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When is it Time to Say An Exchange Student Placement isn’t Working 

 February 26, 2015

By  Mark Trexler

Host families we have worked with and readers of our blog periodically ask us “I’ve tried and tried but I can’t make it work. What should I do? Should I give up?” When we’re asked that question as coordinators, we all tend to get a bit vague and have trouble answering the question. It makes us uncomfortable; no one wants to ‘give up,’ and no one wants to be the one to say that someone else should give up.
In some ways, this blog post was easy to write. As coordinators and as host parents, we’ve seen first-hand the super placements that work great from the beginning, the ones that work great after some work, the ones that all parties think are “OK” but never quite click, and the ones where we know that it’s just not a good situation for a host family or student. So we had plenty to say, both from our own personal experience and from that of colleagues. But in other respects, this blog post was incredibly difficult to write. We didn’t like putting some of these words on paper. We like to think positive, and we know that cultural exchange and hosting a student can be a great experience for all involved. No one likes the idea of a failed placement. But that doesn’t mean sticking with it is always the right choice.

467038209 question mark

We all enter into the process of hosting an exchange student with the goal of a mutually beneficial semester or academic year, and with the hope of establishing a life-long relationship. That’s what this is all about, and each of us wouldn’t continue hosting if we didn’t know it is possible! And truly, by this point of the year, many hosting placements around the U.S. are well on their way to this desired outcome. Our own student has noted how he knows our lifestyle, is familiar with the community’s landmarks, and feels that he knows the town’s “personality.” He understands what is expected of him from his U.S. high school. He and other students in our region are comfortable going out with friends on a Friday or Saturday night, and know what to tell their host parents regarding where they will be and who they will be with. They make jokes with host parents and host siblings, and know if it’s ok (or not!) to leave their shoes on in the house or leave their school books lying on the living room couch. They are used to going to the soccer games that their host family enjoys, visiting their host family’s extended family on weekends, and watching their host family’s favorite TV shows. It feels comforting and familiar now, and they have relaxed into their roles as members of the family.

Most of our students and host families are happy with their relationship, but….
Niklas_and_boys_june2004 (2)
Niklas and our boys at the end of the exchange year (June 2004)

The description above is what we aim for, but it doesn’t always succeed. Some students have left their original host families to move in with a new family. That’s inevitable, and sometimes all parties to a hosting experience can tell pretty quickly that it’s not a good fit. We’re dealing with people from very different backgrounds and no matter how much we try to find the perfect host family-student match, it doesn’t always work. Twelve years ago, we ourselves moved a student out of our home after three weeks, realizing that as a new host family we could not manage the particular student we had chosen for the year. Before school had even started we took in another student, who was already in the country but whose school had decided at the last minute not to accept any more German students. Our children (and no doubt Niklas, too) remember fondly the hours of multi-person computer world domination war games that became the family hallmark that year, and which would not have happened if we had persisted in trying to mold the first student into a family where he didn’t fit.

But then there are the cases where the student has been with a host family for quite some time, with the relationship moving along with as many backward steps as forward ones. There may have been miscommunications and continued cultural misunderstandings; in some cases, underlying issues come out that have not previously been disclosed by the student or the family. Perhaps the host family feels that the student sometimes shows improvement in his or her behavior, so from their point of view it’s not ‘that bad.’ Perhaps from the student’s point of view, they sometimes feel like it is going well, and knowing that they cannot just ask for a new host family they think “I will get used to it.” And then something else happens, and those small steps forward go backward.513568771 boy with head down

The results can range from a host family’s mild disappointment that they do not see the development of a long-term relationship they were hoping for, all the way to feelings that they are putting up with a thoroughly bad experience that they would never want to risk repeating (and so will never host again). From a student’s point of view, it can range from a similar mild disappointment that they do not feel as close to their host family as some of their friends do, all the way to feelings of isolation, alienation, anger, and a feeling that no one is listening.

Does it make sense to move on?

As difficult as it is to say “it’s not working,” sometimes it’s the right thing to do. Hopefully it happens before a family is turned off to the hosting experience and a student loses the opportunity to have a fresh start and a successful and happy exchange experience. As a practical matter, we are talking about a host family’s decision in this case, not a student’s decision. While sometimes a student is able to articulate serious enough concerns that a program will decide to move a student, we’re focusing today on those in-between situations where everyone is muddling along, trying to make it right, but there just isn’t much progress and the same things keep happening, causing both student and host family to become frustrated and stressed.

Host parents may feel that since we and they have now talked about the problems again with the student, they want to see – again — how things pan out in the next couple of weeks. And then we will repeat that process perhaps a month or two later. We may see something like this in reverse from students; they may tell us how they feel about something going on with them and their host family, and perhaps we can see that there is something to it, but the situation remains the same in two weeks or a month later. These scenarios can happen several times, and then it becomes “there are only 5 (or 4, 3, 2, 1) months left, we can survive that long.” But surviving isn’t what it’s supposed to be about.

There are many reasons that host families “hang on.” We’ve done it ourselves. It’s not easy to decide when it’s time to end the hosting relationship, and everyone reasonably feels they can improve the relationship by trying this or that solution. A host family may feel sorry for the student and worry about whether the program can find another host family. They may feel that it will look like they are giving up, or they may feel that it will reflect on their capability as host parents. But if you let these feelings and concerns turn the whole experience into something you’d never want to repeat, the decision to keep going probably isn’t a good decision either for you as a family or for your student.

