All about hosting a foreign exchange student

When I first started thinking about hosting an exchange student last spring, I searched and searched for information and resources. And while I did find some great blogs and forums I was still starving for more information.

I’m at the halfway mark of my first year hosting and while I’m in no way an expert host parent (How could you be? Every kid is different!) I thought I’d share a little bit about my experience.

First – if you have ever thought it would be neat to host, but think you can’t because {fill in the blank} – definitely look into it further!  I am a single mother of 2 that works full time and hosting works for us. I have seen it work for big families, small families, single parent families, families with little babies and more.  The main requirements are a bed of their own, a place to study, reasonable transportation and 3 meals a day. They have their own funds for extracurricular activities, toiletries and clothing, outing with friends and other necessities.

These students are usually 15-17 years old and are required to have decent skills at English and good grades at home.  The overseas partner will take a lot of time interviewing and making sure the students have the right mindset for a year away from their natural family.  My student says it was mindboggling how many questions she had to answer during the interview process.

My student is a full year student and she will stay with us for the whole year – no trips home. Nope, not even for Christmas.  The only exceptions might be a death in the family or perhaps an illness that is easier/cheaper to treat at home than in the US.  With that in mind one of the most important parts to a good year is making sure you embrace your student as part of the family and encourage them to do the same.  The more they can participate in even mundane things like grocery shopping or your company picnic, the more they will be able to immerse themselves in their experience and benefit from it.

Speaking of family  – you definitely don’t treat family like guests, right?  Don’t treat your exchange student like one, either. Your student will settle in better if you help them understand what their chores are and how things work in your house, what foods they can help themselves to.  I talked with one student recently who was so glad that her host parents gave her chores, because it made her feel like part of the family.  I took F to a family reunion just a few days after she arrived – yikes!

At the same time – these ARE teenagers. Be prepared to parent them just like you would your own kids.  You’ll have to remind them about stuff, counsel them about friends, sign school papers and monitor grades, and be ready with a big hug if they get homesick.

I was lucky enough to skype with my host daughter for several months before she came. When she got here we felt like we knew her already (my boys skyped too, of course).  Now I call her my “daughter from another mother” and don’t even want to think about her going home.   I know Ian will cry for a good week at least.  We watch Buffy and Vampire Diaries together, and this weekend we all started knitting projects.  She loves my cooking and I’m compiling a cookbook for her to take home.  We have inside jokes and can not only talk about anything but also enjoy a comfortable silence.

The benefits for the students are clear – they are able to improve their English schools, learn another culture, and experience US high school life.  When F started school she was not only in love with football games and pep rallies, but also the cafeteria, lockers and heaven help me, cross country.  F has been amazed by how much volunteer work is necessary here – helping to pack Christmas food boxes at a local assistance organization was a real eye opener for her.  She has also learned Southern English, and can almost say y’all correctly.

The benefits to host families are less publicized but just as wonderful. We have learned about other cultures as well – how Swiss francs compare to USD, how to count to 10 in German, how school and holidays and meals are different in Switzerland.  But even more – we have learned that the world is a big place and most people are both very much like us and very much unlike us.  I already see my boys (and me) becoming more open minded and understanding of others.  Hopefully, we will never be the people that talk LOUDER to people for whom English is a second language.  I think we have learned how to understand when people need a little extra clarification.  This does not, however, stop my sweet boys from yelling “OMG, don’t you speak English??” when F says something a bit off track from standard English. We’re getting there, though!!!  (She just rolls her eyes at them, by the way, because she is truly a big sister).

My boys are already adamant that we again host next year – I am 99% sure that we will.  I have a few things that need to be sorted out first, but we love the experience and can’t wait to meet our next student/family member.  We know we already have a family for life in Switzerland and look forward to visiting in a few years.  Who will be next, and what will we learn?

My kind of day!

Today is rainy and gloomy and we have nowhere to be.  This morning I slept in a little (never, ever enough) and was able to have coffee alone before the kids woke up. That right there is a win.

