If you’re new to AFS, you might wonder why homestays are such an important part of our intercultural exchange programs. The reason is simple but powerful – living with a culture is one of the most immersive, intimate, and authentic ways to learn about a culture.
Sharing your home and everyday life with an exchange student will likely teach you as much about your own community and culture as it teaches you about theirs. That’s why it’s called exchange: it works both ways.
By including your hosted student in your way of life, you’ll get to see it anew through their eyes. What may seem obvious or normal to you, may be baffling or odd to them. These differences in perspective are wonderful examples of how cultures tacitly inform how we think, feel, communicate, and act.
While misunderstandings can occur, with the help of AFS, these contrasts tend to stimulate delightful realizations of the value of diversity. By hosting an exchange student, you’ll help yourself and them develop greater empathy, intercultural awareness, and adaptability. You’ll become mutual friends of peace. You’ll become family.
What it’s like
Sure – that sounds nice and all, but what’s it really like to share your home with an international student?
AFS Exchange Students come from 90+ countries to attend high school in the U.S., improve their English, and build bridges of understanding across cultures. They range from 14-18 years old and are usually eager to experience even the smallest parts of American culture. Something totally mundane or trivial to you may be fascinating or noteworthy to your host student. Since almost everything is unfamiliar, even just going to the grocery store or cooking meals together offer fresh adventures and reveal intriguing cultural differences.
Our students possess a myriad of interests, hobbies, and passions. Many are eager to try American sports like football or cheerleading, while some want to maintain their artistic pursuits while they’re in the U.S. In the host family letters students write when applying for their exchange program, students often cite how excited they are to experience American high school spirit, clubs, and after school activities. Many exchange students are also accustomed to living with siblings and pets.
AFS Exchange Students often blend into your family dynamic in a short amount of time. Many host parents quickly begin to see their exchange student as a child of their own:
As your host student adjusts to your family routine, you may take weekend trips, attend sporting events, or go on family outings together. Exchange students tend to dive into their high school life, so you may get to see their games, plays, or performances! No matter how many memories you make with your exchange student, you’d be surprised what they’ll remember most. When exchange students are asked about their favorite memories with their host families, it’s usually the little things like having breakfast together or playing board games or sharing inside jokes that stand out most.
Are host families paid?
No, host families are not paid. However, you will be entitled to a tax deduction each month that an AFS student stays in your home.
What is required of an AFS Host Family?
As a host family, you will provide your student with:
1.The opportunity to participate in your family’s daily lives and events
2. The same care, support, and comfort you would another member of your family
3. A bed, not convertible or inflatable in nature; sharing a room with a sibling of the same gender close in age is fine
4. Three quality meals, including lunches and meals eaten as a family in restaurants
What is a host family’s financial obligation?
AFS students arrive with their own spending money for social and school activities, clothes, etc. As a host family, you will not need to provide spending money or an allowance.>
Does the student speak English?
Yes, all students have a demonstrated level of proficiency in English. Our students come to the U.S. with a desire to immerse themselves in the language and to improve their level of proficiency.
What if problems arise?
AFS Volunteers have a lot of experience in placing participants with families and we provide extensive support throughout the year. However, if the placement does not work out satisfactorily, AFS assumes responsibility to move the participant to another family.
What we do to support you
Beyond carefully matching you with a host student, AFS has a support network poised to help your family and exchange student learn through the natural ups and downs of the homestay experience:
Each host family and student are assigned a local volunteer liaison: Liaisons communicate with you and your student individually at least once a month. If a conflict is identified by your family or student, your liaison is the first line of support to resolve the issue.
AFS staff are on call: AFS Staff facilitate communication with partner countries about any concerns or questions that require the input of the natural family while a hosted student is on program. In most cases, your liaison is best suited to deal with issues directly.
24/7 support: Should you or your student ever have an emergency, you will have access to 24/7 support through our Duty Officer system.
Orientations to prepare you and your student: Orientations are usually scheduled at critical junctures in the cultural adjustment cycle to provide guidance and support to both you and your student.
Health and Safety for Hosted Students: Participants receive information on personal safety as part of their orientation to the AFS experience. We encourage all participants and host parents to discuss this information with each other and their liaison.
Tips and Resources: AFS guides you through what you can expect during your year with your AFS student to ensure a successful intercultural exchange.
Hosting an AFS Exchange Student has an extraordinary impact that extends from your home and family to your community and beyond. It can change the way you and they see the world. Expand your horizons and family by hosting an exchange student.