Direct Placements for Exchange Students: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

myths and facts - featured imageWe sometimes receive emails from parents asking us how they can find a host family for their child for his or her exchange year. We also sometimes hear from people who are seeking a host family in their area for a family friend or a niece or nephew. Direct placements such as these seem to be more popular with J-1 students than in the past, although statistics are hard to come by to prove one way or the other.

There are logical reasons for trying to arrange a placement ahead of time. Parents naturally worry about sending their child to a strange country for six months or a year, and feel that their child will be safer with someone they know. The student may prefer a particular region in the host country, perhaps because they have family or friends nearby.

A student and his or her family – and the potential host family – should consider a number of factors before jumping in and saying “this is the best idea ever!” For some situations, it might be an excellent choice. For others, it might lead to difficulties for all concerned.

What are the requirements for direct placements for J-1 visa students?

498175455 (2) rules and regs
There are always rules to follow!

In the U.S., finding your own host family does not change the U.S. Department of State requirements for screening students and families. Keep in mind the following:

  • The student must be at least 15 and no more than 18½ years old when he or she starts school in the U.S.
  • Students may not be hosted by a relative, no matter how distant the family relationship.
  • English must be the primary language spoken in the host family’s home, even if they are friends of the student’s family.
  • Parents should not choose a host family based on a desire to have their child attend a particular school for athletic reasons.
  • Students may not have previously come to the U.S. on a J-1 visa; the J-1 visa is a one-year opportunity.
  • A high school in the host family’s area must agree to accept the student; for J-1 visa students, the exchange program arranges for enrollment, not the student or the host family. A school is not required to accept an exchange student. Some schools do not accept 15-year-old exchange students. Some schools may have limits on how many students they accept from a given country, and most schools have limits on how many exchange students they accept each year.
  • The host family must go through the required screening process and be approved by the exchange program. Even if the student’s family knows the host family well, the family must submit an application, provide references, agree to an interview in the home, and show that the home is clean and safe. Adults must undergo a criminal background check and all members of the host family should be in favor of hosting.

Advantages to student and family

The primary advantage of a direct placement is the knowledge early on of where a student will be placed. Waiting for placement information makes people anxious, understandably so given the physical distances and cultural differences involved. From a parent’s point of view, knowing the people your child will live with reduces worry and fear. Parents may also feel it will give them more input into their child’s development during the exchange and more knowledge about their child’s daily life.

Disadvantages to student and family

The advantages of knowing where a student is going and who the student will live with are real. We all agree, and J-1 exchange programs work hard to place students as early as possible before students arrive. Many parents feel that trusting the exchange programs to make a match for their child is a huge gamble. Finding one’s own host family, however, also carries risks.

* “Fit” in the host family: Knowing your host family is not an automatic advantage. Friends may not have similar backgrounds. An example from our own experience: a student’s mother and host father knew each other from university days. Religion was an important part of the U.S. host family’s life, but was not a key element of the German family’s life. The student was uncomfortable, but felt caught between her host family and her parents. The conflict could have had long-term negative impacts on the two families’ relationship; it certainly caused short-term distress to everyone involved. Eventually, we were able to convince the host family and the student’s parents that moving her to a new family – even one they did not know ahead of time – would ensure a better experience for the student.

* “Distancing” from family back home: Parents may feel that knowing the host family will help them to have input into their child’s life abroad. This may be true – but it is not necessarily a good result. Students do better when they are totally immersed into their host culture and community, including in the host family itself. It can be disruptive to both the student and the host family if parents back home are saying “this is how we do it.” The student’s parents may not intend to interfere, but rather may simply feel they are helping by telling the host family the rules their son or daughter is used to following. Quite often, however, the result is that the host family feels their student’s family is telling them how to manage their family’s life.

* Inability to play on a school sports team: In the U.S., many U.S. states prohibit direct placement students from playing sports on school teams. Athletics have become “big business” in the U.S.; families will move to a specific town so that their child can attend that school specifically for sports reasons. Thus, state athletic associations often place limits on the ability to play a sport on students moving into an area, including exchange students. There may be exceptions if an exchange program matches a student with a local family through the usual anonymous process. Waivers may be possible for direct placement students, but generally cannot be arranged ahead of time.

