High School students around the world dream of studying abroad as a foreign exchange student. They study for challenging language exams. Students fill out lengthy applications and write personal essays. Families pen heartfelt letters. These tasks emphasize the academic aspect of the exchange program, yet the host family’s role is paramount to the exchange experience.
My friend first posed the idea of hosting an exchange student as a desire of her own. This same friend now works at a malnutrition center in Haiti that she helped start. Needless to say, she has a passion for people. Passion tends to rub off on me and I began exploring what it takes to host a high school student.
Married for two years with an almost-one-year-old, surely we were too young and inexperienced to take this on. As a stay at home mom with a babysitting side gig, and a support raising full-time student pastor, there was no way we were “financially stable” enough to host this year. There seemed to be way too many roadblocks for this to be an option for our family. However, we had a cozy house with an extra bedroom, little did we know that was all we needed.
There is a Great Need for Host Families
It was already August and school was in session when we began looking at what it would take to host a student. We contacted an area representative that I found on Facebook. She explained the predicament many students were facing in their home countries without a host home. Students, in their home country, were packed and ready to go- but they didn’t have a host home. Families who had saved money months in advance that would soon feel defeated. Teenagers who put in hours of diligent work who would be told to try again next year. The odds were stacked against them as well.
Before we knew it, we had student profiles in hand. We read students’ interests, activities, and letters to the host family from the student and their parents. It did not take long for us to find a student that seemed to match our family perfectly. Less than two weeks later we were greeting our first exchange student at the airport. We hosted Hyungwon from South Korea for a school year and we were forever changed. Our cultural knowledge expanded. We learned to problem solve with a language and culture barrier. Opportunities we never expected to have were opened up to us, and we could trace it all back to our “yes” to hosting.
Becoming a Host Family Changes You
Saying goodbye to Sissy (what our son affectionately called Hyungwon) felt like I was losing a daughter, a sister, and a friend. We knew we wanted to host again one day, but needed some time to let that “sting” wear off. Two years and a new baby later we hosted Daniel from Mexico. His courage challenged me daily as he stepped out of his comfort zone in order to grow and mature. Our sons accepted him as a brother immediately, and he loved them. He attempted to teach our oldest to play chess and he helped our baby learn to walk. Daniel gave me a peek at what parenting teenage sons could entail.
Most recently we hosted Thant Thiri Maung from Myanmar for two weeks. IU’s Office of International Development has partnered with several countries around the globe to develop student leaders. They send students to Bloomington for two weeks to develop leadership skills and partner with them to implement these in their home countries. Than Than, as she became known to us, was passionate about her culture and loved to share about her home. Even in her short stay, she left a lasting impression on our family.
Not every moment with our exchange students was a dream. There were adjustments everyone had to make. Sacrifices were made by all parties involved. Now, as I look around our home filled with gifts from around the world I look forward to our next adventure. Whether you host a student for two weeks or four years, I guarantee you will gain more than you lose.
Things to Consider as You Explore the Idea of Sharing Your Heart and Home
- There are many organizations and agencies that send and sponsor students locally. Find out which organization meets the needs of your family best. There are options in Bloomington to host students for multiple years, a full school year, a single semester, or only two weeks.
- You could host as a short-term welcome family for a student who needs a host home but hasn’t yet been placed.
- Most agencies provide awesome support not only for big issues but even small issues that may arise during your student’s stay.
- There are surprisingly few requirements for hosting! One of the big ones is students need to have their own bedroom or share a room with a sibling of the same sex.
- You don’t have to provide an entertaining experience. Most students prefer an authentic experience.
- There will be a change in your routine as you add another person to your family.
- You will gain family all over the world and wish you had a larger travel budget.
- Your kids will become more globally minded as they are loved on by a “sibling” from another part of the world.
To not risk sounding like a commercial for any specific organization, I will not list the various organizations in this post. If you would like to know more about how you can host leave a comment and I will happily connect you with a coordinator in your area!