Then we ran some very quick errands and have been relaxing ever since.  I do have some chores to do, but the world won’t come to an end if I skip them today. So I have knit a little (and taught my exchange student, F how to start a ruffle yarn scarf), read a little, made some bread, surfed a little and now I’m drinking some wine.  I’m happy with all my food choices so far today too.  I think after dinner we’ll either watch Buffy or Vampire Diaries.

I really like days like this.

ruffle yarn

I have also clarified some goals for the month:

  • NO credit cards at all unless there is an actual emergency.
  • Stick with my calorie counting and no-fast-food resolutions (and get my ass to the Y and TKD classes!!!)
  • Try to keep my grocery budget around $100/week. More on that mess later.
  • Complete at least one crafty project.

That’s all pretty reasonable, I think!

I am participating in the NaBloPoMo challenge for January and posting every day this month. However, I have never been a consistent blogger so most of my posts are probably going to read as more a journal entry than a useful bit of information for your life.  I think that’s OK, because my purpose right now is to get into the habit of writing every day.  It gets easier as time goes by, I imagine, and my style will get more defined. I just thought I’d mention that, since right now I might seem to be rambling a bit. :)

First day back to reality

I take my vacation at the same time every year. I’m off from right before Christmas more or less through January 2. And I swear every year I walk back into work and it’s like I never left . Today was tough because of the timing – there was NO traffic downtown, it was like everyone was taking off but me. And the sky was cloudy – followed by rain in the afternoon.  Ouch.

At any rate, I did OK with food but totally bailed on going to the Y.  F (exchange student) was watching the boys since aftercare was closed and I just didn’t feel right going to work out while she was babysitting.  I know that sounds like a total excuse, but… oh well!

I forgot to mention one of our big resolutions – no fast food for an entire year!  For the purposes of the resolution, I am counting fast food as anything with a drive thru, pizza and delivery.  We can go to sit-down restaurants on occasion, though.  This will save money and help in the goal for healthier food.  I got buy-in from the boys by telling them that if we make it a year without fast food, I’ll buy them an X-box. The savings should MORE than pay for one.

However to make this pledge/resolution work – I need to have not just menus planned but also a few back up meals on hand.  Sometimes I am just too wiped out to even cook what I planned, so I need a few easy ideas up my sleeve for those nights.  So far, so good, though and we’ve made it since December 22 without any convenience foods!

I’m going to spend some time this weekend mapping out 3-4 backup food plans to keep on hand that work within my own food goals. Pasta is so easy but doesn’t really help me in the weight loss realm.

Happy New Year!

I started my day by weighing in – I now have my official starting point for this year.  I’m not happy about the number, but it is what it is and it’s where I’m starting for this new year.  Then we had bacon and eggs and went to Mass (it’s the Solemnity of Mary, a Holy Day of obligation).  I had no problem getting up early because we were all bed between 9 and 10!  I’m not much with the staying up til midnight.

For once, we didn’t have any errands to run after church – so we came home and had smoothies for lunch. The boys didn’t like them at ALL, even though theirs just had blueberries and coconut milk.  Weird.   That’s fine, more blueberries for me. Those things are spendy!

My days feel all messed up – I have to go to work tomorrow so it feels like Sunday, but then there’s a weekend right after that, so yay!

Dinner will be Sirloin Dijon from Everyday Paleo, but I’m going to cook a little spinach in bacon instead of the brussel sprouts.  All of this plus a little Cabernet puts me right at my calorie goal and more or less at my macros so I feel like I’m off to a good start.

My project this evening is getting my thoughts together about how the kids can help more. Currently A helps with taking trash out, but Ian doesn’t do much at all and he’s plenty big enough to.  I mean, they both pick up when asked but it’s always a big drama – I’d like to get to maintenance mode especially with busy season coming at work.

One other thought – my elderly (18 this month) cat is acting a little different. Not sick, but different. He’s never been a bed or lap kitty but lately he is sleeping in my bed and today he’s been on my  lap twice. I’m loving it but also a little taken aback by it.  Maybe his old bones are just seeking out more warmth in the winter.