What’s the Answer?

So many directions from which to choose
So many directions from which to choose

Parents have legitimate reasons to want to know as much as possible about where their child will end up. We simply recommend that you think carefully before making a decision that the only solution is to find a host family ahead of time. Other options include carefully researching the exchange organization you choose to work with. Researching the geographic area where your child ends up also helps parents and student feel more comfortable. Finally, when you do receive notice from your exchange organization about your child’s placement, take time to reach out and start the “getting to know you” process. It is possible to become familiar with a region and with your child’s host family even if you do not know them previously.

What about you? Are you a host parent who hosted a student who was a friend of the family, or you knew the older brother or sister who had done an exchange? Are you a parent who is nervous about sending your child on an exchange unless you know the host family? Are you a student whose exchange experience was with someone you knew? Tell us your experiences!

Photos ©2015 Thinkstock.com unless otherwise noted.

Mobile Phones and the Exchange Student: What’s the Answer?

The following blog post is an update from my blog post on this subject from last year. We get questions all the time on this subject, and I decided to do a quick update to reflect changes we have seen in technology and in student habits.
The information below may not be news for everyone, but I hope it gives direction to students who have not traveled extensively and to host families who have not previously had to address the issue. Options vary in different parts of the U.S. and with different cell providers, so make sure to check locally!

There is a good chance that phones from another country will not work in the U.S.

Many phones built for use in other countries do not work in the United States. It doesn’t make sense, but that is just how it is. This is happening less often than it used to, but it is still possible that your student’s phone won’t work.

Before they leave their home country, we try to explain to students the difference between “locked” and “unlocked” phones, and ask them to check if their current phone can be “unlocked” before they leave. If it’s locked, it won’t work in another country with another cell provider. More students understand the basics of this than in past years, but it still causes confusion. (Moreover, it’s more complicated than many of us think anyway: see this article from August 2013 for more details, including some recent comments, and be ready to be even more confused!)

Sometimes students believe that they have confirmed that their phone is unlocked, and believe it should be able to send and receive signals from any cell service provider. Yet the phone simply does not work once the student arrives. This, too, causes confusion and distress every year; students will fight with Sim cards and insist that their phone should work, so why doesn’t it?

Whether it’s because manufacturers design phones differently, whether it’s because cell providers define “locked” differently, or whether it’s something else entirely doesn’t really matter. Just expect that your student’s phone from home may well not work, so you may need to find an alternative.

Get a local phone number!

Even if the phone from your student’s home country does work, students need to get a local phone number. Some students feel that since they are “only” here for 10 months, why spend time and money on a local phone number? Can’t they just hand out their existing phone number, and use WhatsApp all the time?

This, too, is something we see less often than in the past. Teens are becoming more “tech savvy” every year and the exchange organizations continually update their student orientations. But it still does happen, especially with teens used to calling and communicating across country lines more often than here in the U.S.

479218942 dollar signsThe key thing to communicate is that using a phone from another country here in the U.S. abroad can be incredibly expensive. The price for each call and text message will be at high international “roaming” rates. See this article for information about roaming charges; it includes differences between the larger U.S. cellular providers and has links to other related articles.

The expense can be a shock if the student and his or her family are not prepared. If the phone also handles data, data costs using a foreign cellular provider can be astronomical. That first huge phone bill with its long list of international calls, dozens of text messages at international rates ($0.20 – 0.50 per message), and a few hundred dollars for data sent and received usually gets a student’s attention (and their parents’ attention as well!).

Additionally, many people who exchange students meet in the U.S. may not be able to call them on their foreign phone since their U.S. friends’ phones may not have international service. Even if they do, a U.S. teen is going to have difficulty explaining why he or she is making expensive international calls and texts to a friend in the next classroom. This sometimes seems strange to exchange students who may cross borders on a regular basis back home and whose cellular calling plans may reflect that different reality.

