We recently wrapped up two years of hosting two incredible exchange students: The truly lovely Maelle from Switzerland and the always-entertaining Pablo from Spain.
I’m frequently asked how we came to host exchange students so here is a Q&A on what you need to know to host exchange students.
Q: How did you become a host family?
A: I served an LDS mission in Geneva Switzerland and I was contacted about five years ago on a mission alumni Facebook page about hosting a young man from Switzerland. It was never something I had ever thought about but we had very positive interactions with our neighbor who hosted a young woman from Thailand. But at the time, we just didn’t have the space.
Fast-forward to December 2019 and we were in the process of refinancing our house to finish our basement that would double the size of our home…and add another bedroom. I was contacted by the agency again, this time about a young woman from Switzerland. The agency doesn’t initially release pictures with each student’s profile but as I read through her application letter and interests, I just knew she was supposed to become part of our family.
Q: How did your husband a.k.a. The Voice of Reason react?
A: He is used to my hair-brained ideas but this was a big one. He was in Vegas for a conference so I had a couple of days to plot how I would approach the subject. Amazingly when I brought it up, he was almost immediately on board which is very unlike him.
When we asked the agency for more information about Maelle, they sent over some pictures and a more in-depth application about her background. Jamie says when he first saw her picture, she was familiar to him…like she was exactly how he knew she would look.
We moved forward in the process…and then COVID hit a few months later and she ended up being delayed an entire year. She had plenty of time to change her mind (especially after watching our crazy antics on social media) but it turns out her family is equally as crazy so she fit right in.
Q: What are the best foreign exchange student agencies?
I would highly recommend our agency, North West Student Exchange, a non-profit based out of Seattle. They simplify the process as much as possible and take care of all the heavy-lifting like Visas, English tests, etc. They did a couple of optional trips for their exchange students like Pablo and Maelle’s trip to California.
Rotary seems like a popular, much larger program as well but I really liked the personalized touch of NWSE.
Q: Are you paid to be a host family?
A: Some companies pay the host families. NWSE is a non-profit that does not. Students are expected to cover all their personal expenses, extracurriculars and travel; we cover room and board. There is a tax benefit that we didn’t learn about until our second year of hosting.
Q: How do you coordinate with their family?
After being “matched,” we set up a Skype call with Maelle and Pablo’s families. We were fortunate that Maelle’s parents and siblings speak fluent English; we don’t think Maelle said two words that first call because she was very nervous about her English! Pablo and his mom both spoke pretty good English so we had a good preliminary call with them as well.
Europeans use Whatsapp for their calls and texting so we set up group texts with both families for all of our correspondence and still keep in touch.
Q: Did you plan to host multiple years?
A: Maelle was going to be our one-and-done and I told the agency that when they contacted me about hosting another Swiss Miss when Maelle was preparing to come home. I mentioned that my daughter Hadley was moving out so it would only be Bode at home and if we were interested in hosting (we weren’t), we would have a boy.
The wise agency rep sent me two male profiles “just for fun”: Pablo and a young man from the Czech Republic. I read through both and announced Pablo sounded just like a Spanish Bode (they are very similar in interests and personalities). Jamie wasn’t as easily convinced this time so I hung up Pablo’s profile and pictures all over his office and the rest, they say, is history.
Between Bode’s senior year and our work schedules, we’re definitely two-and-done now but we’re so happy we did it.
Q: The best advice for hosting?
A: See if they’re a match for your family’s dynamic, culture and interests. Our agency has very strict rules of conduct that align with our family’s values so that was never an issue. Most of our fellow host families have had very positive experiences and go on to host students for multiple years. However, I have heard of the occasional scenario when the student is not a match for the host family (and vice versa) and changes are made after they arrive.
And obviously, though they’re great kids, they’re still teenagers so the path isn’t always perfect but overwhelmingly, our experiences have been positive and I’ll feel like I have two bonus children forever.