160324373 scissorsWe suggest in these cases that host parents think through specific decision-making criteria, and set specific milestones/deadlines, instead of letting the situation simply muddle along indefinitely. It’s a tough decision to make, and host parents should not make the decision without talking to their local program contact in the event there still are options to pursue to improve the relationship. But sometimes it can be the right decision for a family and for a student. It can mean that a host family will host again, and have the opportunity to develop that life-long relationship with another student. It can mean that your student moves to a situation that fits better with his or her personality. We coordinators encourage our host families to think of their exchange students as a member of the family, not as guests, and we encourage our students to think of their host families as their second family. At the end of the day, though, our exchange students are in a different category from our own children. We’re getting them as half-formed adults with 15-18 years of a separate history. We can’t always make it work.

We are not suggesting a family give up just because things are not “perfect.”

Developing the cultural exchange relationship does take work; as noted, you don’t just drop a teenager into another family, another community, another language, without some bumps along the way. That’s why the students are generally not permitted to just announce they want a new host family; we expect them to work at the relationship, too, and being younger and less experienced at life we know that teens need the guidance to do so and that working at a relationship is not something they’ve generally given much thought to in the past. But there is a point where the inexact science of matching students and families doesn’t work. It’s tough to know if or when this point has arrived, but it is OK to acknowledge that it has.

Photo credits: ©2015 Laura Kosloff and Thinkstock.com.
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  • We are first time host parents. We have two students. One has dove into American culture. She has made friends and tries new things every chance she gets. The other is very disengaged. She stays in her room on her phone on Snapchat or talking to another student who is here from Spain. We constantly have to remind her to speak English when she is talking to her friend. She is rude and condescending to our other student as well as kids at school. We go to our place on the river frequently and she complains about the weather or the activities, we like to swim and canoe. She has now stated she doesn’t like getting in the water. We specifically put on our profile our love of outdoors and that we fish, swim, camp, and canoe ALOT. I spoke to her about this and she told us she didn’t pick to come here. She is extremely picky about her food. She does not like any vegetables and only likes apples as far as fruit. She then complains about the food not being healthy and that she is gaining weight. She tries to use my husband and I against each other when asking to do things like stay the night with a friend. We recently found out she has been hiding things from us and complaining about our rules to other students, the students I teach. There is so much negativity in our home when she is here.

  • I am a first year host parent, single, no kiddos. I filled out an inquiry form back in May, didn’t initiate the process because I didn’t think I could handle a teenage exchange student with my lifestyle. In September I was contacted to see if I would reconsider hosting because they had a student and host family that were not a match and could I temporarily assist.

    The student (from Korea) is overall a good kid, tidy, smart and talkative and has adapted well with my extended family. I have included him in many cultural/family activities However, I have experienced frustration that may be typical for a parent with a 15year old. He doesn’t want to do chores, barely communicates his social plans, on his phone all the time. There is a cultural barrier where I feel like he is treating this experience as a business transaction. He expects me to drop everything if he is hungry or needs to be picked up or go somewhere, and he shows whiney behavior if he doesn’t get his way or while doing simple chores.

    II feel like the program pushed me through this rushed process and just dropped him off leaving me with questions when I expressed that I needed extra support for being a new exchange host. And now that I have expressed my concerns, the feedback I am getting from coordinator is more like a let try to work these items out with student because (guilt trip) you don’t want feel bad that he will have to go to another family or worse get sent home. I thought this was temporary, now I have to do all these counseling steps?

  • Hi there, I just stumbled upon this post because I’m experiencing the same thing. We selected our exchange student based on her profile- she loves bike riding (which we assumed meant she was active and enjoyed the outdoors) and cooking/baking and spending time with friends at the mall (which we assumed meant that she has friends and loves walking the mall, fashion, etc.). Turns out she can’t ride a bike, no big deal- we can walk instead. But she cannot walk more than 1/4 mile without complaining, she’s EXTREMELY sedentary, hates being outside, doesn’t like to go anywhere or do anything.

    It appears her parents did everything for her- she can’t even open a granola bar package. We have to remind her of things all the time. She does not pick up on cues and she is painfully slow at everything. She wears the same clothes every day unless we make her change. There are SO many things wrong with our picture- the fundamental issue being her profile is completely wrong and we CHOSE her based on her profile.

    I did point out my concerns with her to our coordinator the first week she was in our home- it was evident to us that she had physical and social/emotional limitations and we are having to treat her like she is a toddler sometimes. They wanted us to work with her, and she has improved some, but overall it’s still a daily struggle. This is totally a 2 steps forward, 2 steps backwards thing every week. We feel like we should just “get through it”. Other times I feel like our family needs to let her go.

    • Hi Elisa,
      It’s reasonable for the coordinator to ask you to work with her for a while — but at some point, it’s OK to say it’s not working. We have moved two students in our group this year out of their first host families’ homes — and it was the right thing to do. We did try to work it out, because we do often see that it’s an adjustment issue. But not always — sometimes, it is just best for you and for the student to move on.

    • We had a similar experience with our exchange student. We picked her based on her bio. She described her self as outgoing, loved meeting new people, loved to cook, and many other things that were not accurate. It was so hard as we had admittedly high expectations. We are very social and have people over often which she said she likes yet she barely spoke and when she did she answered in as few words as possible. So many people tried to engage with her and failed. It felt more and more like we were room and board and taxi service. I began having conversations with our coordinator within a few weeks. It never got better. She was moved beginning of November and we all breathed a sigh of relief. I won’t try hosting again.

  • We are in our third month of hosting and we are conflicted on what to do because the relationship with our exchange daughter is simply not clicking. I would say that a relationship is barely developing. We have heard so much about a honeymoon phase with a new exchange student, but this has never happened. It has never been fun.

    We have tried hard to make her feel at home. There have a few good days or moments, but most of the time she studies and/or hides in her room. She is on her phone constantly, but what teenager isn’t so I don’t think that is a unique complaint. She is a picky eater and hardly eats anything. I think she may have an eating disorder but the program coordinator and other support people in the program think I am over reacting.