Students may have limitations on Internet use

496619997 teen and gadgetsStudents who have smart phones with Internet capability (almost all students, these days) should check with their exchange program to learn about expectations for use of the Internet. What’s normal in one country for teens between the ages of 15-18 may not be normal in another country and culture. It’s not uncommon in the U.S. for young people in this age group to have limits imposed on their Internet use. This is especially true with exchange students, since continual contact with friends and family back home can make it more difficult for students to form relationships with their host family and people they meet in the host country. It can cause difficulties in the student’s ability to fully integrate into the host culture; students who are reaching out to what’s comfortable and familiar are not learning how to deal with the unknown and establishing new relationships. As a result, limits on internet use are common. It’s a good idea for exchange students coming to the U.S. to understand these expectations and guidelines.

Examples of what high school students coming to the U.S. may find to be different from their home country when it comes to cell phones and other communication technologies:

  • Many families have rules about texting and use of cell phones. A student’s host family may have rules about texting and use of cell phones in the home. In many host families, common house rules include turning phones off at a certain hour, or leaving phones in a common area by a certain hour in the evening (no midnight texting!). Other common rules include no cell phone use in the mornings as students are getting ready for school, as well as no texting, earphones, or calls in the car when parents are taking you somewhere. We work with our students to help them respect these rules and not to “fight” them; if they have questions about how it’s different from back home, students should get in touch with their local coordinator.
  • Students may find they have limits on amount and timing of Internet use. Many families may not allow personal use of the Internet until students have finished homework, or may have limits on the amount of time a teen may use the Internet for personal use. Many families require teens to turn off all Internet devices by a certain hour. These limits may be difficult for a teen used to unrestricted Internet availability.
  • Many U.S. high schools do not allow use of cell phones during school hours, either for calls/texts or for use of the Internet.
  • Wi-fi is not available everywhere, limiting use of the Internet (unless the student has purchased a data plan) to what is available in the host family home, school if available, and coffee shops, libraries, and other locations where it might be offered. Students also need to understand that they may need to pay their host family for use of the Internet in the host family home, depending on the kind of Internet service the host family has. While some families may have service that allows unlimited Internet use, many others do not, and we often receive panicky calls from host families asking us of advice because their exchange student has gone through an entire month’s worth of data usage in just a week or so.

cell phone 187625854So what’s the answer? I need a phone!

The easiest way for students to make sure they are able to communicate effectively is usually to buy a “pay as you go” (also called “prepaid”) cheap phone and phone/text plan. This “pay as you go” option avoids the need to sign a contract, which most exchange students cannot do. Costs vary depending on the cell provider, and may vary in different geographic areas, but tend to be $25-50/month for phone calls and text messages (more if a data plan is included); see this article for a recent (updated July 2015) comparison between different prepaid plans available in the U.S. If the student’s home phone is unlocked, as mentioned at the beginning of this post, the student may be able to buy a U.S. Sim card with a pay-as-you-go option and insert that into his or her existing device.

In today’s world, the “phone” may also contain a student’s photos and useful applications, so we know that many students will choose to bring their mobile phone with them even if it’s not likely to work in the U.S. A key piece of advice we give to all who do want to bring their phones with them is to make sure to turn off all cellular service, data service, and roaming service before students leave their home country, and to only leave on the wi-fi function. There are many free messaging options available now, too, so that one can avoid the costs and use wi-fi communication options.

Photo credits: ©2014 Thinkstock.com unless otherwise noted

Study Abroad: Finally, Parents Are Now Part of the Picture

A Review of Berdan et al.’s A Parent Guide to Study Abroad

Parents-Guide-to-Study-Abroad-IIE-Front-Cover-ImageHigh school exchange program coordinators talk about the needs of students and the needs of host families. Add in the needs, resources, and limitations of the schools we work with and you have a three-legged stool supporting a successful exchange year.

But the truth is it’s a four-legged stool. Parents back home can be a key factor, particularly in today’s world of instant communications, even if those parents are often unseen and unheard; it’s just a function of how exchange programs operate that we may have little or no contact with the shadowy figures who send us these teenagers year after year. It’s not just coordinators, either; host parents may or may not have communication with their student’s parents.  If they do communicate, it may be rife with cultural and language misunderstandings, and host parents often feel that their student’s parents do not fully understand what is involved in the cultural exchange experience or the study abroad process.  Finally, the high schools where our students go to school for a semester or academic year rarely have contact with the exchange students’ parents. Yet, solid parent preparation and understanding of the nature of an exchange and study abroad generally are key to a student’s ability to adapt and develop a healthy relationship with his or her host family and community.

