hip-hop and electronic dance music (aka “EDM”).
By hosting an Italian student, you’ll have a glimpse into the perspective of someone whose country has produced timeless artistic achievements and some of the finest food in the world.
But you’ll also get to know an individual, someone who can’t simply be described by generalizations. Host families get to know the person and the culture they come from. After all, they won’t just be seeing a generalized picture of America, either—they’ll come to know and love your family and think of your community as their second home.
Stories from real host families
The hosting experience quickly reveals the common ground between U.S. host families and their exchange students. We gathered together three real testimonials that shed light on what the experience of cultural exchange has been like for host families of Italian exchange students:
Alberto and the Walters Family from North Carolina
Host mom Patti Walters described Alberto as, “fun-loving, humorous, creative and surprisingly tidy and punctual.” In large part, her family decided to host to broaden their daughter’s horizons and to have an older role model in the house. “Hosting has made our small family larger, richer and has given us meaningful respect for the world at large,” said Patti. Read Alberto’s story.
Daniel and the Hulsebus Family from Wisconsin
When Gayle and Randy Hulsebus hosted Daniel from Italy, they had no idea they’d be forming a lifelong connection with their “son” from another country. When they visited Daniel in Italy, it brought the hosting experience full circle. Having hosted several AFS students now, Gayle and Randy call their exchange students, “our links to the world, as well as sources of tremendous insight.” Read Daniel’s story.
Valeria and the McDonald Family from Florida
During her exchange year, Valeria lived with a single parent who decided to host not one, but TWO exchange students! While some people might not think of single parents as a “traditional” makeup of a host family, Valeria loved that her experience created a strong connection between her and her host mother. “I came here to experience differences and that was the best part,” Valeria said, later commenting that, “it’s amazing how quickly the student becomes part of the family.” Read Valeria’s story.
5 everyday words phrases to know in Italian
You can impress your Italian visitor by learning these sayings!
Buongiorno — Hello and good morning
Arrivederci — Goodbye
Una buona giornata — Have a good day
A presto — See you soon
Non vedo l’ora — I can’t wait
Ready to make this your family’s year to experience what they have in common with an international student?
Take the next step and get to know the students coming to your area; chances are pretty good that a young man or woman from Italy is part of the group! But don’t wait, because these students arrive in August and families across the country are quickly choosing which students they want to welcome home.