    My student is way too neat and clean and I feel like I am living with a “Stepford Child.” I know she is young and a bit naive, but everything about interacting with her is tedious. We have bent over backwards to make her feel at home, prepare foods that she says she likes, played board games, taken her to plays and museums, and none of it is cracking the ice.

    Now I oscillate from being bored by her to resenting her giving me a bad hosting experience. Something that I have been considering for 2 years. I feel guilty for looking forward to a business trip just to get out of the house, and even worse when the trip got cancelled and I didn’t have an excuse to leave.

    How long should I give it? The thought of living like this for another 8 months is not pleasant. I am feeling uncomfortable in my own home.

  • We are a first time host family. We decided on two young men as we live in a rural community and we have an empty nest. One student is doing great! Yay! The other is very outgoing, very handsome and charming, which he is very aware of. He talks a lot. To the point stories he tells are always changing. I call it lying by omission. He’s also being defiant when asked to do anything. Choosing to do everything his way. His application to this program didn’t match up to the person coming here. We finally called him out as the relationship we felt was built on possible lies and not by truth. Now he is sulking and stays in his room. Yes, the coordinator has been informed. Was wondering if anyone else has had this experience and how was it handled.

    • Hi Patti,
      I don’t have any great instantaneous answers other than making it clear to your coordinator that this isn’t working. Perhaps the coordinator can help get your student to change his expectations of what a host family is like. Maybe a behavior warning would work? Sometimes when the students hear that their parents are going to hear about what’s going on, they learn. Sometimes, just a little more time is needed for them to adjust. Sometimes, it’s just not the right situation for your family or the student.

  • We have been on both sides of this as I am a local coordinator for my agency. We had a child who was very unhappy with how “small” our home was. When he started demanding a new host family, the agency and his representative told him no but eventually they decided to let him move to a new home. This was a horrible time for us. We did end up getting a great experience this past year and we are welcoming two girls in August that I think will be a good experience.

    • I think you make some good points, Mel. One is that even when you’re a coordinator for the program, it doesn’t guarantee that you and your student will be a perfect fit. Every situation is different, and I have found that even when things aren’t perfect (or it’s bad enough that it’s best if the student moves elsewhere), you can learn from that for the future. Another point you make that’s worth repeating is that you’ve didn’t let it stop you from hosting again. Best wishes for the coming year!

  • I also have a situation and I need help understanding what happened and how to move forward. My daughter wanted to participate in a two week exchange program through her school with a school in Denmark. I agreed. I also agreed to host a student here in my home with my daughter 14 and son 17. Since it was just two weeks, I couldn’t imagine a situation where it wouldn’t work for us. We are easy-going people. When my daughter and I went to pick up the student, she acted like she didn’t want to come. Her aunt worked at the school and told me I had to tell her it was time to get in the car to go. So I did. We took her out to a cool place for dinner, out walking around downtown a little, to Trader Joes. Then we went home. My daughter had two friends come over to meet her and they went for a walk together. She went to school the next day and told my daughter’s principal that we had sequestered her to her room and even made her eat there. She said we didn’t talk to her and were not welcoming. The next day she got on a bus with the school soccer team to go to a game two hours away. I got a call that she was ready to come home and didn’t want to get back late. So I drove four hours to get her and come home. I wasn’t upset. I used the time to talk to her and get to know her better. I thought it was all good. I stopped on the way home and bought her dinner. The next day my daughter calls me and is crying and said that the student was leaving because her grandmother was very sick in the hospital in Denmark and she had to leave. I even took the student’s things to the school for her. Instead, the student went to stay with a different family and proceeded to come to school for two weeks. My daughter didn’t understand what we did wrong and I don’t either. None of it makes sense. They all went home today and I am so glad because she said that I treated her badly and now people in my community, I fear, are looking differently at my family and me. I feel like we were lied about and lied to. Now my daughter doesn’t want to go at all. I’m so frustrated. She never acted interested in us, our town, our home, us– never said thank you– was generally horrible and boring, but I was really trying and staying optimistic. I feel like an idiot. What did I do? What can I say to my daughter?

    • Exchange organizations do sometimes move a student, and certainly teachers can be a host family. But the question of whether a student can or should move isn’t a simple “yes” or “no.” Students can’t just move in with whomever they want. The student’s age doesn’t matter — whether the exchange student is 18 or not, he/she still has to follow the organization’s and the US Dept of State rules. All host families must be properly screened by the organization, and the local coordinator should give the new host family some background on why a move is considered appropriate.

  • Wow, I feel as though this blog was written just for us! Thank you so much. We have felt awful that the FLEX student who we have been hosting for 7 months is driving us insane. She is a nice girl, but so needy. She is not independent or the leader that she was billed as. We’ve been trying to just muscle through it, but we are so done now with the process and all it has taken from our family. This blog was wonderful to find, thank you!

    • I’m glad the blog helped you feel a bit better, but I’m sad you’re having a difficult experience. There are so many reasons a student could be having difficulties — try to remember how foreign some of what she is experiencing must seem to her. That doesn’t help solve the problems, I know! I hope you’ll browse around the website and read some of our other blog posts — perhaps there will be some thoughts and ideas there that you could use to help you and your student.

  • Hi, I am an exchange student. I participated in the second-semester program and have been here for a little more than one month. I was allocated to a distant place, also a small school. They have median income, but they are too frugal. They collected free food, asked me to pay for my meal when we eat in a restaurant, and only have simple food for lunch and dinner. I do lots of chores, wash and fold all their clothes, dishes, clean the house, but they think all of them are expected. I understand I need to adapt, but honestly I am disappointed. I told how the host family made me uncomfortable to the local contact person, but they said I am expected to adjust to new environment here and will not move me out of the family, if I continue like that, they will give me a warning and I may be sent back to my home country.

