The Complete Guide to Hosting an International Student
Hosting an International Student
Each year, students from all over the world come to study in the United States and their number continues to grow. During the 2015-2016 school year, a record 1 million students came to study at colleges and universities across the country, not including some 90,000 students who arrived to study at American high schools. Each of these young people arrive looking to gain something from American culture and education, and for many - especially at the high school level, this includes a stay with a host family, or homestay.
If you’ve ever considered hosting an international student but you aren’t sure where to start, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know to get started on your hosting journey!
Difference Between “Study Abroad” and “Exchange” Programs
Before we get started, one quick note about terminology. An “exchange student” technically refers to a student on a particular type of visa (usually a J-1 visa) whose purpose is to learn as much as they can about American life and culture, which may or may not include a serious education along the way. Their stays could be anywhere from a brief one or two-week camp up to a maximum 12-month stay. In contrast, an “international student” is one whose visa (usually an F-1) and purpose are purely educationally focused. This student’s goal is to be educated abroad and they may or may not be as interested in learning as much as they can about American life and culture along the way. International students here on the F-1 visa may stay in the U.S. until their course of study is complete, which may mean four years or even eight or twelve if the student chooses to pursue a university degree or beyond. It’s a subtle difference but one that can potentially affect a student’s perspective and what they hope to gain from their experiences, which includes the degree to which they want to engage with their host family. While true "exchange students" are less and less common and make up only a small percentage of the number of international students who come to the U.S., the term persists and is the one that most people commonly use, so we’ll use both it and the term “international student” interchangeably throughout this article. (Click HERE if you're interested in more detailed information about the differences between J-1 and F-1 students.)
Pros and Cons of Hosting an Exchange Student
Hosting a student is one of the most enriching experiences a family can have, but it is also a fairly serious undertaking, and it includes its own unique challenges along the way.
Pros for hosting…
- Host families get to share their culture and way of life with someone from a different background, and many families gain so much more than they give.
- Both the student and family learn new things about the world from encountering a different cultural perspective.
- Many fun and lifelong memories are made.
- Host parents have the opportunity to invest deeply in the life of a student as they help them to grow and thrive in their education abroad experience, providing encouragement, guidance, and support. Many times, they get to see this investment pay off as the semester or year progresses!
- Many host families gain cherished new “family members” from the hosting experience, with friendships that last a lifetime.
Of course, anything worth doing is not going to be easy 100% of the time, and certain challenges can arise…
- Even if the student and host family seem very compatible up front, that is no guarantee that the relationship will go smoothly. Like with any relationship, host families and students have to put in the work to get through the rough patches.
- At some point or another, the student will fail to meet the host family’s expectations. Whether it’s in their personality, a failure to keep house rules, or their school/camp performance or involvement, the host family will have to be patient. Remember also that host families usually fail their student’s expectations at some point as well!
- Hosting a student can require a lot of time and energy. A dependent is being added to the household, someone who needs to be fed, transported, conversed with and supported, and all of those things take time and effort.
Just remember that any challenge can be worked through and overcome with patience, perseverance, and support from your partnering hosting agency!
Requirements to Host an Exchange Student
There are really very few strict requirements to become a host family. Obviously, your intention should be to nurture and support a student and not exploit or abuse them in any way, and thus any good hosting agency will run background checks on the adults in your household to ensure that there is no criminal history that would in any way jeopardize the student’s safety. You should ensure that you and the people living in your household can provide a safe environment - no drug or alcohol abuse, domestic violence, etc.
As to the specifics of your home, there aren’t too many strict requirements here either. Your house can be large or small, a single-detached house or a condo. Your house will simply need to meet general safety standards and you will need to provide the amount of space required by your hosting agency for your student. Some can require as little as a bed, closet space, and a shared bathroom. Others might require a full bedroom and a shared or private bath. Just be sure to check your company’s specific requirements before or during the application process. It also goes without saying that you should be willing to let the student use all the common areas of the house (under supervision, if necessary) and generally make themselves at home.
Besides these basic requirements, host families come in all shapes and sizes regardless of any external factors such as race, marital status, age, etc. The best host families are simply hospitable, patient, flexible, open to new experiences, and committed to their student’s well-being and success!
What to Consider Before Hosting An Exchange Student
Before you contact a hosting agency or fill out a host family application, it’s best to answer these questions of your home and family to make sure you’re ready to be ready as a host family and to define your parameters.
- Who do I want to host?
Do I want a high school student, a college student, an even younger student? Each of these differently aged students come with differing levels of responsibility, transportation needs, joys, and challenges.
