Host Family Tips: Before Your Student Arrives

words welcome to our home

June and July are strange times for those of us working with international students. Our students who have been here for a semester or school year are returning to their home countries — yet at the same time, we’re looking for host families for the coming school year and beginning to reach out to our new students who will arrive in July and August. We have to put on different hats depending on who we’re talking to that day!

For those of you who see my social media posts talking about saying farewell and thinking about how our students have grown all year — here’s an example of switching hats. What kind of tips and advice do we give to our new host families who are beginning to get ready for their exchange student?

Contact Your Student a Little Bit at a Time

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. Start small a long email or text message may feel intimidating to a teenager who may be nervous about his or her English ability. There’s generally plenty of time to follow up with another short message, and another one after that. Before you know it, you will be having a real conversation. You can think of many different short chats you can have with your student: ask your student what activities he or she likes to do, for example (don’t assume that what a student wrote down in the program application six months or a year ago still best reflects his interests). Ask him whether he has thought about what activities he might want to join at school and whether he wants to try something new. Is she interested in sports, art, or music? You can ask about your student’s community and find out if she is used to a small town or school or a large one. Does she like movies, reading, or going on walks? Get on Skype 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. Perhaps your student can show you her home the same way. These topics can be multiple conversations through Skype, email, or instant messaging; it doesn’t and probably shouldn’t be one marathon conversation.

Do a Basic Bedroom Setup

Send your student a photo of his or her new bedroom. You don’t need to remodel or get new furniture, but you do need to have a bed, a place for clothing, and somewhere to study either in the bedroom or elsewhere in the home. Think about something small you could do to make the bedroom personal — your student’s “place.” A stuffed animal for your student’s bed can make it feel more like a home rather than a hotel. If your student loves a particular sport, perhaps get her a blanket with a sports theme; the blanket can double as an extra layer at chilly evening outdoor events.

If your student is sharing a room with a host sibling, think ahead of time about how you will divide the space. Talk about it with your son/daughter and with your student (another topic of conversation!). It’s possible neither of them have shared a bedroom before; if that is the case, set some guidelines with them.

Be Prepared for Arrival Day

Think about making a poster with your student’s name in large print with some fun designs and colors. If you’re not artistic, just a big sign with their name on it in a bright color will do the trick. Balloons are great, too. Whether you are meeting your student at the airport or at a central meeting place determined by the exchange organization, try to bring the whole family! Don’t be nervous about showing your excitement. Conversely, don’t worry if your student doesn’t immediately show the same excitement coming off the plane — they’re excited inside, but are likely to be exhausted after untold hours in the air and probably several sleepless nights as the time drew near for their exchange year.

Have a small welcome gift ready — nothing extravagant, just something to welcome your student into the host home and host community. A t-shirt or jersey from your family’s favorite sports team would show that you want your student to be part of the “family team,” for example. Have an extra house key made up before your student arrives, so that your student will know you thought about it, and have it sitting on the student’s bed (with a good-sized key ring so it won’t get lost!).

Summary

Perhaps you can tell from the nature of the things I’ve listed that it’s not as hard as you might think. You know the old saying, “don’t sweat the small stuff …. and it’s all small stuff”? We like to flip that saying around so that’s focusing on the positive: *do* 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.

August, we’re ready for you!

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Photos courtesy of Pixabay and Matthew Sleeper on Unsplash

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

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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.

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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 up to $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. 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.
  • If the student was in your home for over two calendar years, 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 would be able to 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.

Please note: we are not giving you any legal tax advice on this. We’re just providing 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.

 

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