When I returned from an amazing year in France as a university exchange student, I wanted to continue to support international understanding. For a few years, I volunteered with Mercy Corps, an NGO bringing life-changing programs to aid those in devastated areas such as Syria and Ethiopia. My husband and I have also hosted several exchange students over the past few years. Someday soon I'll share stories about those host family experiences, but in the meantime, here are five reasons you should consider hosting an exchange student:
1. There are always more exchange students applying to come to the U.S. than there are American host families. If a host family is not located here in the U.S., these students may be sent to another country of their choice (perhaps their second, third, or even their sixth country preference), but they miss out on the American experience that they would have preferred.
2. You don't need to commit to more than a few weeks of hosting. Even if the student is coming for a school year, you can offer to be a "welcome family" (hosting him or her until a more permanent home is found). In doing this, you help the student find a placement in the U.S. instead of being sent elsewhere.
3. There is no such thing as a perfect host family, only an imperfect family willing to host. Single and childless individuals, retirees, gay couples, smokers--people from all categories and walks of life have hosted exchange students. (Parents of exchange students usually have the right to decline non-traditional family placements.) Host families must pass a criminal background check, of course, but in general, the desire to welcome and host a student is what matters above all.
4. Hosting an exchange student takes less money and space than you might expect. Host families are expected to provide shelter and meals, but a student can share a room with a sibling of the same gender. Students bring their own spending money and purchase their own school supplies. This said, you should provide for the student what you would provide for your own children, such as transportation for school, or a restaurant meal when your family eats out together.
5. Most importantly, your family will benefit from a larger and deeper understanding of the world. Hosting one of the world's children adds a new dimension to your family. At best, you gain a lifelong honorary family member with whom it's never been easier to stay in touch. And at worst, you'll collect some stories worth retelling, and you'll rest confident in the knowledge that you stepped forward and opened your home when you had the opportunity.
Curious about hosting? There are many exchange organizations operating in the U.S. I have worked with AFS Intercultural Programs in the past, and I have also heard positive feedback about programs through Rotary International (both are large non-profit organizations). Andeo International Homestays is a smaller (and perhaps more personal) non-profit exchange organization here in my home state of Oregon.
In the future, I'll share some tips for choosing an exchange organization as well as tips for new host families. In the meantime, what's holding you back from hosting? Please share your thoughts and concerns about hosting by adding a comment to this post. Here's to the courageous families willing to show hospitality!