    I start to question, is it my fault? Am I expecting too much? I started making friends in school and adapting to school life, but I still feel so insecure living with my host family. I never laugh and share my life and feeling to them. I am quite talkative and easygoing to everyone in America except them. I want to tell the contact person, but I am afraid she thinks I am annoying and will send me a warning. What can I do?

    • It can be hard to be in a small town and a small school, and it sounds as though there are some other issues, too. Usually these things are a combination. Yes, you need to adapt, like you said. But they should adapt, too. It is not unusual for a family to expect the exchange student to pay for their own meal at a restaurant, for example. However, I don’t know what you mean by collecting free food – that is something you should talk about with your local contact person. The same thing with chores. Having you do some chores is normal. Are they doing chores, too? Do you take turns? I hope you can talk to your local contact person about these questions.

  • I am bummed. We have a student that after 6 months considers us no more than his temporary guardians. I feel we are his chef, maid, and driver. I feel used. I feel we are the only people in this process not benefiting in any way. The parents send their kid away, the organization takes their money, and we do the work for an ungrateful student with zero reimbursement emotionally or financially.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about what you are going through. This is NOT what it should be about. I love the students, and I love meeting the families, and most of them are amazing. It’s the people that keep me going! There could be a lot of reasons why he is acting the way he is, but that doesn’t justify treating you like his maid and driver. I hope you are talking about what is going wrong to your coordinator.

    • We had the SAME experience and should have sent the student home. We toughed it out- and had a miserable experience as a family and still feel used by both organization and student. I even voiced this to the president of the organization- with pathetic response. I feel your pain and wish we would have made a break well before the end of the year.

    • We are in the same situation. The student was so fun/kind/friendly at first but gradually spent more and more time in her room and online. Then we discovered the student had started learning from social media groups, etc. ways of stating concerns to the organization so that a student can change from a current host family to a friend’s house for the remainder of the exchange year. Once we learned of the situation, I had a conversation with the student. It was all about this year being a “fun, dream year” and no concern for the time, love, and energy put into the relationship and how moving might affect my child at school when he sees her in the halls. We really feel hurt and used, and like we never want to put ourselves out there again.

  • I see that there hasn’t been any activity here for a while, but I thought I’d give it a shot. We are mid year with our student who I absolutely adore and love, and has fit in with our family like a puzzle piece since day 1. Yesterday, I just walked in on my “ son “ and 15 year old daughter having sex. I am devastated. On one hand, I have my given parental responsibility! And on the other, he is from a Muslim country, religious family, and would be shamed and his life would be ruined if they found out. I can’t even think right now. What were they thinking? How do I separate them without ruining his life? I love them both!

    • I can hear your sadness and frustration. You need to talk to your local contact/coordinator right away. I can see you are worried about him and how it will affect his future, but you also need to think about the dynamics in your own family. To answer the question you ask of “how do I separate them?” — your exchange organization needs to do that, and they need to do it right away. It’s not a reflection on you. It’s a “bad decisions” situation, and the only correct answer is for him to be moved.

  • Here’s what happening with me…
    Our exchange student arrived the beginning of August. I am no closer to him today then I was when he arrived. I feel terrible about it. He’s a nice kid, academic, not a picky eater and not eating me out of house and home. But something’s missing. It’s almost like he could take or leave this experience.

    He’s done everything, eaten everything, tried everything and if he hasn’t then he’s seen it in a movie thus doesn’t have to experience it. It’s super bizarre to me.
    I can’t figure out if it’s his personality, his machismo South American culture or just being a teenager.
    Am I expecting too much?

    Thankfully, he’s only here for a semester so I only have one more month. I just don’t care anymore and don’t feel like I need to spend my money or time on someone who’s already done everything and is not curious about anything.
    Thoughts?

    • Hi Mandy,
      I don’t think you are expecting too much — your expectations sound normal. I would definitely connect with your coordinator and lay out what you are talking about here. Yes, it’s only one more month — but a lot can happen in a month and it would be nice if you could see a turn-around and start building a relationship! Perhaps something is going on with him that he’s not comfortable talking about, maybe he would talk about it with his program contact? It’s worth a try….

      • Hi Laura,
        My husband and I are first time hosts, and we feel just like how Mandy described it (12/4/2018 comment). We had originally requested a 14 yr old freshman just like our older boy, but because the only kids available are 2 juniors, we agreed to host temporarily for 2 months. Problem is: because these 2 boys came from the same school, they are together all the time — in their room, speaking their language, eating together even when our son is present— my husband and I feel that we’re just their bnb. We go to our lake house almost on a weekly basis, and they refuse to do any outdoor activities and just stay indoor and watch their iPhones, on their AirPods! (Note: we are on Lake Michigan lakefront!!!) We like both kids cuz they are fun to be around, and they listen most of the time, but we feel that their togetherness is ruining their, and our, experience. One of them can’t even speak English fluently, yet we rarely hear from him because he doesn’t have to talk to us because he has his “buddy”, who’s fluent. Btw, the only interaction our own 2 boys (ages 14 & 8) have with them is playing computer, which we have been trying to discourage, to no avail.
        We told the coordinator that we are done after this September, but I know it’ll devastate these 2 kids because they have already asked to stay for the year when they found out about our temporary arrangement. Should we continue but ask for 1 of them, alternate months, one at a time only??? OR just move them together to a new host? Each boy has already expressed that we are “more parents “ to them than their own back home. (They even call me Mom.)
        Pls H E L P!!! Thanks

        • Dear Brenda,
          The behavior you’re describing isn’t what host families sign up for, and it doesn’t help the teens learn about the culture/country they’re living in. They may not be doing it intentionally, but it’s easy to see how teens from the same school who speak the same language could ‘forget’ that they have a responsibility to other people around them.

