How to Meet Your International Student for the First Time

You’ve taken the plunge and you’re matched with an international student. Question is, are you ready to embark on this cultural exchange experience? Speaking mostly to first time host families, there’s a lot to know and prepare for and that lingering doubt that you’ve prepared enough is hanging around.

“Will we be good at hosting?”
“Will they like the bedroom?”
“Will they like my food?”
“Will they like my home?”
“Will they like my family?”
“Will they like me?”

You’re right, there’s a ton of stuff to consider before becoming a surrogate parent to someone else’s teenager (mic drop).

But seriously, you got involved because you want to be here; you want to help. It’s a big responsibility. Especially when you consider all you invest in your own children. If you don’t have children, then this is especially for you.

You’ll probably meet your student online before you greet them in-person. Whether connecting electronically or face-to-face, the following tips for making a good first impression are guidelines for your initial encounter.

1.  Preparation – it really helps to do some research about the simple customs of your student’s country and culture. A little knowledge goes a long way to at least communicating that you care enough to learn. Proper greetings, simple native phrases, body language do’s and don’ts, how much to smile, etc. are a great foundation to relationship building in addition having tools to break the ice. They will have prepared the same for you!

2.  Remember why you’re here – It’s not about you, at least not entirely. Your attitude and personality are going to shine through anything you say or do. Keep the mission at the forefront of your mind; that you’re hosting to help a child from another country learn our culture and prepare for US college. They’re far from home and family and friends and they’re going to need you.

3.  What to wear baseline to business casual is usually most appropriate. You don’t need to rent a tux and you shouldn’t look like a hobo. Again, demonstrate the importance of the student and the whole experience by looking good. Casual dinner attire should be just right.

4.  What to look for body language constitutes most of our honest communication:  posture, facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, etc. can all be meaningful “tells” about what your student’s general demeanor is. Trust that they are nervous regardless of whether it shows. If it looks like they’ve been crying, take one approach. If they practically run to you, take another. Be open to meeting them where they’re at and respond accordingly.

5.  What to do – no matter how nervous you may be, your student is more so. Your first meeting is a grand opportunity to show off the old adage, “if you lack confidence, fake it until it grows.” You’re the adult, all the time and in every situation; stay emotionally in control. Kids can smell fear and they’re turned off by over-exuberance. Be the genuine article and a good leader.

6.  What to say – your student is a second language learner. Familiarize yourself (through host family training and research) with the challenges they encounter. Have a few basic questions ready to go. Keep it simple and then find the level they’re at. Watch your cadence, speed, and vocabulary. These kids aren’t dumb nor deaf, just in need of a good listener with lots of patience and perseverance.

7.  Who to talk to – seek out the counsel of a professional in the field. You should have an agent or program manager who has profile information about your student and some experience with these types of meetings. Try not to rely too heavily on the past experience of other host families. Their hosting situation was completely different than yours will be. They may have some good tips but be careful not to adopt their attitude – good or bad. That can impair your expectations and how you need to adapt to the unique changes on your horizon.

So, embrace your anxiety like a boss. Don’t worry too much about the things that come after your first meeting. This is the first day of many with your student and it should be relaxed and special. Put your best foot forward and in the right direction on your hosting journey.


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About the author

Mr. Walker is in his 8th year of working in the International Student industry on the heels of a 17 year career in government after deciding a career singing opera wasn’t an optimal choice. He and his wife, the lovely Susan, have been dedicated host parents to a multitude of students since 2011. Raising 4 daughters and 4 years of experience as a Program Manager for EduHup have uniquely prepared him to now serve as Training and Content Manager.

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