- Do I want a male or female student?
Some families want students that are the same gender as their children, others want to give their kids the experience of having a different gendered “sibling” in the family. Still others will have the goal of forming a specific type of relationship (e.g. a mother-daughter bond) with their student which will influence their choice.
- Is my family ready to host?
Does my spouse, partner, children, and/or other household members understand what we are doing and the responsibilities involved? Are they prepared for changes to the family routine or schedule as a result of adding a new person to the household? Are they ready to be flexible and accommodating to a student?
- How long do I want to host for?
Hosting opportunities can be a brief one or two-week camp, a summer program, a semester, or a full academic year. How much time do you want to commit to this endeavor?
- Is my home ready?
While your home does not need to be lavish or large to host, you will obviously need at least some free space for your student - bedroom, closet, bathroom space, etc. Your house will need to be safe and inviting and you should be willing to let the student have full access to common family areas like the living room, kitchen, laundry area, and yard.
To help you with this process, AmeriStudent’s accrediting agency, CSIET (more on that later!) offers a great tool that can help you find a company that fits what you’re looking for. Click here to check it out!
Free vs. Paid Programs to Host an Exchange Student
Earlier, we mentioned the differences between an exchange student and an international student. Families who host exchange students on a J-1 visa are not permitted to be paid. The idea is for the experience to be purely a learning one. While these host families do not get the financial benefit, their student is usually one who is truly interested in making the most of their stay. There are many companies who coordinate study abroad and exchange programs that do not compensate their host families. Hosting for these types of unpaid programs can be a big plus because it usually means that both you and the student are in it solely for the experiences and cultural exchange.
On the other side, this genuine desire to connect with a student and share culture can and should be present even if you are being paid! Being compensated to defray the costs of adding another member to your household is a major benefit for most people, and many homestay companies do provide some type of stipend or compensation for hosting. Just remember that in paid arrangements you may get a student who is less willing to engage as the relationship is more transactional.
Ultimately, there are so many factors beyond the compensated/uncompensated aspect that determine the success of any hosting arrangement, so go in with an open mind, willing to nurture and support your student no matter what!
How Much Does a Host Family Get Paid
While the amount can vary from company to company, it usually depends on the specific region or market you live in and what the specific requirements for hosting are (e.g. How many meals per day need to be provided? Is the host expected to provide transportation?). Companies tend to offer a similar range of stipends in a specific region to stay competitive with each other. At AmeriStudent, our stipend typically ranges from $1,000-$1,400/month for our long-term, academic year students.
How to Become a Host Family
Your first task will be to research and select an agency to host with. A simple web search for “host an international student in (fill in your geographic region)" should yield dozens of results and options for you to consider. In the next section we’ll give you some pointers about what to look for in a hosting agency.
After finding a company you’d like to work with, you will need to fill out a host family application. The application process varies, but most companies (and especially the good ones) will have a multi-layered application process, including getting some basic information about your family and home, references, background checks, and home visits. At AmeriStudent, we try to maintain a thorough application process which is at the same time as painless and quick as possible for our host families. Our initial application takes only 10-15 minutes to complete, after which the application is checked for completeness and the applicant is personally contacted by one of our staff, references are contacted, and initial background checks are run. After these steps, a home visit is scheduled to ensure that the information provided in the application is accurate and the home seems safe and inviting.
After you successfully complete the application process, you will wait to be matched with a student. The demand for hosts tends to be seasonal, with high demand during the summer and late fall in the lead-up to the start of the fall and spring semesters, respectively. If you’re not matched right away, just sit tight for a few months. Most companies want to maintain a large pool of qualified host families who are ready to go as soon as the next wave of homestay needs arise.
What to Look for In A Host Family Program
The international student industry has exploded in recent years, with more and more agencies popping up to take advantage of the demand for study abroad experiences in the U.S. It’s imperative that you do some research into a company before you sign on with them. Unfortunately, there are a number of agencies out there who are not operating at optimal levels to support you in your hosting journey. In these situations, the safety of both the student and the host family can be jeopardized, or the host family may feel ill-equipped or downright abandoned when challenges arise. Here are some good questions to have ready for an agency that you are considering hosting for:
- Are they CSIET certified?
The Council on Standards for International Educational Travel, or CSIET, is a non-profit watchdog organization whose mission is “to provide leadership and support for the exchange and educational communities to ensure that youth are provided with safe and valuable international and cultural exchange experiences.” (www.csiet.org) While a company doesn’t exactly have to be CSIET certified to be a good one, a CSIET accredited company will give you the peace of mind that they are adhering to a number of strict standards relating to organizational stability, financial integrity, the screening and training of students and host families, and operational procedures. AmeriStudent is proud to be fully listed on the CSIET 2017-2018 Advisory List because we are 100% committed to the safety of our students and host families!