Certainly, there are resources about study abroad that can be useful to students’ parents; a recent example that comes to mind is Helene Rybol’s Culture Shock: A Practical Guide (you can read my review of Rybol’s book here). What we don’t see are books or articles specifically exploring the parental side of the equation. Individual exchange programs and university study abroad programs do provide parent orientations, and they work hard to educate parents. Nevertheless — human nature being what it is the world over — parents may not be able to fully assimilate all the information provided to them. Having an outside source can be invaluable.

Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, Allan Goodman, and William Gertz are trying to be that source.  They aim to make parent preparation more transparent in their 2015 publication of A Parent Guide to Study Abroad. Published by the Institute of International Education (IIE), the book’s goal is (as stated by IIE) to “arm[] parents with the right mix of practical information to get involved just enough, while also giving the students the independence to learn and grow on their own.” The three authors, all well-known and experienced international education and study abroad professionals, acknowledge that parent involvement is critical for a student’s success. But as Berdan notes in her introduction, not every parent knows where to begin; and as Goodman notes in his introduction, parents need a plan.

So what is that plan, and what do the authors feel parents need to know to be effective? In truth, it’s not a lot different from what students and host families need to know, which shouldn’t really be a surprise.  If you were to only look at the chapter titles, you might think it is almost the same advice as that given to students. Chapters in the book include the value of studying abroad; how to find the best program; addressing costs and means of paying for a study abroad program; staying safe and healthy; and how to prepare for success while in another country.

There are some nuances, however, that are different simply because a parent’s perspective is different from that of a student or that of a host family. For one thing, two chapters specifically address parents’ actions during and after a study abroad program. These are key areas in which parents’ knowledge and expectations can help make or break a student’s successful integration into a host community as well as transitioning back home after three, six, or nine months abroad.

Two minutes into reading the book — indeed, I hadn’t even gotten past the authors’ introductions – I found a perfect example. William Gertz, president and CEO of the American Institute for Foreign Study, compares his own three-month traveling abroad journey many years ago with his daughter’s more recent study abroad experience, focusing on his own perceived needs and well-intentioned actions:

When my daughter went abroad during her junior year, I was excited for her. I wanted her to have “my” experience” (first mistake). But life is different nowadays, and you can’t really unplug. While she was studying in Florence, we spent far too much time talking on Skype and communicating via Facebook. We were always connected; and while this was comforting for us both, it may have hampered the freedom she needed—the freedom of spirit, exploration, and trial and error that I had. Still, she came home a more confident, more accomplished young woman.

Her study abroad program was superbly organized down to every detail, perfect for the millennial generation, complete with ample hand holding. Days packed with detailed itineraries including learning excursions; volunteering trips and language courses were quite the contrast to my backpacking, hostel-hopping days of self discovery. Traveling by air on weekends, she probably had fewer adventures than I had traveling by rail. But I had to remember, this was her experience, not mine.

My strong advice is this: let your children breathe. Don’t call too much, don’t solve all their problems, let them make their own mistakes and find their own path.

I could go on — there is actually quite a bit in this short 60-page book — but this, in a way, is the nutshell of the book’s messages to parents: help your child choose the program that is right for her, not for you; don’t overuse technology to remind them of what they are missing back home while they are trying to learn a whole new world; and let them learn what it is they went abroad to learn.

The book is intended for college students’ parents; moreover, it’s written for U.S. parents. But the issues faced by parents of high school students studying abroad aren’t much different, and the themes of what a parent needs to know and think about apply equally to parents whose students are coming to the U.S. It’s important to have parental support and understanding. It’s important to think about finances; if it’s a good idea for college-age students to understand budgets and how to get access to funds in another country, it’s doubly more so for teenagers who have thought even less than their college counterparts about what ordinary things in life cost. It’s important to think about how you will stay in touch, and how often.  It’s important at all ages to “develop a global mindset so that they will be best positioned for success in our competitive, global marketplace” – “one of the best gifts we can give our children,” Berdan notes.

