Things to know when hosting exchange student
July 12, 2011 7:41 AM   Subscribe

We'll be hosting an exchange student this summer, not via an agency but FoaF relative. If you've hosted an exchange student, what was your experience like, and any advice to share ?

We're an easy going family with kids. A good friend asked a group if anyone wanted to host he niece for a few weeks this summer. Niece is French, and would like to spend time in the US with a family to learn/sharpen her English language skills.

We figured why not, sounds like fun. I have no worries and figure it will be a fun and interesting experience for all of us.

But I would solicit advice from anyone that's hosted an exchange student about what troubles you ran into, or things you did that were good/bad/whatever.
posted by k5.user to Human Relations (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How old is the niece? Does your friend have children roughly the same age as the exchange student?

I've not hosted exchange students, but have been around many who've been hosted by others at my school. In talking with the exchange students, what they've enjoyed most is doing the very touristy things your area has to offer, shopping (every single one has enjoyed this immensely), and hanging out with American kids. I can't emphasize this enough- most US kids (in my experience) are wonderful with exchange students. They love to help with language development and will talk for hours.

A few weeks is plenty of time for kids to develop strong friendships (to the point where they Skype and text constantly after the exchange student returns home). Several students I've taught have gone to visit the studnets who previously came here.

Basically, I'd recommend taking the exchange student to the touristy, fun places your area has to offer. Long drives are exciting for the exchange students I've been around. Secondly, try to provide an opportunity for the exchange kid to hang out with Americans in her age group (supervised as necessary, of course, to prevent all those things that kids sometimes do).
posted by jz at 8:51 AM on July 12, 2011

How old is the girl? How long will she be staying? That would help with answers.

General teenage girl stuff - ensure she has privacy etc.

What do teenagers her age do in your area, can she join in some activities?

How independent will she be able to be when she's with you? What's public transport like where you live? If she's old enough to embark on this trip she's probably navigating her home town pretty independently using public transport. Will she be able to move about and explore independently where you live or will she need to rely on you? Could you borrow a bike from somebody for her to use during her stay?

What rules are you going to have for her anyway?

Has she got any dietary restrictions/any medical conditions you should know about?

Random thought - if this was an organised trip she'd be covered by the group insurance and any dealings with the insurer would be down to the adults accompanying the group. As this is a private trip she will need travel insurance. Clearly her parents should worry about that in the first instance but you would have to help her access medical care while she stays with you. So it may be a good idea to ask her to show you where she keeps relevant documents and how to contact her parents so you know in an emergency.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:07 AM on July 12, 2011

Good questions.

She'll be turning 17 while here, and will be here for 3 weeks in August. She does not have a drivers license. The public transpo isn't so great in our area. It is a bikable area (just avoid the major roads, which is possible). She's said she likes to bike and we do have a good adult bike available.

Our kids are under 5.

We are (or need to, not sure of status yet) talking with her mom about the insurance angle. We can cover a sprained ankle kind of med-express costs, but more serious things are a worry. Part of that email is also food likes/dislikes/allergies.

She will have her own room, and we have a computer that she can use. There are several neighbors with kids close to her age.
posted by k5.user at 9:16 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try to find a teen group activity that you can take her to early on in her trip. A town-sponsored summer festival, a church youth group thing, host a bbq block party so she can meet all the neighbors, etc. Ask every teenager you know what's going on in town. The whole of her trip will be more fun if she can start making friends early on. Then that opens the doors to her going places with them, and all sorts of good times you don't have to plan.

A definite agreement to planning some tourist trips with the whole family. The countryside will look different than she's used to, so don't feel bad about spending a bit of time in the car. Even if she doesn't realize it and thinks she'd rather spend time at the mall, she would feel dumb going home after 3 weeks in the US not having seen something all her French friends would have heard of (like monuments in DC).

I'd start collecting local maps, bus schedules, fliers about tourist attractions, etc. i.e. not just "here's a bike" but also ideas for where to go, how to get there, and maybe get a prepaid cell phone for while she's here.

Oh, and on the theory that she's going to make friends and go places with them, make sure you get a feel from her parents how much independence she has at home - i.e. if the neighbor kid invites her to go to the beach with them, when does she have to be home, does it matter if its all teens and no parents, etc.
posted by aimedwander at 2:16 PM on July 12, 2011

About halfway through the trip take her to a big American grocery store. Let her know she can buy anyfood she thinks is interesting and anything she misses from France. (under a certain total price or something like that)
posted by raccoon409 at 3:28 PM on July 12, 2011

We had a teenage French exchange student live with us for some time when I was small, like 4, and I had trouble understanding boundaries with her, like "well why can't I brush my teeth in the bathroom if she's taking a shower? I can when [sister] is showering!" Maybe talk with your kiddos about guest vs. family house norms/rules. I hope it works out well!
posted by ShadePlant at 3:42 PM on July 12, 2011

Even though it's a FoaF situation, treat it formally. Create a list of expectations so it's clear between all of you what will happen. Friends that have hosted kids connected to people they know seem to get into trouble when the kid crosses the line. The hosts are afraid to speak up for fear of offending their friends. Written expectations can help prevent some of this awkwardness and give you something to fall back on if the kid is out of line.

And then give her a chance to communicate her expectations, too. Is she willing to babysit? (With small kids it's pretty easy to treat a teenage guest as a live-in babysitter.)

The more all three of you talk the better it'll be.
posted by wallaby at 4:47 PM on July 12, 2011

I haven't hosted any exchange students, but I have been hosted living overseas a couple of times. I think there were a few things that helped me:

--definitely what wallaby says above: the clearer the guidelines, the better life is for everyone. Really think about what you expect from a teenager! It's easy to get into the trap of, "oh, she's our guest, so we'll just bear through this thing she's doing that we can't really stand." That's no good for anyone.
--do your neighbors or friends have teenagers? It might really help to be able to have some people who can introduce her around. Is there a cafe that's within biking distance where kids her age hang out? Let her know how to get there!
--also on communication: it might be worth your time to buy a cheap pre-paid cell phone to give here while she's with you. That will give her a lot more freedom, and probably give you a lot more peace of mind knowing you can get a hold of her if needed, or if she needs you.
--I didn't exactly love doing touristy stuff per se, but having someone who would tell me stories about the area and give me a sense of the history of the place was something I really appreciated. I'm a pretty big history dork, so she may be different, but have some good stories ready if she seems interested.
posted by wandering steve at 10:13 PM on July 12, 2011

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