- How does the stipend work?
How much is the stipend and when is it paid? Does the company issue a 1099? If a student leaves early, is the stipend paid in full or prorated? Does the company have a host family reference who can vouch that they were paid in full in the promised timeframe?
- What about safety, insurance, and legal documentation?
Who is responsible for insuring the student during his/her stay? Does the company have background checks and other safety protocols in place? Who is responsible for securing the student’s visa before they arrive?
- What kind of training or support will I receive?
Especially if you are a first-time host, you will want to have the peace of mind that your agency is there for you at a moment’s notice if a significant challenge arises. You don’t want to work with a company who will drop a student at your door then be completely unresponsive as things progress. The same signs of any good company are helpful to look for as you begin your initial contacts and application - are they responsive to your questions? Do they get back to you in a timely manner? Are the staff friendly and helpful? Do they help you know what to expect at each step of the process? Do they offer regular support once you have your student? Hint: ongoing support is at least equally important (if not more important) than any kind of initial training they may offer at the beginning stages of getting your student. What good is a training seminar if the company will never speak to you again when challenges arise in real-time throughout your hosting experience?
- What are the requirements for regular home visits?
Home visits are used to evaluate how you and your student are doing. Some companies will visit you every month, while others have less frequent or even non-existent visits. These visits can be time-consuming for a busy family, but they are also another level of support. They offer the opportunity for face-to-face time with a company representative who can help you and your student with any issues that have come along.
- What are the feedback requirements?
Many companies will require some form of regular reporting back to either the company or family to detail how the student is faring. Ask what these requirements will be and how much of your time they will take up. AmeriStudent requires their host families to provide at minimum, once monthly reports that include photos and general information about the student’s disposition and whether there were any accomplishments or challenges that arose the previous month. While detailed, these reports only take about 15 minutes to complete.
How to Make The Hosting Experience Run Smoothly
There are three stages to hosting a student, and these tips will set you up for success at each step of the way.
Before the student arrives:
- Do all your due diligence with paperwork, contracts, training, etc. with your chosen company. While it may seem like busywork at times, each of these steps is vital to protecting you and your student should any issues arise in the future.
- Prepare your student’s room or space. The best rule of thumb is to put yourself in their shoes. If you were a young person traveling thousands of miles away to live with complete strangers, what kind of room would you hope to have? A dirty, cluttered, or prison-like space? Or a clean, inviting, and homey room that’s ready for you to make your own? Do what you need to create the latter!
- Familiarize yourself with your student’s school schedule and calendar. They will be very overwhelmed in the first few weeks and by doing this you can help them to know what to expect and guide them along the way.
When the student arrives:
- Give your student a tour of the house. Your student will be sharing your home with you for however long their stay, so make them feel at home by showing them more than just their bedroom and bathroom. Keep in mind that they may be unfamiliar with how to work your appliances, and they will need to know small details like where the toilet paper and clean towels are, or which rooms they’re allowed to take food in.
- Explain any house rules and expectations. Your student may not end up keeping your rules perfectly, but it’s helpful to state your expectations at the beginning. It’s a conversation you can always return to in the future when they need to be reminded of the rules.
- Be flexible with meals. Your student may need time to adjust to the types of food you regularly eat. Be patient with them and in the beginning do your best to avoid turning food into another cause of stress as they are already dealing with culture shock in so many other ways. Once things settle down they will probably be more willing to branch out and try new foods, and adjusting to a new diet and how your family eats will take time.
- Let them rest. You may be excited to take your student sightseeing to all your favorite places or introduce them to your friends, but try to take it easy in the beginning. They may be jet lagged and overwhelmed by all their new surroundings and may just want to sleep or stay home. Give them time in the beginning to rest and get settled before loading up their free time with extra activities.
After the student settles in:
- Stay engaged. Some students will be talkative and eager to join you and your family in whatever you do. With these students, it’s easy to maintain a good idea of whether they’re struggling in school or having trouble making friends. However, some students will be far less engaging. While it may be frustrating, do your best to stay involved in their school and home life while still respecting their need for space. Keep encouraging them to talk to their teachers and make friends at school, and keep inviting them to join your family outings. They may just need time to warm up to your family, so keep extending the invitation.