There is nothing revolutionary in A Parent Guide to Study Abroad. It’s not over-burdened by long explanations. It’s just good, useful advice that all parents should review and periodically refer to while their son or daughter is abroad.  We’ll be recommending it.

*This blog post is linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com.*
A Parent Guide to Study Abroad is available from IIE Publications for $4.95. IIE is offering a significant discount for bulk copies for schools to give to parents (20 copies for $20.00). The companion book, A Student Guide to Study Abroad, can also be ordered for $14.95, with discounts of 30%-50% for bulk orders.

About Those Pills . . .

As exchange students arrive in the U.S. for the coming year, so, it seems, do their “travel pharmacies.” We’re not talking about specific medications for known conditions; we’re referring to items that have no link to any medical conditions listed in the student’s application. It’s as if students’ families back home don’t believe that their children will be able to buy aspirin or antibiotics in the U.S.

Students arrive with an astounding variety of pills, powders, and herbal concoctions. Often the collection comes with no prescriptions or documentation, with ingredients listed only in the student’s native language. Antibiotics, anti-diarrheal capsules, anti-inflammatories, and pain-killers all may be in individually wrapped packets with no dosage directions. Many times items are not in their original packaging. Some students are able to tell you what each medication and treatment is for; most, however, cannot tell you more than “my mother told me to take these pills if I have a sore throat” (when asked about antibiotics) or “I’m supposed to take these if I have a headache” (when asked about pain killers). They usually cannot tell you what the correct dosage is for each item.

Many host families never find out about these stashes. Others don’t give them much thought. A common point of view is that “if the student’s natural parents trust them with all these pills, I should, too.” We’ve heard host parents say that their student is intelligent and knows when to take medicines, so who are we to take control? Others have said that their student assured them that they did not have prescription level medicines or anything dangerous — and the student must know, right?

Simply put, that is a terrible line of reasoning. How many parents let their own teens have pharmacies in their bedrooms, self-medicating at will? I doubt very many. So why would it be ok for exchange students to self-diagnose and self-medicate?

Several issues should be considered as part of this discussion:

1. Antibiotics are grossly overused, a trend that is contributing to the spread of drug-resistant microbes around the world. Many in the medical community consider this to be a top global health risk; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has called it one of the “world’s most pressing public health problems.” When antibiotics are used, it is critical that they be used correctly and for the full time period. How often do self-medicating teens follow through for the full 10-day cycle when they’re feeling better after a couple of days? Moreover, if someone is deciding on their own based on a self-diagnosis whether to take antibiotics, most of the time it probably isn’t anything antibiotics could help with anyway; taking antibiotics for the common cold is useless.

2. It is very easy to over-consume drugs like aspirin or acetaminophen without even knowing you’re doing so. We have had exchange students take Tylenol® for a headache under our direction, only to find out later they had already taken something else from back home just an hour before – which, when we investigated, turns out to have been the same thing (acetaminophen). Over-consumption of acetaminophen can lead to liver damage, as stated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on its website:

“This drug is generally considered safe when used according to the directions on its labeling. But taking more than the recommended amount can cause liver damage, ranging from abnormalities in liver function blood tests, to acute liver failure, and even death.”

Remember, too, that teenage brains are not fully developed; decision-making is still a “work in progress.” We had a student taking prescribed acne medicine one year. He said he brought enough for the year. About halfway through the year, he said he needed a new prescription. Why? Well, you see, it wasn’t working, so he took more — twice the recommended dosage for one of the strongest acne medicines available on the market, a medicine that can cause serious side effects.

3. There is the issue of communication. It’s critical for exchange students to establish good lines of communication with their host parents.  Whether a student is feeling ill is certainly an important aspect of such communication. Yet we’ve had situations where a student we are hosting is sitting quietly in the kitchen or living room, not saying anything while he or she is on the Internet. Not a problem, of course – until we discover that the student is texting with parents back home, complaining of a sore throat, and getting instructions from 5,000 miles away on what drugs to take from their “travel pharmacy.” This is not the way to develop lasting bonds with host families. Students need to know that it’s better to tell their host parents they are not feeling well and let their host families help them deal with it, rather than trying to get a diagnosis from parents who are not present.  (Even beyond the issue of forming relationships, it’s just logical to get medical advice from someone who is with you, rather than someone who is not!)

