Traditional youth exchange programs--often referred to as foreign exchange student programs--bring international students, usually at the secondary school level, to live with a host family and attend secondary school in the host country for either an academic semester or year.
There are many private and U.S. government-sponsored international youth exchange programs that bring international exchange students to the United States to experience life in America and send American high school students abroad. Students are eager to learn about other cultures and to give back to their home country.
Americans can take part in these exciting programs and contribute to U.S. public diplomacy efforts by hosting an international exchange student. Hosting is an extremely rewarding experience for all members of the family and the community. Want to learn more? Please read on.
My family wants to host! What is the next step?
Who can be a host family?
How will our family benefit by hosting an international exchange student?
What are our responsibilities as host parents?
What is expected of exchange students?
Will our exchange student speak English?
How much does it cost to host an exchange student?
What do exchange students do during the day?
Would we be responsible for our student's medical bills or spending money?
My spouse and I both work, and wouldn't be home to entertain the student. Wouldn't this be a problem?
Can we host more than one student?
Do host families get paid to host an exchange student?
How will our family be selected to host an exchange student?
How are host families prepared?
Why does the U.S. State Department offer scholarships to high school students from foreign countries?
The successful operation of a youth exchange program requires the careful cooperation of many partners. A student is usually recruited by an exchange organization that is based in his or her home country. A partner exchange program in the destination country sponsors the student, with their local coordinators identifying a host family and a school willing to host the student.
The process begins with the recruitment of students. In the case of exchanges bringing students to the United States, the American organization enters into a contractual agreement with an overseas partner to recruit international students. Some organizations have related or affiliated organizations abroad while other organizations work with an independent partner. Depending on the specific country, promotional brochures are usually produced well in advance of the exchange period and are distributed to high school teachers, students referred by previous student participants, and the general public. Some countries may have a large number of organizations advertising and recruiting for exchange programs so prospective students have many options. Many students apply to more than one program and make their decision based on references, prices, and subjective factors.
Pricing for exchange programs includes fees assessed by the two partnering exchange programs and varies depending on what is included and on market factors in each country. Fees cover program services, such as the recruitment, screening, and orientation of students; support to the student's natural parents and host parents during the program; assistance in obtaining the proper visa; monitoring and counseling the student during the program; and overhead costs of operating the program. Prices may also include international transportation, transportation within the destination country, and health insurance.
One of the most important functions performed by the home country organization is the screening of students. Using guidelines provided by the destination country partner, the organization begins the student assessment and screening process. A personal interview with each student assesses the motivation and expectations for the exchange. At least a portion of this session is conducted in the language of the destination country as a preliminary assessment of the student's language ability. Most organizations also interview the natural parents as to why they want their child to participate. The program may then ask the student to complete a comprehensive application which includes school transcripts, teacher references, medical history, student and parent letters as well as answering program specific questions. Many programs will require a language proficiency test.
Another program component handled by the home country partner is assisting the student with the process of obtaining the proper visa documents. In the case of exchange students coming to the United States for a semester or year, the U.S. organization most often issues the accepted student a DS 2019 form to present to a U.S. embassy along with a valid passport, photos, and a visa fee in order to obtain a J-1 exchange visitor visa valid for the duration of the program.
Although the student assessment process begins overseas, the final decision of student acceptance rests with the exchange organization in the United States. Each organization carefully reviews students' complete applications to determine if the students' qualifications meet the standards required. Applications are also assessed for qualities that result in a successful exchange.
Once a student is accepted, the process of finding suitable host families and schools begins. Student applications are sent to field staff who search for a host family and school to host the student.
The organization in the destination country usually charges the recruiting partner a flat fee for their part of the program. These fees are used to operate the program in the destination country. The most important component of every exchange program is the group of committed people who work for it. They range from managerial and operational staff at the program's headquarters to the regional and local coordinators who work in the field finding host families, coordinating with high schools for student enrollment, and supporting students through the difficult and complex process of cultural adjustment.
Families who agree to host exchange students will be active partners. They provide housing, meals, and transportation for exchange students, but in reality they do so much more. Host parents are the surrogate parents for an exchange student with all of the rewards and challenges of parenting. The destination country partner organization provides host families with orientation and resources to prepare them for this experience, stressing that the essential quality of a successful host family is patience. Exchange students need time and understanding to help them adjust to a completely different way of life, far from the comfortable familiarity of home. Both students and host families have the support of the local coordinator and operational staff in making these adjustments. However, the student and the host family do the most important work on a day-to-day basis.
The school component of an exchange rounds out the program, giving exchange students exposure to the American educational system and its role in the life of American teenagers. While exchange students generally are academically equipped to succeed in an American high school, an adjustment period is usually necessary for even the most successful students. The high school environment in other countries is often more formal with few of the extracurricular activities so common to most American high schools. Additionally, even students with excellent English skills can require a few weeks to become comfortable communicating in a second language. Participating high schools should rely on the expertise of program personnel to deal with any adjustment problems. Communication is essential during this period so that misunderstandings or special needs may be addressed before they become serious.
