Dear Host Parents, This is Why I Call Every Month: A Note From Your Exchange Coordinator

globe with figures holding hands around globe

The  single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

– George Bernard Shaw

Today’s post describes a not-uncommon situation many coordinators face with new host families.

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Dear New Host Parents,

As you know, I am the local representative for your exchange student program. I know you are excited to have your student here, and I’m happy to see that you are keeping him busy — that’s exactly what he needs to get used to the community and not be homesick!

Many new host parents feel that now that the exchange program has approved them as a host family, the program and the local representative should step aside and let you handle parenting for the coming academic year. I know that it can feel like an invasion of privacy when I call and ask what classes your student is signed up for, and how the student is doing in those classes. I know it can feel strange to explain to me as a relative stranger what you did as a family last week, and what activities you are planning in the near future. I know it can feel unreasonable to help me set up a meeting with your student on short notice. After all, if nothing is wrong, why do I need to come over?

I know you may be experienced parents. But I would ask you to remember and understand two things. First, the exchange program is responsible for your exchange student while he or she is in the United States. Also, exchange organizations operating in the U.S. face certain minimum requirements established by the U.S. Department of State for how we communicate with all our exchange students and their host families.

I’m also here to help your student succeed in a foreign environment — and to help you, too. Some of us have worked with dozens of exchange students; we know that hosting an exchange student isn’t always the same thing as raising your own children. For a student from another culture and country and a host family to become close is not just a matter of making sure the student has similar interests to your family. There’s a lot more involved.

two people chatting in coffee shop

Every year, many students have to be placed into new host families. There are many reasons for that, some that are unavoidable (a host parent becomes ill or loses their job, for example). But many problems arise out of miscommunications, and some of those communications difficulties are the result of host parents (or students) not sharing with their coordinator what’s going on in their lives. My communications with you and the student are intended to help nip that outcome in the bud.

I understand that you have the best interests of your student at heart, and I have no wish to interfere in your home life with your exchange student. My goal is for you to have a successful hosting experience and for your student to have a great exchange year in the United States and in your family. Work with me — we’re a team.

Sincerely,

Your coordinator

 


Photo credit Christin Hume

 

Charitable Tax Deductions for Host Families

Many families hosting J-1 exchange students may not be aware that if they itemize their taxes, they can claim a deduction of $50/month for each month the exchange student lived in the family’s home. This deduction should be included in the charitable contribution section of one’s tax return. The key elements of this deduction are:

  • The student must have been in the home for most of the month; if it was only a week, don’t claim it!
  • For two students, a taxpayer can claim two deductions.
  • The deduction is taken over two tax years. That means for 2015, a taxpayer would list the months during 2015 that the exchange student lived in the home. Next year, the taxpayer can claim the 2016 portion.
  • Taxpayers do not need a letter of confirmation from their exchange program to claim the deduction. However, If you want a confirmation letter, the organization with which you work should be willing to give you one.

We’re not able to give legal tax advice on this. We’re just providing the information because we know from experience that many families are not aware that the deduction is available. Talk to your accountant and to your exchange program for more information. You can also review the IRS publication that explains it all: IRS Pub 526 (see page 4).

 

Reading Resource Update: Good Blog Article

Came across a blog post today I thought my readers might like to see:

8 Things I’ve learned as an Exchange Student Host Parent

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Photo credit: Beth Markley and Huffington Post, 2015

I especially like #1; it’s exactly why we decided to host high school students when our boys were 9 and 11. But the other items on her list all hit home as well.

Were we busy with running our own company, transporting our kids to soccer, taking care of the family and whatever? Sure. But as Beth Markley, the author of the article says, “Embracing the unexpected, and being determined to make the most of any situation, is the entire point.”

Got Questions About High School Exchange? Come Visit the Exchange Mom This Thursday 4/10!

Got questions about hosting high school exchange students? Interested in seeing a few student applications? If you are in the Portland, Oregon, area, you are in luck! Come visit me Thursday evening 4/10/2014 from 5:30-7:30 at the Robert Gray Middle School multicultural fair in SW Portland – look for the EF High School Exchange Year table!

Gray MS fair image

Study Abroad as an Element of Diplomacy

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has received many positive reactions to her push for cultural exchange and global education.  In 2010, she energized the cultural and education exchange industry with a speech that barely lasted 1½ minutes.  In her comments, she stated that student exchange still serves a purpose, even in the 21st century.  Student exchange enriches the lives of the students, host families, and communities, she said, and helps to “build people-to-people connections that span the globe and last a lifetime.”

It’s all individual communication.  Secretary Clinton emphasized that the goodwill and exposure to other cultures that exchange programs foster on an individual student and family level are “critical to meeting the challenges of today’s world.”  She stated what many of us believe: that individuals can and do help – one person at a time – to improve communication among nations by “citizen diplomacy.”  At its basic premise, this means that each and every one of us can contribute in our own way to improving international relations.  A positive thought, to say the least.  It seems to be confirmed by what we see as these teens grow up; exchange students often go on to become leaders in their own countries and bring their widened vision of the world to their vision of leadership.

Secretary of State John Kerry has made an effort to continue what Secretary Clinton started.  In November 2013 remarks, he noted that “international education creates life-long friendships between students and strengthens the bonds between nations.” He emphasized that it’s not just about education; it’s an element of diplomacy and economics.  Those who gain a world view can help to bring the vision of their own country to others and better meet cross-border challenges; those who have such a world view can better compete in the global economy.  Secretary Kerry notes that the percentage of international students at the university level in the U.S. hasn’t really changed in the past decade (3.5 percent; the same share they represented in 2000), and he calls for a “much greater level of exchange.”

Opportunity just ahead
Copyright 2014 Lurin/Thinkstock.com

If you are interested in contributing to this vision, I encourage you to read some of my blog posts to learn more about student educational exchange, and contact an exchange program representative in your area.  Don’t just rush forward immediately – I’m not that kind of advocate.  Ask questions, make sure you are comfortable with the person you would be dealing with, and choose a student who you think would fit in your family’s lifestyle. Educate yourself about your student’s culture and country before he or she arrives.  Accept that you will change as a result of this process, and that it will be an adventure – hopefully, one that will last a lifetime.