The beginning of our family is not a common one. My relationship with my husband began in high school while he was a foreign exchange student and although our story is an amazing one to tell, I will have to leave the details for a later time. Our beginnings; however, did shape the decision to host a foreign exchange student later in our lives.
We made the decision to host and become family to someone from a foreign country because we wanted to give a student the chance to experience what my husband was given many years before: a phenomenal year in the U.S.A.
We made the decision to host early in our marriage; however, we decided to put off the process until our children were older so they could fully enjoy and experience getting to know a person at their age level. It was a goal we held to and saw come to realization 17 married years later. Our oldest was 14 years old and entering her sophomore year of high school the following year when we began reading profiles for students. Needless to say, it was an exciting time! But let's back up a moment...how did we get to the profiles, how did we really begin? Great questions!
Two years before we began hosting, my husband began his research into hosting organizations. We were determined to find an organization that would be a dedicated advocate for both the host families and the students, have clear rules in place, and one that kept the safety and overall development of the students at upmost importance. These attributes started with the organization having a phenomenal online presence (i.e. website, social media, etc), great interactions with ambassadors and educational coordinators, and testimonials from students, host families, and parents. We looked into several organizations such as AFS, EF Exchange, International Student Exchange, and AYUSA.
After careful searching, website scrolling, and calls, we decided to host through EF Exchange. One of the largest reasons why we chose this organization is because of one of the International Exchange Coordinators. His knowledge, attention to detail, and a large amount of resources for both students and families gave us peace of mind that the organization's dedication to the safety and welfare of students along with the compliance and peace within the host family was held to high standards.
To start our process, we had an interview with, who would be, our future IEC (International Exchange Coordinator). We talked openly about our goals, hopes, and hesitations. We asked questions and became comfortable with the process of becoming a host family. Come to find out, it was quite simple. My husband and I (ok, more like just me) filled out a plethora of paperwork about our family and answered many important questions such as the names and ages of our children, what types of pets we had, what a typical day may look like in our family, the geography and population of our city, the school's name in which our student would potentially be attending, how many students attended the school, the chores we would expect of our student, ways we planned to handle conflict, allergies we may have, if we were religious and how many times we attended services, if we were open to LGBTQ persons, if we were open to other religions, and many more. The paperwork was simple because we know our family and open honest answers were all we were giving. It was exciting because we finished the paperwork with a letter to our potential student. Once we finished our paperwork, we had a house visit so that our IEC could evaluate our living situation and see where our student would stay.
He took photos and we had a wonderful time chatting and drinking a glass of water together. Finally, we were allowed to look at student profiles online and were given a website that allowed for filtered searches including but not limited to gender, age, country, and half or full-year terms. We chose a girl, of European regions, and one who would be entering into her sophomore year. We also wanted to a full school term student.
After viewing a few profiles, we narrowed our search down to two students. One student was a referral from our IEC and we found the other through the website. The decision was an easy one to make as we took into account all of our children's personalities and the type of city we live in. Our IEC's student recommendation originated from a large metropolitan city in Germany with easy access to public transportation, no siblings, and she was a vegetarian. Despite her charming personality, wonderful English, and great grades, we knew coming to an American home without public transportation to the big city, with four siblings, who eat a large amount of meat, and live in a very small city might be too much of a culture shock for her. Instead we went for a student who had common outdoor interests with our family, came from a small town so as to consider our city different but not too much a culture shock, and was hoping to have a family with animals. We were a perfect match!
EF Exchange filed the necessary paperwork with the local school system and it all became a waiting game to see if the school would accept our student based on how many students had applied, what grade level, and what country. Each school system is different in their requirements such as how many foreign exchange students they will accept but others have further requirements such as ours which will not allow two students from the same country to be enrolled in the same grade level. If you have questions about local school requirements, contact your local Board of Education.
Our Board of Education accepts students starting in February so once the acceptance was official we were told the match with our student was a success! Now we had to wait 2-3 days for the Exchange program to contact the student and give them the good news before we could contact them. It only took our student 24 hours to learn of our choice and she emailed us promptly. According to our student, having a family pick you is an amazing day unlike any other. You (as a student) fill out tons of paperwork and then wait to see if you are chosen. To find out you are wanted by another family based on your paperwork is an absolute dream come true.
Our student's name is Lia, she is from Switzerland, and we spoke with her as soon as we could arrange a full family meeting which allowed for the time difference to not be a problem for both families. We met via the WhatsApp app and video chatted. We were able to give her a tour of our home, introduce her to our animals, and chat as much as strangers can. It was nice to be given time to get to know Lia as much as we could over messages and video calls before her arrival in July. It really broke the ice and allowed us to become a part of her life before we became her American family.
The process to become a host family to a foreign exchange student is super easy and very rewarding if you diligently look for a child who will mesh well in your family. Hosting does not pay in monetary rewards but in lifelong relationship rewards and offers you a chance to learn about a new culture while sharing yours. Lastly, hosting a student fulfills a lifelong dream most of these students have had their entire lives. Take the time to consider if you would like to host a student, you will have a new son or daughter for a lifetime. Finally, if you have any questions about the process of hosting or any reservations you may have, feel free to leave a comment. Simply login as a member to leave a comment and subscribe to receive your free ebook from yours truly.