Tips for New Host Families: First, Contact Your Student

Messages flying from mailbox

It amazes us every year to see the lengths that families go to welcome their students: taking them on excursions around the community, showing them the local high school, and just spending time with them. We’re always in awe with how much people are willing to do!

Bringing a student into the host family home, however, is not an automatic “we will live happily ever after.” It requires work and time to build a good relationship. We see similar conflicts and problems crop up every year, in family after family, creating many avoidable heartaches.

So we thought over the next few weeks we would share some suggestions. For today -- we'll talk about contacting your student. We’ve received some questions lately about the best way to do that.

Start Small!

Once you have completed the host family application process and your exchange organization representative has confirmed that your local school has accepted your student, you will be given the go-ahead from your organization to contact your student.

We recommend starting with an email to introduce yourself and your family, perhaps attach a few photos. Find your student on social media outlets: Facebook, Instagram, Skype, and WhatsApp (and perhaps tell your student there, “check your email!”). Start small a long email or text message may feel intimidating to a teenager who may be nervous about his or her English ability.

Think of some short chats you can have with your student: ask your student what activities he or she likes to do, for example. Ask him whether he has thought about what activities he might want to join at school and whether he wants to try something new. You can ask about your student’s home community. Tell her a little bit about your town or city and why you like it.

message envelopes flying out from computer

Don't Go Too Fast

Host parents will often ask about how to go about setting house rules. While we do recommend giving your student a list of your family's household guidelines and “do’s and don’ts”, we have mixed feelings about doing that ahead of time. Some students are eager to know so they can prepare themselves. Many, however, are not ready before they arrive. We ourselves tend to wait. In any case, your organization will have orientation sessions in which they will lay out typical expectations to help students get used to what's "normal" in the host country.

If you do want to share your expectations ahead of time, keep it short. Make a 1-2 page list of things that are most important to your family.

Be Visual!

Get on Skype or Facetime and have everyone in the family say hello. Perhaps do a short house video tour while you are describing your home to your student and his or her family. Talk about how long you have lived in your community and what your neighborhood is like while you show  some of it to your student and his family.

grandparents on skype

Perhaps your student can show you her home the same way -- maybe even save that for another call. These topics can be multiple conversations through Skype, email, or instant messaging; it doesn’t need to be (and probably shouldn’t be) one marathon conversation.

It's the Little Things

You know the old saying, “don’t sweat the small stuff …. and it’s all small stuff”? We like to flip that saying around: think about the small stuff, because it’s the small stuff that counts.

It’s the little things that help make a relationship. It’s the little things that your student will remember. In a way, it’s all (or mostly) little things all the way, one little thing at a time, one small step towards a new relationship.

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