Hosting a foreign exchange student can be incredibly rewarding for you, but the experience can often be overwhelming for the student. Ease his mind and set him on the path to success by creating an environment that is kind, supportive, helpful and nurturing.
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Meet your foreign exchange student at the airport and start making her feel welcome right away. Ask her how she's feeling; if she's tired or homesick, go home and let her rest and get acclimated. Give her a small gift in celebration of her arrival. If she's feeling excited, be excited with her. Take her to a bed and bath supply store on the way home and tell her to pick out new sheets and a comforter for her bed. Treat her to a welcome dinner at a family restaurant on her first night. You could also hold a small party to officially welcome her to your home or neighbourhood. Invite neighbourhood kids of the same age and give her a head start on a new social life.
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Exchange student hosts are never expected to provide anything beyond room and board, but you can give your student a richer experience by being more generous and involved. Support your foreign exchange student when he wants to take up an activity such as baseball, piano or debate. Pay the registration or uniform fees. Go to his events and cheer him on. Volunteer to be a coach or assistant. Never make him feel that he has to pass up a chance to experience something for lack of funds or transportation. Treat him as much as possible like your own child -- help him grow and become more well-rounded in any way you can.
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Take a genuine interest in your student's culture and language. Ask her to teach you some of her language; have actual lessons and provide her with spending money in exchange. Ask her about her favourite native dishes, then research one or two and cook them for her as a surprise. Or, create a new tradition and cook a meal from her home country twice a week. Observe her country and/or religion's holidays while she is living with you. Decorate your home appropriately and ask what you can do to make the occasion authentic and special for her.
Nuts and Bolts
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There are many small details that make life easier when you know your exchange student. Prepare a "how-to" list before he arrives. Include details about things like buying an international phone card (unless he'll be using an online service to make calls) and using your city's public transportation. Take him on a tour of the city and point out relevant places like the post office, pharmacy and park. Show him his new school and introduce him to his teachers. Jump-start his social life by preparing a list of possible clubs to join, volunteer activities, church social groups or academic societies.
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Keep your eyes open during your exchange student's stay and buy her things that you think would help make life easier or more enjoyable. For example, you could purchase a small book light for reading at night, a prepaid cell phone for calling her new friends or even an inexpensive bicycle. You don't have to spend a lot of money to help your student feel welcome and comfortable.