Over 2,800 students visit the United States every year because of the efforts of the International Student Exchange. It is a process that involves cultural immersion and academics that offers a side effect of improving diplomatic relationships around the world. It is a project that has helped thousands to experience a different way of life in the more than 50 years of the program’s existence.
It is a J-1 visa that allows a foreign exchange student to begin studying in the United States. Individuals can stay for up to 12 months with this entry, studying in a public school while staying with a host family. This opportunity was first offered in 1961 through the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act that was created by Senator J. William Fulbright.
If you decide to start hosting a foreign exchange student, then your volunteer efforts can bring many enriching experiences into your life. When the teens return home from their experience, then their stories that are fueled by your efforts help to encourage others to look at the United States (or whatever country you call home) as a future opportunity for success.
The goal with the pros and cons of hosting a foreign exchange student is to take away a position of cooperation and understanding. Instead of focusing on issues that can create conflict, this program and others like it want to show that peace can happen when education is a priority.
List of the Pros of Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student
1. You are helping someone experience life in a different country.
What makes humanity strong is our diversity. When we get an opportunity to experience a different culture or way of life, then it adds to our overall perspective on each decision we make. Your choice to host a foreign exchange student allows them to start this journey of independence in a safe way. There will be many questions about the reasons why you choose to do particular things in your routine. You’ll get a chance to talk about your traditions while introducing them to fun activities.
At the same time, you are getting the chance to learn about the culture and country of your exchange student to learn from them too.
2. Hosting a foreign exchange student gives you a new family member.
Even though hosting a foreign exchange student is a temporary arrangement, many of the teens find that they gain another family because of their experience. It is an opportunity for you to add a son or daughter to your life. You’ll be bonding with that teen in ways that you may never expect. Most students in this situation are grateful for the opportunity that your family provides, and there is going to be plenty of laughter around as you make new memories.
Most foreign exchange students stay in contact with their host families long after they return home. It is not unusual for their family to return the favor by hosting you at their home if you can make a holiday excursion to them.
3. This opportunity allows your children to learn and grow.
The goal of hosting a foreign exchange student is to help them learn more about your culture and traditions, but your children will grow from this experience in some interesting ways too. Your entire family is going to get to know what a different culture is like over the time that the teen spends with you. Their host sibling will often tell them stories of their home country, and younger kids are fantastic at asking questions that can facilitate the learning process. The bonds that they create are often stronger than the ones you form during the hosting experience.
4. There is an attachment that occurs when hosting.
Although there are some disadvantages with the attachment that occurs when hosting a foreign exchange student, you will see that there are some benefits too. It can be a challenge to let them return home at the end of their stay, but the relationship you form with them is something that lasts for a lifetime if you’re willing to put in some extra work. Make plans to call each other at least once per week. Exchange emails regularly. You never know – they might want to come back to attend college because of their experiences in your home.
5. You will go through a screening process.
Once you decide that hosting a foreign exchange student is an opportunity you wish to pursue, the program with which you choose to work will take you through a screening process. This procedure lets you know if your home and family are ready to take on this responsibility. You’ll be asked to provide numerous pictures of your house, including the toilet, your faucets, and even the light fixtures. You must also fill out a profile about yourself and provide four references.
Students who enter the program are highly vetted as well. The goal is to pair teens with families that will put them on the fast track to success.
6. There is always a honeymoon period.
When families start getting to know someone new, there is a honeymoon period where all of the behaviors and negativity go away. If you have children, then they tend to be on their best behaviors as well. Barbara Reggio wrote for the City Mom’s Blog in Columbia, SC, about her experience with a foreign exchange student.
“I sing in the choir, so Donny say with my husband Jonathan, and two kids, Lucie and Asher. He held Asher the entire mass, and I have never seen my children behave so well!”
7. You will discover new habits that you’ll want to incorporate in your life.
Everyone brings something unique to the experience of being in a family, so a foreign exchange student is no different. Whether there is an extra emphasis on manners, an attitude of gratitude, or helpfulness is offered readily and without asking, there are a lot of positive ways that everyone can change because of this program. There are always some negative behaviors that might show up every now and then as well, but for the most part, these teens know that coming to a different culture and school to learn is an opportunity that they cannot mess up.
8. Some programs offer a small stipend to host families.
Most of the exchange programs in the United States do not give hosting families any form of income. There is an expectation that this is a volunteer experiences so that all parties can focus on the relationship instead of the transaction. You may be eligible for a tax deduction depending on the length of time the foreign exchange student stays in your home.
It is a different story in other countries, such as the United Kingdom. The government’s rent-a-room scheme in the UK provides a weekly stipend and tax-free rental income if it applies. Qualified TEFL teachers can earn an hourly rate for tuition fees too.
9. Foreign exchange students are expected to follow the rules.
Teens might not like to follow the rules 100% of the time, but there is a general expectation that a foreign exchange student will accept the guidelines of your family as a condition of their experience. If the teen refuses to follow your house rules, then experienced agencies will give you the opportunity to request that the student leave. Legitimate placement firms have the students sign contracts about their behaviors or commit to specific guidelines. You should be able to contact your agency to request a different placement or to have the teen sent home.
