Hello Family Members,
I hope all of you get to read this, but it is mostly for the USA members. I have been a volunteer with international high school exchange programs for the last 10 years. I have helped send kids from the USA abroad to learn about other cultures, worked with families either hosting a student here in the USA or sending their own kids to other countries. Mostly my wife and I have been a host mom and dad to 10 high school students from Brasil, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Chile, Germany, Thailand, Norway, the Czech Republic and Spain. Families become host families for many reasons, including: interest in other cultures, their family's "old world" culture, exposure to a different languages, perhaps their own children are considering going abroad. I am looking for families interested in hosting a student pretty much anywhere in the USA.
I can best tell you the strongest reason why I do it. These are young people looking forward to learning about American culture, they come indoctrinated by our popular television, movies, music and what international news describes about us. What a surprise when they arrive in the USA and see what real American families are like. They take their experiences back to their natural families and friends - they have learned that different is just different, not naturally better or worse. They learn that they can overcome these differences and tell their friends what they experienced. Instead of thinking of the USA as the middle country in North America with our money, Hollywood, government, policies... all these people also start thinking of us as the families that took care of their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters or friends. The teens that come here are very interested in learning about the USA and it takes open families and communities to make their immersion into our culture successful.
Right now is the hardest time I have experienced finding new host families. Obviously the current economy is driving everybody's decisions. Host families are asked to provide a bed (a shared kid's room is fine), three squares a day and most importantly a welcome home. The teens come with their own money, insurance, enthusiasm and are as prepared as they can be for their experience.
Using our family as an example. We are the wife, 3, 4 and 5 year-old kids and me. We have a small home with a spare bedroom. The students find their own breakfast out of the fridge or pantry, we provide the fixings for lunch or they can buy it at school, dinner is a family event almost every night. If we go out to dinner or go out for a weekend trip we cover our host kids costs. If we go on a longer trip we usually ask their natural family to pay for their airfare or any expensive activities (skiing, Disneyworld, cruise.) When they go out with their friends to a movie or hanging out that is covered by the money their natural family provides.
Now what does the host family receive? Some things like this. An experience that is difficult to describe, a young "stranger" comes into your home in August and 10 months later everyone is tearfully saying goodbye to a dear family member. Everyone will learn a bit about adjusting (mostly the student). That some families have special goodnight routines. That dad hates that dirty dishes aren't on the left side of the sink, that mom can't stand hair in the shower strainer. That it is rude to touch the father's head in Thailand, in Sweden they have a special holiday for Saint Lucy celebrated with candles and dressing in white, in Spain on New Years Eve it is good luck to eat 12 grapes on the strokes of midnight. Lastly, no money, per US State Department regulations hosting a high school exchange student is strictly a volunteer activity, but you do get a monthly tax credit.
We receive cards from people we've never met in person yet a link is there through their children that spent a year with us. A great change in the last decade has been the explosion on the internet. I regularly have conversations with "family" members around the globe. On a personal note I have received forged tools from Sweden, wood craftwork from the Czech Republic, visiting Japan my host son was so proud of the deck he built for his mom and dad. Happy news of graduations, first jobs, first baby (it's Norway, marriage optional). There has been sadness too at the passing of a father, grandparents or goals not reached.
I really hope I have interested you in becoming a host parent. If it even seems a little bit intrigueing please contact me. Or if you have a family member or friend that is into this type of service, please forward this.
Thanks for reading.