- Recognize that cultural differences matter. Different cultures express things like anger, disagreement, or requests in different ways. Your student may say one thing but then appear to contradict themselves in the next moment. Before you jump to conclusions, remember that there may be differing communication styles in play, and be sensitive to the fact that your student might be too embarrassed or intimidated to tell you what they really think.
- Reach out if you need help. If you’ve selected a good company to work with, they will be happy to help as situations arise. It’s better to ask for assistance while the situation is still small than wait until it mushrooms into something worse. Stay connected with your student’s school, and help your student contact teachers or tutors if they need extra help or instruction. And if possible, connect with other host families in your area. It always helps to have others encourage and support you in your hosting journey, and other host families may have some great suggestions for dealing with various issues from their previous experiences.
- Patience and perseverance! No matter how great a student or a host family is, there WILL be challenges! When conflict and miscommunications arise, you can help get all of you through it by being patient and continuing to work at the relationship so that things keep moving forward.
Host Family Review - Michelle’s Story
Last year was Michelle’s first time hosting a long-term, academic year student, but her experience was so positive she is currently in her second her hosting with AmeriStudent! Michelle has the privilege of hosting her student from last year again this year, as they got along so well they wanted to continue their homestay arrangement in the new school year. Her student, Emily, attends Fresno Christian School and through all the ups and downs over the past year and a half, she’s become a beloved member of the family. Here are a few words from Michelle about her experiences with Emily.
Emily fits in our family so well and we have a lot of fun together. We enjoy watching her learn and grow as she experiences the American culture and she has taught us about her homeland also.
I love seeing Emily succeed in school and how much she looks up to my youngest daughter. We have all really bonded well and she is part of our family. She is adventurous and outgoing and always goes with the flow. I love that Emily is willing to try new things and meet new people.
This is our second year hosting and we are thrilled to have her back in our home! She has become part of our family and we are all settling in well again! Emily has a fun personality and we laugh a lot together. She enjoys hanging out with us, going on walks, playing games/puzzles, and trying new food. I have already seen her grow and mature since last year. She is learning to cook and is doing a fine job! She is excited about being involved in the yearbook class at school and is a very talented artist/photographer. We have enjoyed the pumpkin patch and are looking forward to some more exciting holiday celebrations and adventures this year! Emily is like my own daughter and I love her dearly.
My advice to new host families is to set realistic expectations and allow their student some freedom. Invite them to do new things with you but respect their independence and individual time. Maintain harmony in the home by allowing them to be themselves and not micro-managing them. The best way to build rapport is to let them watch you for a while and give them time to come around. Be lighthearted and have fun!
California High School Exchange Program Review - Fresno Christian School
Of all the states in the U.S., California has become the top destination for international students, boasting a large network of excellent higher education options and general prominence in the cultural life of the U.S.
AmeriStudent is based in California and maintains a large network of partnering schools, and one of our first and most established relationships is with Fresno Christian School (FCS) in Fresno, California.
FCS was established in 1977 and is located in Central California on a 15-acre campus. It is a fully accredited, private co-ed institution boasting a robust academic program, excellent faculty, and strong athletic and extracurricular programs, including an award-winning online school publication, The Feather. The school has a long history of partnering with international students and is committed to their success at school, at home, and during the entirety of their stay. The school prides itself on the tight-knit community it has built over the years, so FCS host families gain the huge benefits of access to resources, connections, and support through the larger FCS family. Hosting for the school is a ticket into the life of the local community!
AmeriStudent also maintains an on-campus presence at FCS, coordinating homestay arrangements and tutoring, connecting with the students during the week - anything the students need to help them successfully navigate their time at FCS and with their host families. We also coordinate activities and opportunities for the international students to connect with the American student body. Our goal is to encourage and facilitate the complete integration of these students into their student body and student life so they can make the most of their time in the U.S.
Become a Host Family with AmeriStudent
At AmeriStudent, we can confidently say that we are “walking the walk” in executing all the best practices in this article. We are proudly CSIET accredited, we are committed to safety, excellence, integrity, and efficiency, and perhaps most importantly, our team is 100% committed to supporting YOU! We make ourselves available 24/7/365 to assist you at any point in your hosting journey. Whether it’s as small as some questions about how to fill out our host family application, or as big as a family emergency that’s arisen while you’re hosting, we are here for you! We want to do everything in our power to help you feel equipped and satisfied as you take on the life-changing task of hosting a student - from your first inquiry to the moment your student permanently leaves your house.
If you are interested in finding out more about what it looks like to join our roster of AmeriStudent host families, check out our host family page, or contact us today to speak with an AmeriStudent representative.
Your hosting journey awaits, and we look forward to meeting you!