          I don’t see how an every-other-month option would work — in most exchange organizations, it wouldn’t be allowed. I’m guessing your two students are here on F-1 and not J-1 visas, and it’s true the rules are a bit different. But even so, that does not seem like a good relationship-building option for them or for you.

          At a minimum, these two should be separated. I don’t understand to be honest why two students who speak the same language were placed in the same home even on a temporary basis. That’s not supposed to happen. I don’t see how putting the two of them together on another home would help them or their new host family.

          So, talk to your coordinator as soon as possible. This is not a good situation for your family or for these two boys. Good luck, I hope a good solution can be found!

  • This was my first year hosting. After 48 days my student has left my house. I had thought things were going fairly well. We had issues about phone usage but I was told that is fairly common. I was blindsided when I was told she wants to change families. She felt the house was too dirty. Sure we have some clutter but nothing major. The student never told us what exactly the problem was besides nothing belongs on counters in kitchen. I’m sorry but that can’t be it. My blender and toaster could not be that big of a deal….She even fought with her local coordinator on the phone because I refused to let her stay the night at some random girl’s house….I’m heartbroken. I’m now scared to host again and have no idea if the program will allow me to.

    • I’m so sorry, Tayla, to hear about your experience. It’s painful when we hear about situations like yours, even though we know it does sometimes happen. As we talk about in the blog post, it’s hard to know when it’s in everyone’s best interests to move the student and let the student start over and allow the family to move on. The beginning of the school year especially is a challenge for program coordinators, because we know students are going through homesickness and culture shock, even if they as teens often don’t recognize it. And we know that building relationships takes time and adjustment from both students and families.

      Please try to look at the idea of hosting again sometime in the future. Your student this year may not have been full prepared for the experience, or didn’t know how to deal with a lifestyle and customs that were different from her own. A good program will look at the whole situation — just because a student has moved out of your home does not mean you cannot host again.

  • So glad to have found this. We accepted a foreign exchange student after her original host family was not working out. I really feel as though the entire or accurate picture was not fairly given as to why the original family did not work, but at this point feel truly trapped by the end of the program and dont really feel that her service can do much to improve this experience or salvage any relationship .
    Any tips for making it through?

    • Hello Amanda,

      I’ve done a fair number of moves over the past 11 years, and I believe it’s important to give the new host family accurate information. Having said that, we also have to be careful sometimes, because there may be confidential information regarding the student or the former host family (or both….) that we can’t share due to privacy concerns. I don’t know what happened in your situation obviously, or what kind of information you were given. But one thing I can say, is that you should not feel “trapped.” If you feel your local contact left something out, you should say something. Perhaps it’s not because something was left out, but maybe something else is going on. Ask your contact about the behavior or situation that is giving you cause for concern. Is it possible it’s not the student, perhaps? Could something be going on in the student’s family back home? Is the student at the same school as before and is that causing stress (and stress can result in behavior issues)?

      I don’t know of course if it’s any of those things, or something else entirely. But I do think asking questions and trying to get to the bottom of it might make sense, both for you and for your student. If your local contact isn’t able to sit down with you and your student to talk about issues, perhaps call the organization’s main office and talk to someone there.

      Ask for help. Relationships take time to build, and if something is going wrong it’s going to be harder to make that relationship work.

  • I am very happy I stumbled upon your blog. This is our first year hosting and with only 3 months left I thought we would be in a very different place than we are now. We have a 17 yr old German student. We fell in love with him instantly and think he did the same. Unfortunately, he is getting antsy. Senior parties are happening and we have a strict no party, alcohol policy. This is very hard for him and he is struggling with it. To make matters worse there is a girl in the picture now within the past 2 weeks who he wants to hang out with all the time. She is the poster child for party central. At almost 19 years old and graduating she just wants to go out and have a “good” time. We were young once and can understand but our rules are our rules. How do we limit his activity with her and enforce no parties when he is miserable. He went from very engaged with us to always on his cell phone. We have no problem telling our children no, how is this any different. It is making things very uncomfortable in our house.

    • What you are describing isn’t uncommon as the school year draws to a close. Yes, maybe it seems early since school won’t end until May or June. But with some students it happens earlier. We literally just had a conversation a few days ago with one of the students we supervise about similar issues. I’m not sure he really even recognized what he had been doing. It hadn’t occurred to him that hanging out in his room all the time suddenly for the past few weeks was causing concern, and it hadn’t occurred to him that refusing to attend a few special family events/activities was hurting people’s feelings. It might seem obvious to us what the ‘right’ thing to do is — but it doesn’t always seem obvious to teens.

      I would suggest sitting down with him and talking upfront about all of these issues. Remind him if he is caught with alcohol, it’s likely he’ll be sent home immediately (at least, that’s the policy with most exchange organizations). Set limits for going out with the girl, and remind him he’s still a member of the family. Set some cell phone rules, and enforce them. And talk to your coordinator/local exchange program contact — he or she should be willing to sit down with your student and remind him what is expected for an exchange student. If necessary, they can issue a warning, which generally means parents back home are informed (and that can help keep a teen on track).

