Cultural Exchanges and Home Stays ⋆ Portland Early Learning Project

by PELP Team on 10/12/16

Have you ever considered hosting a foreign exchange student? Cultural Exchanges or Home Stays are a great way to learn about another culture and even practice a different language. According to the International Student Exchange website, young children are perfect host siblings as their interest, curiosity and acceptance of people different from themselves is strongest at a young age.

Cultural Exchanges can last anywhere from a few weeks to a whole school year and can be a good fit for traditional and non-traditional families. There are many different agencies that facilitate these exchanges, and a quick internet search will help you locate the right one for you. Additionally, you can check with your local high school for suggestions.

Of course opening your home and family to another person naturally comes with its ups and downs. Here are a few things to consider before hosting a foreign exchange student.


Having another child in the house will change the dynamic. Having a teenager will really change the dynamic. Be prepared to spend more time with your student to help with homework, have conversations, or maybe even drive them places. No one thing is going to require a lot of time, but your time will need to be allocated differently and this requires some adjustments.

You will need to be prepared to parent and discipline if necessary. Establish the rules upfront (like curfews or screen time) and be prepared to enforce them.


Any foreign exchange program coordinator will tell you, it’s not the host’s responsibility to entertain students. The goal is to have them participate in normal American life. However, if you plan on taking a family vacation, or going to the movies, or out to dinner, you will have another ticket to buy or mouth to feed.


At the end of the school year, you will have come to see your exchange student as one of your own family. Saying goodbye will be hard. You might worry about how your children will take the separation. Will the student remember you? Will they keep in touch? Is it even worth it to form such a close attachment if this new family member leaves after nine months?

Most host families would answer that question with a resounding “yes!” Here are some of the benefits that come from welcoming an exchange student into your home.

Gain a son/daughter

Be prepared to bond with your exchange student in a way that is enriching and fulfilling. They will rely on your to help them navigate their American experience and for that they will show you gratitude and love. The memories you make with them will last a lifetime.

They will pitch in and become part of the family. Maybe they will cook you a dish from their country. They will tell you everything you want to know about life in their country; the differences, the similarities, what they miss, and what they don’t miss. There will be plenty of time to get beyond the basics and learn more than you would, even from a short vacation to their home country.

Play Tour Guide

Just as you will be learning a lot from your student, you will have the opportunity to show your him or her your world, first hand. Take hikes, visit parks and scenic areas, take them grocery shopping or to a mall. Even daily errands can be a fun experience for someone new. Bring them to your church and let them participate in youth groups and meet more friends. Take them to a soup kitchen or a clothes closet to volunteer. Your routine is the ultimate country tour for them.

Help your own children learn and grow

Families of exchange students agree that having an older kid in the home has its distinct advantages. Exchange students are generally smart, motivated, hard-working and accomplished, and that provides a great example for younger family members.

Having another person in your home can change the dynamic in a good way. One family found they were a little nicer to each other and more polite because there was someone else around watching them all the time.

One mom says, “It was a good opportunity for my kids to learn to help someone and to get to know someone they hadn’t met before. It took some prompting, but they could come up with questions and activities to engage the student and I think that was good practice for learning to interact with new people in general.”


Here we are, back at attachment again. Yes, it’s one of the negatives of hosting an exchange student, but ultimately, it’s one of the greatest benefits. Growing close to, and getting to know someone from another culture adds richness and dimension to the life of your family that would be hard to replicate any other way.

If you’re thinking of hosting an exchange student, contact your local high school for recommendations on agencies.

Have you hosted a foreign exchange student before? Tell us about it!

About Afton Nelson

I live in Portland, Oregon and have a degree in communications and English from Brigham Young University. I’ve been blogging and writing professionally for seven years. You can find more about Afton at here.