4. Finally, there is the question of responsibility. Who’s responsible for bad outcomes if students self-medicate while living in a host family’s home? What if they simultaneously are taking something prescribed by a local doctor (e.g. a genuine antibiotic prescription, or if they are taking over-the-counter medications from the host family’s own medicine cabinet? Acetaminophen is a great example because it’s so common. Should we be giving Tylenol® to 15 and 16 year olds if they may also be self-medicating from their own private stashes? By one estimate, dosage errors involving acetaminophen accounts for more than 100,000 calls to poison centers, roughly 60,000 emergency-room visits, and hundreds of deaths each year in the United States alone.

466236455 pill photoI don’t really understand why students arrive with all of these pills, but that’s largely outside of my control as a host parent. What is within my control is to find out after they have arrived what they have brought with them, and deal with it. That may mean disposing of it if I can’t figure out what it is and what it’s for, or if it’s considered a prescription drug here in the U.S. (even if not in the student’s country of origin) and the student comes with no prescription. It may simply mean taking possession of the “travel pharmacy,” and giving the student access to it as needed upon request and if we agree that treatment from the “pharmacy” is appropriate for the particular ailment. Sometimes, it means finding out about a medical condition that the student and his or her family did not previously disclose (something host parents clearly need to know).

At the end of the day, I hope that at least in my family we have substantially reduced this one source of risk for our exchange students during the coming year; the same goes for the host families we work with, since we recommend that they, too, do not hesitate to take the above actions. There will of course be other risks during the year that aren’t as easy to manage, but why not start with the easy ones?

Learning How to Drive on Your Exchange: Harder Than You Might Think!

We get questions every year from students about how they can get a driver’s license during the exchange year. In some countries, it is very expensive to get a license, and the age limits are higher than they are in the U.S. So we understand why students are interested (and why parents who are paying the bill might find it an interesting possibility as well).

We send out an email about this to our incoming students each year, to give them some information ahead of time. It occurred to us that readers of this blog might find some of this information useful as well. So, read below for some practical tips about exchange students and drivers’ licenses. It’s impossible, however, to speak to the situation facing all exchange students in all part of the U.S. (much less in other countries).  Host families — please check with your own local coordinator and your state’s motor vehicle department before making any decisions regarding your student; your exchange program may have policies about this (some programs prohibit their students from getting a license, or have specific restrictions).  Students — make sure you check your own program’s rules as well as the rules in your home country.

It’s Less Common Than You Think

First and foremost, it’s less common than most exchange students think for a student to get his or her drivers’ license while on exchange. Of course, many incoming students will hear from students who have returned that they knew exchange students who got their license. And for some students, in some locations, it works out nicely; in rural areas, for example, it can be quite handy for a student to have a license for getting into town, and that advantage for perhaps half the year may outweigh the difficulties in getting the license. But the challenges are significant, including:

123102009 student driver with teacher* Difficulty in getting a driving permit: The permit is the piece of paper you need to be allowed to practice driving. You need a driving permit to even get behind the wheel of a car. To apply for a permit, a student needs to show proof of residence, often proof from the program as to his or her exchange status, signed forms from parents back home, sometimes permission from the high school, and usually a form to show why the student does not have a U.S. Social Security number. This can take time (and usually requires help from host parents).

Getting a driving permit requires a written test. It’s harder than you think to pass the permit test. Even native English-speaking teens have difficulty. In Oregon, at least half and perhaps up to 70% of teens taking the permit test do not pass the test the first time; perhaps 50% have to take it more than twice. Non-native speakers have even more difficulty. It often takes several months, as a result, just to get the permit.

* School rules: To get a driving permit, many states, including Oregon, require that a teen get permission from their high school. School districts can set their own rules on this issue. For example, no exchange student attending school in the city of Portland is allowed to get a driving permit.

* Timing: After a student gets his permit, most U.S. states have a waiting period before a teen under the age of 18 can actually get his license. Oregon law requires teens to wait at least six months before they can take the driving test.

