Young woman talks with a young girl

Pros and Cons of Being a Foreign Exchange Host Family

So, you’re thinking of taking on a foreign exchange student?  Well, make sure you weigh the all the facts before you decide what is right for your family. Let’s take a look:

Pro: You are extending your family.

Taking on a foreign exchange student isn’t simply accepting another person into your life for a short time. You are creating a lifelong bond that will continue to form and grow after the student has stopped living in your home. Host families typically stay in touch with students who have lived with them, keeping track of their growth and experiences well into adulthood.

Con: You are taking on another responsibility.

Many host families already have biological or adopted children, and entering an exchange program gives you another person to look out for. You have to make sure they’re happy and healthy, just as you would do for any of your other children. This can sometimes prove to be burdensome for the host family.

Pro: You will learn about another culture.

Foreign exchange students don’t simply assimilate into your customs. They bring with them a rich collection of experiences that will help you to broaden your mind and forge a deeper understanding of the world around you. In taking an interest in the culture of your student, you will be demonstrating the respect required to form a lasting bond. It’s time to use those French classes you took back in high school.

Con: Sometimes these cultural differences can lead to problems.

Be upfront, but also be understanding. What is considered commonplace in one part of the world may be seen as obscene in another. In order to not offend anyone, it’s important for all parties involved to be willing to step outside of their comfort zones. For example, don’t be offended if your exchange student is hesitant to try your family recipe for lasagna. You might not be so keen to try squid if you went to live with someone half a world away from your home.

Pro: You are helping out another person.

You get a chance to check off that good deed for the year. You are helping another person learn about your culture and change the way that they’ve been taught to approach life. That’s a huge step. Plus, it’s fun to teach someone about your culture. Can you imagine trying to teach an out-of-towner (out-of-countryer?) about basketball or Miley Cyrus?

Con: There might be sibling rivalry.

Just like in any family, sometimes kids can be very competitive with one another. They may fight over who gets to choose what’s on tv or who gets to shower first in the morning or any number of seemingly miniscule things. This can make for a negative experience for your newcomer. You have to put in the extra effort to create an atmosphere of respect and ensure that everyone in your home feels welcome.

Pro: You get to see life through the eyes of another.

It’s amazing how even the smallest of new experiences can impact the way you see the world. You are taking this a step further when you have a visitor from another country. You are understanding different ways to approach life that you haven’t even thought of before. It’s pretty much guaranteed that you will walk away from this experience with a deeper appreciation for the world around you.

Con: You are providing a different set of rules that your student is used to.

If you expect your children to be home by 9:00 on a school night, you have to be sure to make that clear. Your host child may be staying out until midnight. They have spent their entire lives up to this point learning the expectations that their natural parents have, and they are probably very different from your own. It is very likely that they will unintentionally step on some toes, at least at first.

Pro: This is a great teaching moment.

This will prepare the children that you already have for living in the world outside of your tender care. Everything from embracing those who are different to learning to share is right there in front of them. They will come out of this as more mature and more accepting people, which the world needs more than anything else.

Con: It isn’t cheap.

You now have another mouth to feed; another person using hot water; another person to take to the movies. This can add up fast if you let it. Before taking on this responsibility, you need to be absolutely sure that your checkbook is as eager as your are.