There will be initial efforts to resolve the conflict in your home if the foreign exchange student is rebellious, but the outcome must be something that you will accept. If the resolution is not suitable, then an alternative can help to restore peace in your home.
10. It can be a tradition that starts to run in the family.
When The Guardian asked families who had experience hosting foreign exchange students to discuss their experiences, Naomi Burgess talked about how her daughter insists that she’ll continue the practice when she gets a home of her own. “We have been cooked for by the son of a Chinese chef, had designer birthday cakes made before our eyes, been guests of students’ own families abroad, and had our house looked after and cat fed by returning students,” she wrote.
List of the Cons of Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student
1. Teenagers are the same from anywhere in the world.
Life with a teen brings complications. There is a language barrier to consider when you decide to host a foreign exchange student as well. You have no way to know what the values were in their family before they came over to join yours. That means there will be even more challenging times where you might want to pull your hair out – especially if you have a teen at home too. If your student was raised not needing to pick up after themselves or doing chores, then there will be a culture shock for both of you.
2. There are costs to consider when hosting a foreign exchange student.
Every child brings an added cost to your family. There is no difference with this disadvantage compared to any other way your household would grow larger. They’ll be paying to arrive at your home, and you won’t be worrying about their medical expenses, clothing, or the extras they need while attending school. Your extra costs involve going out to dinner, a night at the movies, and the general expenses that come when you’re supporting someone.
3. You might experience attachment issues during their stay.
When you are hosting a foreign exchange student, then that teen might spend between 6-12 months under your care. By the time you make them an integrated part of your family, they are getting ready to pack up and return home. It is not unusual for the households who decide to provide this service to question their decision at this point. There are some questions that you might ask yourself as well, such as whether or not they will write – or even remember you. If there are younger children in your family, they will be upset by the departure of the student as well.
4. There can be issues with sibling rivalry.
Kids are highly competitive, and a foreign exchange student is no exception to this rule. When you extend the invitation to someone to serve as their host, then you might experience arguments over who gets to choose what is on the television. There might be fights about who uses the bathroom or for how long. The number of competitive issues with children and teens can be plentiful, and it is often over some of the most trivial things. Not only can this be a challenge for your family, but it could also make the exchange a negative experience for the student you host.
5. Some students have ulterior motives for entering an exchange program.
Although most foreign exchange students come to a host family because they want to further their education, there are some significant exceptions to that rule. Sun An-Tso was in the Philadelphia area as part of an exchange program when he used school resources to learn how to buy guns in the United States. Then he boasted of a plan for a school shooting as he assembled weapons and over 1,600 rounds of ammunition in his bedroom in the home of his host family.
There is always a risk that the teen you decide to take into your home has fooled the screeners and will be with you for illicit motives. It may be wise to have an attitude where you trust, but verify their behaviors throughout their stay.
6. There are specific household requirements you will need to meet.
Most foreign exchange student programs require that the primary member of the host family be above the age of 25. There are usually no specific requirements about whether or not families should have children, but it is usually mandatory that the teen gets a chance to interact with other family members. Most agencies prefer that the students enter a home with at least two people where there are multiple interaction opportunities.
7. It is up to you to set boundaries for the foreign exchange student.
Some families get into trouble because the feel that chores and household responsibilities are unnecessary because the foreign exchange student is a guest in the home. If you follow this line of thinking, then you are setting yourself and the teen up for an uncomfortable experience. Even if there is some resistance to the idea of working as part of your family, you need to give them the same chores that you would to your own kids. A great place to start is to have them take care of their laundry and clean the table after dinner since those efforts rarely go against the culture differences you can sometimes encounter.
8. You can encounter communication issues.
Many foreign exchange students speak English as a second language. That means you will need to speak in smaller sentences with simple words to help them understand. At the same time, their first language will be their fallback option for speaking, which can lead to uncomfortable situations if you don’t know what the teen is saying to you. If you have a little time before the student starts living in your home and the agency tells you where they are from, learning a few of the basic words and phrases from that new language can be very helpful in the early days of this new relationship.
9. You may need to update your homeowners’ insurance.
Most homeowners’ policies contain exclusions of some form that may not cover the foreign exchange student entirely while they stay in your home. You might be limited in the number of guests that stay with you. Liability limits on expensive items like jewelry, art, or electronics might apply. You might need to purchase a rider or extend your policy in specific ways to ensure that the teen, your home, and your family are fully covered in case something happens.
Verdict on the Pros and Cons of Hosting Foreign Exchange Students
There are approximately 28,000 students who come to the United States each year through a variety of different exchange programs of varying length. Their motivations vary, ranging from a desire to improve their English to establishing their independence. Some want to live life like an American teen, while others want to get involved with sports, enjoy what it is like to have siblings, or embrace the idea of being an explorer.
The families who welcome these students are enriching the lives of these teens as well as their own. Most have fantastic experiences with their programs, but there are a few horror stories that can make some people think twice about volunteering.
That’s why the pros and cons of hosting a foreign exchange student rely on your current circumstances, patience, and flexibility. If you ask plenty of questions, go through the screening process on both sides, and look for compromises, most people do not regret their time spent with these programs.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.