How to Make Your Foreign Exchange Student Feel Welcome

Written By Trent Lorcher

A teenager shows up at your house--, a teenager you’ve never met. She’ll be staying for the next 9 months. Her understanding of the United States comes primarily from TV and Facebook. Your understanding of her culture comes from Google.

Hosting a foreign exchange student can be a little awkward. Learning how to make a foreign exchange student feel welcome, however, can turn awkwardness into awesomeness.

How to Make a Foreign Exchange Student Feel Welcome

Orientation. Start by orienting your exchange student to her new home. Show her the bedroom, the bathroom, and other common areas. Show her where to keep her things. Try to get your exchange student into your routine—dinner time, homework time, bedtime—but be sympathetic. Your new arrival may have just taken a long trip and is undoubtedly tired and disoriented. If you can provide a table or chart, something with visuals, it could help the first few days. It also makes sense to stick to the routines you outline. Consistency is the easiest way to build habit.

Expectations. Once your exchange student gets settled in, one of the first things you need to do is establish expectations and rules. Things that are acceptable in your exchange student’s home may not be acceptable in yours. Be clear on curfew, having friends over, alcohol use, etc. Be cognizant, however, that cultural norms in the country your exchange students comes from might be different than yours. In addition, make sure you’re following the guidelines established by the exchange student coordinators. If you feel like you both need something to keep you accountable, a shared contract or agreement can distribute the burden so you both have things to work on.

Family. You already know how to make a foreign exchange student feel welcome. Treat him or her like a part of the family! Because, in essence, your foreign exchange student will be part of the family for the next several months. That means helping with homework, teaching accountability, giving rides, eating dinner together, giving support, and the million other things parents do for their children.

Siblings. Let siblings be siblings. When we hosted a high school student from China, we knew it would be a very difficult adjustment for everyone, everyone except my 6-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. MySo as my two teenage children awkwardly tried to make connections those first few weeks but, the my two younger ones treated her just like they would their older siblings. Eventually, the teenagers came around, too, and the three became brothers and sisters as well.

Homesickness. It is inevitable. You can’t eliminate it, but you can help relieve the emotional stress of homesickness. If your town has an international community that caters to your student’s ethnic group, take her there. If not, make familiar foods, or even better, ask your exchange student to teach you how to make familiar foods. Although you’ll want to allow your exchange student access to their home country via email, social media, or video chat to friends and family back home, you’ll want to help your exchange student form a network of friends locally. That, in the end, will provide the cure for homesickness.

Space. It’s important for exchange students to have their own space—their own room, desk, or private workplace—so they can regroup and recharge away from their “crazy American” host family. When we hosted a student from China, we were required to provide a private bedroom with a dresser and desk. Luckily, we had the space. If you don’t have the space, do your best to help your exchange student feel they are entitled to and deserve a bit ofwelcome with a little bit of privacy.

Participation. One of our best memories of our exchange student’s 9 months in our home was coaching her basketball team. Even if you have neither the time nor the knowledge to coach basketball, there are other ways to participate in your exchange student’s life. Meet her friends. Go to parentt-  teacher conferences. Attend sporting and other events. In other words, do those things you’d do for your own kids.

Culture. Your exchange student is obviously learning tons about your culture. Take advantage of hosting an exchange student and learn about her culture. A simple visit to Google, Bing, or Yahoo can teach you more about foreign culture in a few hours than your Social Studies teacher taught in a semester. Not sure the information i’s accurate? No problem, you have a credible source in your home. Ask her.

Hosting a foreign exchange student provides wonderful experiences, notwithstanding the challenges of nurturing a young person far from home. Start off on the right foot by helping your exchange student feel welcome in her new home with these few tips..



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About the author

Trent Lorcher has taught high school English for 19 years. In addition to hosting a foreign exchange student from China, he's traveled extensively, including 18 months in Central America, 2 years in Italy, and additional time in Mexico, France, Morocco, and Spain. He dreams of one day retiring to Spain with his beautiful bride in a place big enough for their 5 kids to visit.

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