152132803 deadlineAn additional timing issue applies towards the end of the exchange year. Students generally cannot get a driver’s license after their visas expire. The precise date on which students’ visas expire will vary from program to program; for our students, for example, it’s usually on or about June 10th. The U.S. government allows students to remain in the U.S. for up to one month after their visas expire, but they cannot get a driver’s license during that time. Last year we had one student who got her driving permit in early January and was planning on taking her driver’s license test on July 8th, exactly six months later. She was very upset to learn she could not get her license, because of the visa issue.

* Amount of practice: In addition to the six months, many states have a requirement that a teen show a certain number of hours of driving practice. In Oregon, a teen must have 100 hours of driving practice. This is a lot of driving. The teen cannot practice with just anyone. It must be an adult over a certain age; the department of motor vehicles in the state will have rules on the minimum age of the teaching driver. In Oregon, the minimum age is 21; in some states, it’s 25.

In some states, the hourly requirement can be reduced by taking a driver’s education class.  Sometimes the schools offer these classes, but exchange students often are not eligible to take the driver’s education classes due to high demand.

* Impact on a student’s life: Learning how to drive takes up time that that a student could be spending on her exchange year: studying, making friends, learning about the host culture, and participating in host family activities. We do see that students who get their driving permit tend to focus on the driving: they want to practice driving all the time and add to their driving hours. We have seen that this can affect their ability to finish school work, do well at school, make friends, and take part in host family activities.

* Impact on host parents: Host parents usually are the ones who end up teaching their exchange student to drive. It’s a significant burden. While it can work out, we do also see that it can cause stress in the host family-student relationship. Keep in mind that this relationship is just getting under way, and it takes time to build. It can be hard enough teaching your child to drive when you have known that child for 16 years; it’s even harder if you have known him for only a few weeks.

465641367 car accident* Insurance: Automobile insurance can be expensive, especially for teen drivers. The rules for getting insurance will vary from program to program. Our program, for example, requires students to get their own insurance and not rely on the insurance of the host family. Students, families, and host families should keep in mind that if the student has an accident while driving the host family’s car, the host family’s insurance premiums could increase, perhaps significantly, for several years, long after the student returns home.

These challenges are not unique

Before your child speaks up saying, “I’m not going to Oregon on my exchange, I’m going to California/Nebraska/Alabama. So I don’t have to worry about these rules” – I use Oregon as an example because that’s where we live, so we have more information and more familiarity with the rules here. But most U.S. states have similar rules for teens under the age of 18:

* Six months’ time period between getting a permit and taking a driving test is common. In some states, the waiting period is longer. In fact, some states require one year between the time a teen gets a permit and can take the driving test.

* Some states require that a student take the drivers’ education class.  If you can’t take drivers’ education, the result in those states is that you can’t get a license until you are 18.

* Some state motor vehicle departments will not allow exchange students to get a permit because they do not have a U.S. Social Security number. In other states, even if a student can get a permit without the Social Security number, the process for bypassing this requirement can be difficult.

* Some states include a requirement that a certain number of hours be nighttime driving.

Even if you are successful, a U.S. teen driver’s license may not transfer to your home country

Teen drivers in the U.S. under the age of 18 usually do not get a “full” license after they take a driving test. The license usually has restrictions. Some exchange students may be 18 or turn 18 while they are here, and may not face these restrictions. Restrictions can include not being allowed to drive between 12 am – 5 am, for example, or not being allowed to transport anyone outside their immediate family for six months (or longer) after first getting a license.

Any student who does have the opportunity to get a permit and learn how to drive should first check that it will transfer in their home country. Different U.S. states have different restrictions, but the common theme is that the provisional license may not be a “full” license – and as a result, the student’s home country may not recognize the license.

Risk & Reward AheadIn closing: getting a driver’s license sounds like a good idea to many students before they leave their home country, and their parents may think it makes sense due to cost or age restrictions at home. But once you actually think it through, look at the rules, and add up the costs, it’s not as much of a “win win” as it seems at first glance, and in many cases it simply isn’t possible.

Photo credits: ©2014 Thinkstock.com unless otherwise noted