An acquaintance asked me recently, “what is it like to host an exchange student if you don’t have any children in the home?” It’s a question we get sometimes. People worry that perhaps they are not qualified to be a host family if they don’t have children living at home.
What’s the answer? Well, it’s like any family that has one child in the home who happens to be a teenager. That’s the nutshell response.
The longer answer is that every family is different, and every host family is different. So hosting an exchange student is different for every family, regardless of whether you have teens in the home already, whether you have young children, whether you have adult children who no longer live in the home, or whether you have no children at all. If you are reading this blog post, I’m sure you can think of families you know who have one child in the home. Are all of those families alike? Of course not. Are they still a family, with one child? Of course they are.
For some people who don’t have children in the home, having an exchange student means having an excuse to travel around their region when they haven’t done that before (or at least haven’t done it in a while) and showing the area to their student. Another host family will host a student and maybe cannot travel much for a variety of reasons — and they and their student will still have a positive experience, learning about each others’ world. For some parents, having an exchange student when you don’t have children in the home is a way to learn what having a teenager is like. For others, it’s a way to keep liveliness in the home; perhaps their children are adults and the parents like having the energy of teens in the home. Other parents enjoy having their student to themselves and being able to have deep personal conversations that might not be possible with multiple children running around; many students find that having their host parents to themselves has benefits as well.
We’ve hosted over a dozen exchange students, starting when our children were in elementary school and continuing when they were in college and beyond. As a result, we’ve had students whose memories of our family is that of being the older teen with younger host siblings, students whose memories are that of having host siblings close to their own age, and students who remember a family with adult children who sometimes come to visit.
Our life with each exchange student was different every year — and our life was different from other host families in similar circumstances. One year with younger children, maybe we traveled quite a bit. The next year, maybe not. One year with no children in the home, we did lots of things as a family. Another year, our student would be very active at school and in the community. The dynamics, activities, and relationships differ for so many reasons — not just due to whether there are multiple children in the home.
Each family is unique, and your relationship with your student will be unique. Don’t host just because you do or do not have children in the home. Host because it opens up your world, teaches you about another culture, and helps you establish new relationships. Host because you want to share your home and your world.
Thanks Laura. You gave me something to think about. We’ve been considering hosting an exchange student for awhile now. We have plenty of room in the house, and can afford to feed a teenager for a year. The only reason we hesitated is because we don’t have the means or time off from work to take a student traveling that much. We could do some short trips, for example, but we couldn’t do a week at Disney World. We thought maybe we’d end up disappointing a kid for that reason. But after reading your post, we might reconsider. I guess there are more important things than expensive vacations. Thanks again!
Chloe — Honestly, I would try not to worry about not taking a student for longer trips. We’ve had years when we traveled quite a bit, and we’ve had years where we hardly traveled at all. Our relationships with our students don’t seem to have changed based on that. One of our “best” years was a year where we didn’t do more than some weekend local area trips, for example. In the end, I think it’s the “little things” that matter the most … treating the student to something special on his or her birthday, recognizing his accomplishments at school, going to her soccer or lacrosse games, remembering her favorite restaurant, etc.
I absolutely love this article about every family being different.. Our host kids now range in age of 17 – 42…. and everyone one of the experiences were different
I’m a single guy that’s hosted 5 exchange students over the years. I’m currently hosting a German boy that’s is the best you could ever hope for. All of the others were also great, but each is different. I would be proud to have any of them as my own son! Loved each and every minute with them.
I hosted a lovely girl from Thailand last year. As a single woman who never had children I was worried I’d not be a good host parent. However, we had a great year together and I always had my local coordinator to walk me through when I wasn’t sure what to do.
We took a trip to LA to Universal Studios and Disneyland. We also saw a Lakers game. These are all things I’d never have done. We had a blast!
I’m visiting her in April. I’ve never been to Thailand, so this will be another first.
I plan on hosting again in the future. It is a great experience.
Thank you for your comment, Rhonda! I think hearing from people who “have been there” is such a good way for people thinking about hosting to feel more comfortable. So glad to hear you had so much fun — and definitely glad to hear about your upcoming travels! (One of our former host families are visiting their student in Thailand right now as a matter of fact and it makes me so happy to hear all about it!)