Students of all backgrounds regardless of physical limitations are encouraged to participate in an exchange program. Organizations such as Mobility International USA provide strategies and support to host families who are interested in hosting a foreign student with disabilities. For online resources, please visit Hosting Students With Disabilities.
Visit http://getstarted.csiet.org to find program organizations working nearest you. This site is maintained by the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET).
You can also check out the U.S. State Department youth programs website to learn more about U.S. government-sponsored programs and the organizations working with those programs at:
Once you contact the organization administering these programs, they will guide you through their hosting application process. The hosting application process may vary slightly among organizations; however, there are standards that all CSIET-approved organization must follow:
Host families are as different and diverse as Americans themselves. They come from all ethnic, racial, economic, and religious backgrounds, including families with disabilities. They live in cities, small towns, and rural communities. You don't need to have teenagers to host. If yours is a non-traditional household interested in sharing your home with a young person from overseas, exchange organizations will generally consider your application to host following special selection procedures.
Hosting an exchange student is a rewarding experience for your whole family. You'll learn about another culture and language--without leaving home. You'll start a life-long relationship with your new "son" or "daughter," and when your student returns home you'll have a special friend in another country. Members of your family will feel closer to each other through sharing your daily lives with an exchange student. If you have children, they'll gain a broader perspective on the world, learning more about geography, communication and international cultures. If your children are young, they'll probably love having a big brother or sister from another country. You will be a citizen diplomat, by creating positive impressions about America and Americans, breaking stereotypes and fostering mutual understanding and respect.
Host families are not asked to become legal guardians for the exchange students. This responsibility rests with the program on which the student comes. All that is asked of host families is to care for the students as they would their own children. This means that the families are expected to provide a clean living environment, good nourishment and love. The students will provide their own spending money for expenses incurred outside of the home; programs provide full medical and accident insurance coverage for each student. Host families must provide a willingness to open their home and heart to an exchange student; a separate bed and a quiet place to study; daily meals with the family; some local transportation; and open communication, encouragement and sound advice.
Students are expected to be a responsible and caring member of the family; to attend school regularly and show consistent effort; to share his/her culture and customs with hosts and their community; to participate fully in family and school life; and to have open communication and a commitment to the program.
All international students who come to the U.S. on government-sponsored programs and most private programs have studied, spoken and written English, and some students have used American Sign Language/ASL. Many of them have studied English for five years or more, and international students from a number of countries must pass an English proficiency test before being accepted onto the program. Undoubtedly, you will find that your student's English ability will improve remarkably during your months together--something host families often find both exciting and gratifying.
There is no charge. The only expenses for your family will be the costs of including another person in your regular activities, including three meals a day. You will be eligible for a $50 per month federal tax deduction for hosting a international exchange student.
All students on academic programs attend the local high school, usually, the nearest to their families on a full-time basis and will take courses typical of an American his or her age.
No. International exchange students have their own medical insurance or are covered by the sponsoring program's medical insurance. Students bring their own spending money. U.S. government-sponsored students receive stipends and/or allowances to cover their expenses.
Today, in most of two-parent families, both parents work. This is representative of the diversity of America. Host families are not responsible for entertaining the students; but instead for sharing an exchange of ideas, lifestyles, and love with a child from another culture. With the participation in local high schools, students quickly develop a circle of friends and should not be dependent on the family for entertainment.
Governmental regulations under which youth exchange programs operate preclude a family from hosting more than one exchange student at a time unless a compelling reason is presented. In cases where an exception is made, the two students must be from different countries and speak different native languages.
In most cases, no. Families are considered volunteers and host because they want to open their home to someone from another culture and thus get to know the world a little bit better.
The selection process may vary depending on the exchange organization with which the student is associated. In all cases, many factors are taken into account when placing a participant with a host family. Organizations do their best to match host family members' interests to the students' interests, taking into account the host families input. It is impossible to find the "perfect" placement but organizations do look for common interests and values between the family and the participant that will help the two establish bonds more quickly.
Exchange organizations are required to conduct local orientations for all families hosting students before the students arrive. This is an opportunity for host families to ask questions and learn about the program. Host families are also provided with resources to help them get acquainted with the students' home countries and cultures.
One of the foreign policy goals of the State Department is to expand communication between the people of the United States and people from other countries to promote mutual understanding and respect. Youth exchange programs are among a number of projects that give foreign citizens the opportunity to live and study in the United States for one year. The State Department also funds scholarships for American teenagers to travel to other countries, including the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange program and the Youth Exchange and Study program.