      Good luck,
      Laura

  • We are first time exchange hosts this year. We contemplated hosting for three years but life situations had us delay for the first year and the second year we just felt like the kids that were offered to us on paper didn’t click with our family needs. So this past year we finally chose a student and have had her here since August. She is a sociable vivacious girl who is very smart does well in school and on paper seems like an ideal addition to any family. Which makes our dissatisfaction with the whole experience seem questionable. But having her in our home has changed the dynamic of the family negatively for me my husband and our 16 year old daughter and we are all counting down the days until she can leave. My daughter and I both feel smothered by her constant presence and get tired of the selfishness and shallowness that we feel she exhibits and it is tiring to always be nice and fake she isn’t doing anything wrong per se but is so different than any of us that at the core of our personalities it just doesn’t click. She is extremely happy and I feel I qualify for an Oscar award because of always having to act polite and nice when I really want to tell her to leave me alone. I am becoming very bitter and resentful of her presence in our home. I honestly see absolutely no benefits for us in this exchange. It’s affecting our family relationships and we just want this year to hurry up and finish.

    • Cindy,
      The feelings you are describing are real — you shouldn’t feel like it is “questionable” as you say. The thing I would suggest is trying to figure out if there are changes you — or your student — can make to make it a better experience for everyone — this really is exactly what we are trying to get at in the blog post. Sometimes as we talk about in the post, it really just isn’t possible — sometimes personalities really are just too different to make it work. But sometimes there are misunderstandings that you’re not even aware of and changes that you or the student could make that could send the relationship in a totally different direction. I would really encourage you to talk to your coordinator and ask for help. Perhaps the coordinator could come over and sit down with you and your student together so you can talk about what isn’t working.

    • Cindy. It was the same at our household. Our student wouldn’t engage at all. She was 14. I have come to the conclusion that she must have been so coddled that she was paralyzed coming into an environment where the expectation was that you had to take care of yourself a bit. She created so much tension in our family. She stayed to herself and left us alone. I contacted the agency and informed them that it wasn’t working and thankfully they were right on it and found her another place to stay for the remainder of the school year. We had her 3 months. There are 5 other families hosting from our school, and though not all of the experiences are as bad as ours, everyone is not having the experience that was presented to us when we signed up to host. I’m totally soured on ever hosting another Chinese student again. Several families are hosting girls from Spain and Chile and my daughter says they are engaged at school, fun, social and active. The families love them. I thought at first it was our family and we were just intolerant but the more I am reading on various sites, I don’t think we are alone.

      • Hi Steve,
        For better or worse, we often hear comments likes yours from families hosting F-1 visa students. The preparation seems to be different (and sometimes non-existent). The students have different motivations, since they’re not here on a cultural exchange visa. It’s an educational visa, managed by the schools directly. The teens may or may not be enthusiastic about spending high school in the US … some definitely are, but others are doing it because it’s expected of them and because their parents have decided an education here would be better. We tend to see less oversight and the students may not be required by their school or agency (if there is an agency) to participate in family activities.

        I’m glad the agency you were working with understood the situation and took care of it – it does seem that it was best for her to move. I hope you can see that this is very case-by-case – you can see that some of the placements in your school are working well. We’re dealing with people, after all, and building relationships takes time and can be difficult. Some students are ready for this experience, and some aren’t.

      • We are experiencing the exact same thing. Our exchange student from China is not engaging AT ALL. She hardly talks. Our family is close, talkative and ready to take our exchange student anywhere to help her experience some great times and make wonderful memories. However she wants absolutely none of it except to spend time alone in her room. It is such a strain at the moment and a great disappointment.

        • Hi Alecia,
          Is it possible your student is homesick or experiencing culture shock from the differences between life back home in China and in your community? (And even if she says “no none of that is true” — the chances are she is definitely going through a difficult adjustment period.) I’m wondering also if her English is not as good as she hoped, and perhaps she is afraid to speak out loud. There are so many things that could be going on with a student who has recently arrived in a foreign country.
          I don’t what country you are located in so I don’t know what program rules and guidelines you may have. If you are in the U.S., and your student is here on a J-1 visa, I suggest talking to your local coordinator about what you are seeing. If your student is in the U.S. on an F-1 visa, you may have a local contact, or perhaps you are supposed to go through your school — either way, get them involved. If you are somewhere else — I’m thinking there must be a program contact or local representative who is responsible for helping you and your student?

        • I had the same situation this spring. My student came home, took off her shoes, went into her room, studied, did her homework. Then I called her when dinner was being prepared, to ask if she wanted to join us in the preparation; and it was always a “no” she would come out minutes later, only to eat, then right back in her room. She was withdrawn, didn’t want to go to events, or visit local sites, or NYC and the wonderful places that we have to offer, both locally or less than an hour away She was homesick at times, and I tried to comfort her by talking to her and by buying her gifts, she loved to draw, so I bought her art supplies, yoga mat, yoga gear, etc. I explained my child’s homesickness to the coordinator, who tried to talk to the student, but she said she was okay. Then I got a call from my coordinator in which she told me the student wanted to be immediately removed, as I “wasn’t feeding her”! The company stated that maybe it was miscommunication, and still took her out. I’m afraid to host again. I was really hoping for a lifelong relationship, a mutual learning experience.

          • Jenny,
            There just are so many reasons why a student and host family relationship may not be a success. Don’t blame yourself, and I do urge you not to blame the student, either. Homesickness is sometimes really hard to get past, and it can affect the student’s ability to become part of the family and community. Some teens may not be able to overcome it. I would urge you not to be afraid to host again — try to think about what could be done differently to help a student adjust, or think about maybe a student with a different personality and different life experience. Good luck!

          • Hi Laura,
            We have been hosting for 7 years now and and most of my students are lovely.

            My last student here was unhappy and has moved to another host family in the same town. Their children are in same school as mine and this is very uncomfortable for my children. I asked the coordinator can she place her in a different town so it doesn’t affect my lads.

            Can u help me with this?

