TIPS FOR HOST FAMILIES: PREPARING FOR STUDENT ARRIVAL

So, you have taken the plunge and made a commitment to host an international exchange student—congratulations! Making the decision to open your heart and home ensures that you, your family, and community will be host to a valuable cultural experience with your student. No matter how long the homestay is scheduled for, from just a few months to a whole academic year, there will be a shift in your home life as you welcome the student and become a part of their experience in the United States. Here are a few tips to help you get prepared.

Get in touch with your student periodically

While all students will have a competent degree of proficiency in English, it is important to remember that it is not their native language, and students may feel nervous about complete language immersion. Some students may be more comfortable communicating by writing via messaging or email. This gives them an opportunity to get to know you, practice, and get ready for their journey.

It is best to keep messages short, simple and sent with less frequency. There are resources your coordinator can direct you to about how to approach speaking English with your student. In many cases, you will also be in touch with your student’s family back in their home country. All communication prior to student arrival is essential to building the relationship and connection.

Please do make sure to get in touch with your student while they are traveling to come meet you. Many people like to use the application Whatsapp to stay in touch. This way you can make sure you are at the airport at the time of arrival and can whisk your student away once they come out of customs. Make a sign! Believe it or not, you may not recognize your student when they arrive and they may not recognize you from your host family application photos.  Make a sign simple enough for them to recognize their name. Balloons or flowers are always fun too!

Consider how the student will fit into your daily life

During the placement process with your local coordinator, you likely learned about the personality and interests of your student. Their interests may help you get an idea of what kind of extracurricular activities or hobbies they may want to partake in during their exchange. The student’s integration into the community creates a better cultural exchange, and as a host family, you will help facilitate that integration through support. This may mean making plans about who will transport the student and how, figuring out how to support the student with their schedule and schoolwork, and more related duties of hosting.

In addition to considering the needs of the students, it is also a good idea to think about your expectations for the stay. Students are expected to follow family rules and assist with household chores. Before they arrive, discuss a plan about how to communicate house and family expectations to the student. This will set you up for a successful cultural experience.

Prepare the living space

In all likelihood, this immersive experience will be the longest time the student has ever spent away from home, so it is important to help them feel as comfortable as possible. Before making the decision to host, you have already considered how your home will accommodate the student, so you can spend time prior to their arrival focusing on the little details.

Your student will likely arrive with gifts for you from home. What better way to make your student feel welcomed by having a gift basket?  It does not have to be elaborate, but something fun like a t-shirt from their high school, local favorite sports team or something showing American spirit (great to grab these at 4thof July clearance sales), gift cards to your favorite restaurant or movie, deodorant, their own loofah, postcards, a key to your home, some of your favorite sweets or snacks, a picture frame, are some ideas.

Ultimately, students will have to figure out how to transport all of their belongings back to their home countries at the end of their stay, so keep things light. Throughout the student’s stay, you may want to allow room customization to the extent you are secure with while allowing the student to settle in and make the space their own.

Schedule time for adjustment

The first few days after the student’s arrival may be overwhelming at times because the student is adjusting mentally and physically to a new environment. Beyond prior communication with the student, you can help make them feel welcome to their new home by finding a small gift or planning a future activity that you can enjoy together. In most cases, students are in for a long and exhausting trip and will appreciate having all the essentials available to them upon arrival, so they can rest and start enjoying their American experience faster.

Making plans for the day of the student’s arrival and for the following days is crucial to help them get acclimated. This time is perfect for establishing a bond with your student and helping all involved in the exchange feel comfortable. Be conscious of their energy levels the first few days and make sure to engage with them to see how they are feeling. Once they start to settle in, then the fun begins.

While there can be a substantial amount to prepare for as you get closer to welcoming your student, you can rest assured that your cultural experience with them will be a positive one. Once they arrive, there are also plenty of simple things you can do to help them adjust to their life in the United States and in an American school. In the meantime, enjoy your time prior to your student’s arrival and keep an eye out for an invitation to host family orientation.

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