Bringing the world into your home: The unexpected effects of hosting an exchange student

An AFS Host Mom spreads peace through understanding.

Kate W. has been welcoming AFS Exchange Students from around the world into her family home for the past few years. While hosting an exchange student has always brought her fulfillment, recent national and global events have given Kate a new perspective on the value of person-to-person international exchange – and renewed her commitment to furthering peace through understanding.

Like many parents, Kate decided to host an exchange student in order to give her kids first-hand exposure to other cultures. She explains, "Budget-wise we were never going to travel the world. It was actually a lot easier to bring the world to us, so to speak." Since then, she has seen the "ripple effect" of hosting: "We share the love as much as we can. Each student doesn't just affect our family, they affect the entire community."

With Stephane in Florida.
Kate and her family with Stéphane from Switzerland.

Over the years, Kate's students, some from predominantly Muslim countries, have helped spread understanding in Kate's community and even empowered their host siblings to speak out against discrimination: "I've seen my kids defend things that are just said out of ignorance because people don't understand other cultures. It makes me proud. They have a host brother or sister whose culture people are talking badly about, and my kids have enough exposure now that they can say, 'Hey, you know sometimes things that we see in our news or just believe because of what we've been told aren’t necessarily the way things are.'"

With Harris from Thailand.
Kate's sons and their host brother Harris from Thailand.

Plus, growing close to high schoolers from different cultures has helped her family see that people in other countries are more like Americans than they might expect. Kate says, "In talking with the mothers of these students we've hosted, it really boils down to that we all just want to raise our families the best way we can. Taking away that 'us versus them' mentality and putting it into 'we're all in this together, how can we live harmoniously and accept and learn from each other' makes you realize we're all just trying to achieve the same goal."

with Aisuluu from Kyrgyzstan.
Kate and her family with Aisuluu from Kyrgyzstan.

Other AFS Host Families in towns big and small see similar effects. By bringing people of different backgrounds together, they help create friendships that cross cultures, languages, and national borders. In Kate's words, "People don't always realize the effect of exchange is that you look at people differently when you know them or their culture better. You're more open."

With Jesse from Nigeria.
Jason W. and his host brother Jesse from Nigeria.

If you'd like to play a role in supporting cross-cultural exchange, find out more about how you can bring the "AFS Effect" into your own family home. A local AFS representative will respond to answer any questions provide more information about families and schools currently hosting in your area. In the meantime, meet the students coming to your community this summer and fall.