            Kind regards, Eilish

          • Hi Eilish,
            This is a tough kind of situation that happens sometimes. Your coordinator may be sympathetic to your situation, but it may not be possible to have the student placed in another town. It’s often very difficult to place a student in a different school in the middle of a school year. Many schools do not allow this for exchange students. We’re often limited by rules about where a host family must live, too — in my area, we generally cannot have students live with a family in one town and have the student attend a school in another town. It’s just not allowed.

            The one thing I can say from experience is that it gets easier after a few weeks. Usually the awkwardness goes away, or at least decreases, and the host family’s children can manage to avoid the student if it’s uncomfortable. I know that may not feel like very much, but I hope it helps.

            I wish you the best of luck,
            Laura

    • Cindy, we are in your exact situation currently. We lived in Germany while my husband was in the military and we wanted to introduce that culture to our young children. Our host daughter is a great kid, strong academically, social although many of her friends aren’t available on weekends, and while she volunteers to help out from time to time, tends to retreat more to her room and not engage unless coaxed. The experience is not at all what we were hoping for and has caused more tension in our family unit than positive. We are two months into our exchange and I’m counting down. What did you end up doing? Did it get better or was it better to part ways?

    • I’m there right now! After just one week, I feel like I’m running a hotel. When the student is not trying to run off with friends (“No, my parents said it’s fine,”), she’s on the phone with said friends and parents. I cannot have a positive impact and develop a relationship with someone who is mostly physically not here, and who clearly has no desire to be around me or my family.

  • We just gave up on a 14 year girl from China. I agree with Angle. She stayed in her room all the time gaming or watching Chinese soaps. Had no desire to integrate at school or with our family. Only reason for being here was a perceived opinion that somehow she would walk right into Harvard. she is a ‘C” student at best. We tried to make it work, but got to the point where my daughters had complete disdain for her. Unfortunate but I don’t think we will host another Chinese student and we were expats in Asia for 10 years so thought we were well prepared for cultural differences. Wrong.

    • Hi Steve….so sorry you have had such a negative experience. I’m guessing your student is here on a F-1 visa since she is 14 (J-1 students must be at least 15), and I’m guessing she is planning to spend her entire high school time in the U.S. The F-1 programs are managed differently from the J-1 cultural exchange programs, in which students come for just one semester or one full school year, and most of the Chinese students do come on an F-1 visa. The requirements for preparation and oversight of teens on a J-1 program are more defined, I think, than guidelines for F-1 students — if your student was here on a J-1 visa, the first thing I would suggest would be to bring your coordinator in to have a conversation with the student, find out what’s wrong (she’s 14, probably homesick?), and if necessary issue a warning. Hanging out in one’s room all the time and just watching TV or playing computer games indicates something is not right. I wonder sometimes if the programs bringing over Chinese students are preparing them enough for their time here in the U.S.

    • Hi Steve. It is the same issue we are facing with our exchange student from Thailand. He is 17 yrs old on a J1 visa. He is always in his room, playing online games or on his phone a lot. We talked to our coordinator a month ago and made some written plans for his successful stay here. We didn’t really see a significant change after talking about our issues and plans of improvement. He makes small efforts, like coming out of his room and saying hi when my husband or I come home, and he sits with us on the couch sometimes — but he is on his phone and headset. We stopped taking him out for dinners or brunch because he is on his phone, it started to feel like he is a burden. I come home tired from work and there he is, on his PC waiting to be fed, feels like too much…

      • Hi Shang — The agreement with the program that he would behave better – I’m guessing that is the equivalent of a warning for him? The agreement should require him to not stay in his room or be on his phone. What do you do if he is sitting there on his phone? One thought is that perhaps you could take it away for the evening if he pulls it out while you are all in the living room or watching TV together or whatever the family is supposed to be doing. In our home, for example, we have a rule that the students cannot have their electronics in their bedroom, so they have to work (or play) on their laptops in the living room or kitchen areas. That means doing homework where we can see them, too. And at night they need to leave their laptops and phones in a common charging area. We also have a rule that students cannot be on their phone or using their headsets if we’re doing a family activity, such as watching TV for example. We take away the phone for a while (an evening, a day) if they ignore the rule. Have you tried that approach?

        If it is really not working, tell your coordinator!

      • Hi Shang. I feel your pain believe me. I think the reason I am so hung up on the experience is because it didn’t work out and I can’t help but think it is a reflection on my family. It is helpful to have found Laura’s blog as a place to vent and be heard by other people in similar circumstances. Thank you Laura for hosting this forum.

        • Hi Steve, thanks for the feedback! It’s always nice to hear that people appreciate what we (my husband and I) are writing. We really do believe — and know — that the experience does not need to be what you have seen. It’s certainly not a reflection on you as a family — keep in mind that when you put someone new into someone’s home, you’re building a relationship from the beginning. It’s a two-way street for sure — maybe even a four-way or five-way street since the student’s parents back home have a role and so do the sponsoring organization and the school in the success of the relationship. We’re dealing with people, and people don’t always act the way we want them to act…

          I hope you are able to take time to read some of the other posts on the blog and look at some of the resources we’ve put on the website. Perhaps a different student, or even a different organization, might help you have the experience that others have had.

