Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student: Your Questions Answered

Group of multiracial teenagers holding globe

Hosting a foreign exchange student can be a life-changing experience, for both yourself and the young scholar. You’ll create a lifelong bond by accepting another child into your family and will learn about other cultures (without the expensive airfare). It can also help you re-evaluate your own lifestyle and invest in your culture, as well as make some money on the side, especially if you work as a freelancer.

However, a hosting journey isn’t all fun and games. Being solely responsible for another human being is no walk in the park – it comes with added responsibility and can sometimes result in a burdensome experience.

To find out all you need to know about what hosting a foreign exchange student entails, if you’re eligible and if you can earn a salary for your efforts, keep reading.

What Does Hosting Entail?

Welcoming an international student to your country, who is seeking to travel abroad and learn your language and culture, is what hosting is all about. You will welcome the teenager into your house and treat them as part of your family, while ensure you are accommodating.

There are different types of hosting scenarios, including two to six-week stays, six months or even a full educational year. Depending on your preferred programme, you can decide to accommodate students through the summer period when you are less busy or even for a few weeks.

There are many hosting programmes available online which allow host families the flexibility to control when and how long guests stay in their homes. These programmes are open to children, teenagers, gap year students, families and adults looking to travel abroad and stay with locals to receive a true cultural experience.

How Long Does the Student Stay?

The period of time the student spends with you depends on the type of programme they have selected. The usual length of stay is either one semester (5 months, from the beginning of September or January) or one school year (10 months, usually September to June).

In the UK, many exchange students stay on programmes for up to six weeks which is usually carried out throughout the summer period.

What Are the Pros of Hosting?

  • It can be a rewarding cultural experience: Host families get to share their culture and their way of living with the student. But, most of the time, they learn a lot from their student, too – they get to learn about their background and their culture in return, discovering new things from a different cultural perspective.
  • You’ll help another person grow: As a host parent, you can be involved in helping a student grow as a person. You can teach them values that they might not have learned back at home, and it can be immensely satisfying when you see their educational process and character flourish by the end of the year.
  • You’ll make lifelong friendships: Many families stay in contact with their guest students long after they have gone and are even invited to important life events, such as weddings and anniversaries. It truly can be a life-changing experience.

What Are the Cons of Hosting?

  • There’s no guarantee it will run smoothly: Although the student and family may seem compatible on paper, there’s no guarantee that it will be a smooth ride when it comes to it. Some families have had to deal with misbehaving students and have been forced to request their removal.
  • It requires a lot of time and energy: You’ll need to make sure you provide meals every day, including healthy snacks and transport, as well as the kind of care and attention you would provide your own children with. That said, it’s often more time-consuming than looking after your own children, as you will feel even more responsible for them.
  • It’s not cheap: Having an extra mouth to feed and someone else to look after may seem easy at first, but when you rack up the electricity, water and internet bills and other expenses (including family events), you’ll see that it can burn a hole in your pocket.

What Are the Requirements?

To qualify for eligibility to host a foreign exchange student, the main family member must be above 25 years old. There are no specific requirements on whether the family should have children, but students should be able to interact with other family members. Agencies ideally prefer for the teenager to enter a household with two or more people where they can interact with children as well as adults.

You will need to apply at least three months in advance before accepting your first guest to ensure you’ve completed all the questionnaires and criminal background checks. You will also be required to provide adequate food and shelter, so you must consider your financial position before volunteering to become a host family.

What Are Your Responsibilities?

As a host family, you will be responsible for providing three quality meals per day, including any outings to restaurants – after all, you can’t go out for a meal and expect the student to pay their own way! You must involve them in your daily life events and give them the same care, support and comfort as you would do with your own children.

You should also provide a safe and comfortable area for them to sleep and study. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they need their own room, but they do require their own bed. If a student shares a room, it must be with a host sibling of the same sex and in a similar age group.

Do You Get Paid for Hosting a Student?

Most exchange programmes in the USA do not give hosting families any form of income. It’s usually done on a volunteer basis to ensure both parties have a mutual experience. In this instance, the family will receive a $50 (about £35) tax deduction per month for the student’s stay.

In the UK, taking in a student can be a great way to supplement income – for example, the government’s rent-a-room scheme allows tax-free rental income of up to £4,250 a year or £2,125 for a couple letting jointly, according to Chris Norris from the National Landlords Association.

Hosting families usually receive up to £100 per week per student if they are simply hosting. If you are a qualified TEFL teacher, meanwhile, you can earn an additional £25 an hour for tuition fees.

What Happens If You Don’t Get Along?

If you don’t get along, you don’t have to put up with a teenage rebel in your house for up to a whole year. The student is expected to follow your house rules, so if for any reason they choose to ignore you, you can contact your agency and request for the student to be placed with another family or sent home.

They will initially try to resolve the issue, but if it’s something that you will not accept, they will quickly find another housing alternative for the exchange student.

How Can You Make Sure it’s an All-Round Good Experience?

Hosting a foreign exchange student can be challenging, especially if it’s your first time inviting an international teenager into your home. By following the tips below, though, you’ll be able to make sure it’s an all-round good experience.

  • Make them feel as part of the family: It’s important to make the exchange student feel welcome in and part of your family. Ask them lots of questions about their life at home and their country and make them feel like they can in return ask you anything.
  • Set boundaries: you might feel that because the student isn’t your natural child, you should let them get away with chores and other responsibilities. Don’t do this – you need to give them the same jobs that you would to your own children. Get them to put their own washing on and clean the table after dinner.
  • Encourage them to get involved in activities: They may feel shy to attend after-school activities or social gatherings but don’t let them hide. You should encourage them to socialise with other children their age so they can build great memories.

Welcoming a foreign exchange student can be a life-changing experience. If you have the correct mind-frame, you can help improve someone’s life by making them feel as part of your family.

Have you hosted a student before or are thinking of hosting in the future? If so, join in on the conversation below to let us know your thoughts and experiences…