  • My wife and I are struggling right now to decide whether to end this host experience because our student demands to be relocated to another school and subsequently family. The relationship has been good at home but she expected a sibling at home and other exchange students at school to be instantly best friends with.
    Our 17 year old daughter moved to a college 1.5 hours away from home two 10 days after the student arrived.
    Our 22 year old son lives in the basement and is in his last semester of university. It has only been 6 weeks. He is busy and had intended to be her brother.
    This is our fourth student. Others we had struggled to get engaged with our family but not this one. As we had previous experience we clearly communicated what home and school life would be like. We sent tons of information about our family life, small community, and school life.
    We think that our organization will most likely deny her relocation request as there are no legitimate reasons to do so per our representative.
    So now we are thinking that if the organization says “no stay or go home” we are not going to spend the next nine months trying to convince her to engage at school. She has rejected what we have to offer and we are not willing to invest the time and money.
    We feel bad about these feelings but we battled hard and long to make one work before. The previous student never gave up on us so we did not give up on her. That one was really hard but we now have a Brazilian daughter that grew up and loves us for staying with her.
    Your perspective would be appreciated.

    • It’s a little hard to know where to start or what the best advice is to give you. It does sound as though you are in touch with your program’s local coordinator/liaison — that’s good. Having a conversation with him/her might still be useful – can he/she give your student suggestions on how to engage in the local community and school, how to make friends, etc. – things that can help a teenager going through some culture shock to settle in locally.

      If you’re past that point, it’s OK to say that it is time for the student to be moved. It’s reasonable to give it some effort and work as you have been doing – since you’ve hosted before you’ve seen that relationships aren’t instantaneous. But it’s important to recognize when it’s time to move on. Try not to worry about “what will happen to her?” – that’s the organization’s responsibility. They will find another option for her, either locally or elsewhere.

      The hard part always is that you feel bad. I know, we’ve been there. We’ve moved 3 students out of the 14 we’ve hosted. Each time was painful, because you keep thinking to yourself “if I tried for another month, would that do it?” But I know that in each case, it was the right decision. I think especially about a young woman who we knew was miserable in our home, and we watched her be successful in another family. The lesson for us was that personalities can really make a difference, both for the host family and for the student. It’s not a matter of anyone being right or anyone being wrong. We have learned to accept that for ourselves, and to remind the coordinators and families we now are responsible for as the regional coordinators for our group.

  • Thank you for writing this! My husband and I are in this very situation that is so perfectly described. We have been in lots of talks with our Area Coordinator about it, but feel horribly guilty everytime we realize we really just don’t have any “chemistry” with her. It has seemed like such a dumb reason to end the placement, but slogging it out sounds so depressing also. Thank you for your advice and words of encouragement!

    • I hope you can get yourselves past that guilt. There are times when it just really isn’t a good match. We’ve seen many families who have a hard time with one student and a wonderful experience with another, and we’ve seen many students who are incredibly sad and withdrawn in one family who blossom in the next. We’re dealing with people and there just are so many variables. Sending you good wishes and I’m glad you’re talking to your coordinator!

    • Hello Christy,

      We are going through the same situation as yours. Our exchange student is a good kid, doing great at school. But we just have zero chemistry. We are currently working with the liaison to work things out, but still, we don’t feel we are connecting, and the student has been with us for a little more than two months. How was it going for you? What did you do with the student?

      • Hello Shang,
        There could be so many reasons you are having this experience. Is your student homesick? Are his or her parents sending messages every day, reminding your student constantly about what he/she is missing back home? Is your student worried about making friends? Make sure to include your student in ordinary activities — even force her to, perhaps. It’s great if a teen will voluntarily come with you holiday or grocery shopping, but generally if you ask “do you want to come?” the answer will be no. So don’t give her a choice. You might be surprised at the conversation you could get started in the car or at the store. Glad to hear you are talking to your program’s liaison, and perhaps the rep can make some additional suggestions.

        Good luck,
        Laura

        • Hi Laura, he is definitely on his phone a lot. We took him to places with kids same age but he just sit at the car and say nothing. And all the other small stuff. it just felt like a burden because we put too much effort. Right now, we came to the point to not care too much and he just exist in our home. We signed an agreement paper thru the liaison that he will try his best to integrate. And lets see what happens and if he improves.

  • what a load of BS! most exchange students are orientals and no matter if they are Chinese or korean they will never leave their bedroom as they are glued to their wi fi on a 24/7 basis.it’s like a dialysis or life support machine to them. take out the wi fi then you take away their life . –_–

    • I am sorry you had a negative experience. I don’t agree, though, that what you describe is true for most students. Exchange students come from many, many countries and different cultures. That’s the whole point, after all — to learn about someone else’s culture and have them learn about ours. Also, while some students do show the behavior you describe, many students adjust with a lot less trouble.

      When a host parent tells us something like you are describing, we try to think about why a student might be hiding in their bedroom. Are they afraid their English isn’t good enough? Are they afraid they won’t make friends (so it’s easier to hide)? Are they homesick and depressed? Some students are “glued to their wi-fi” like you say — they are teens, and that’s an issue with teens everywhere. We do sometimes have to limit how much time they are on the Internet.

  • I’m a student in usa and I have a problem (not really I think) with my host family but my parents got some emails from my host family and said that they got some emails for the school and they said I’m a good kid but they said to my parents that they may want to give me up but I didn’t really do anything wrong and bad or stuff and I’m kinda sad about it I really wanna stay until High school ends and I’m in 9th grade and me parents talk to me a lot about those problems that my Host family think I have and I help chorus and communicate with there kids well and I hope you can give me some tips that can help me stay

    • Hello Andes,
      It’s really hard to give you good advice online. It sounds as though you and your host family have some problems that you need to talk about in person — with them and maybe with someone else, too, to help you communicate better with your host family. If you are in 9th grade and you are talking about staying until the end of high school, I’m guessing you are on an F-1 visa. So — maybe you have a local coordinator, a person you can talk to about problems? If you do not have someone who is assigned to you, there must be someone at your high school who is responsible for international students. Please go talk to that person! Or perhaps talk to one of your teachers, and ask for help. You and your host family may not be understanding each other, and if someone can help with that maybe things will improve.

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