How We Experienced the World Without Ever Leaving Home

By Sarah Boucher, Publisher and Editor January 13, 2021

There's something to be said about living in America - our freedom and way of life are just the tip of the iceberg and kids from around the world are looking for a way to come here and experience it first-hand. 

When I was in elementary school, my parents hosted four girls from Germany for a week while they were on a performing tour throughout the USA. To this day, I am still in contact with one of them. When I was nine, I started writing to a pen pal from New Zealand - you know, back in the days where you put a stamp on an envelope and had to wait three weeks for your letter to travel across the ocean! Believe it or not, my pen pal visited the USA twice, and we continue to be in frequent contact (it's much easier and less expensive thanks to the Internet!).

So, it only made sense that as an adult, I wanted to expose my children to the world, even if we couldn't afford to travel the world with them. Since 2014, we have hosted eight exchange students from three different countries. We have traveled to Germany and to Spain to visit students we hosted. We will be hosting the sibling of a boy we previously hosted. Our lives have been forever changed thanks to the experiences we have had with our International children.

You're probably wondering why we have chosen to add an international teenager to our home year after year. It's because we benefit from the experience just as much as the exchange student does. Frequently our children's teachers comment that our children are able to communicate and get along with anyone in their class, no matter how similar or different their interests are, and about how they can see things from a big picture perspective. That's because they have learned about countries and cultures outside their own, and have learned to respect and appreciate the value of relationships.

Visiting Arturo (who we hosted) and spending a week with his family in Spain

Here are 5 surprising benefits to hosting an exchange student

1. See Your "Daily Grind" With Fresh Eyes 

We're living in an age of speed, convenience, and automation. As calendar pages fly by, days turn to months and months turn to years in the hustle of our jam-packed schedules. Hosting an exchange student provides a tangible way to "stop and smell the roses” as we begin to see daily life through new eyes and with new appreciation! “When you have to explain so much of what you do to someone else, you are given the chance to see it again like it’s the first time, and that is precious. Life became something to notice again instead of being routine." – host mom Charlotte Powell 

2.  Come Face-to-Face with a New Culture 

Cultural interaction has always been a hallmark of student exchange, and it's arguably more critical than ever in today’s world. If we want to break down prejudices and build understanding, RELATIONSHIPS are the most likely antidote! When we invite exchange students into our communities – to share in our schools, play on our teams, and sit at our tables – we invite a new perspective. We share what is sacred to us and learn about that which is foreign. These interactions with the “other” lead us into new layers of empathy and understanding, and we, in turn, model to our children exactly what it looks like to embrace differences. “The magic of student exchange is that you get to look behind the curtain into how people actually function in their day-to-day life. We find that we are different, but we are much, much more the same." – host mom Jill Amunrud 

3. Gain a Mentor for Your Kids! 

Exchange powerfully shapes the worldview of children of all ages, giving them a lasting relationship with the outside world! It's a common misconception that host families should have a teen son or daughter in the home. While teens generally love the chance to help a student plug into the high school, younger children make fantastic hosts as well.  Young children are generally very open and bond easily with their new "big brother" or "big sister." And since the very nature of hosting requires learning about and "adopting" somebody who is different than their own family, the life-lesson of growing up with an exchange student is invaluable. Of course, the daily connections are perhaps the sweetest in the end! “I thought it would feel a little weird having someone other than family in our house all of the time, but it’s not weird at all. She feels like she really is part of our family. And I love to show her stuff, and she tells me all about her country. It’s really cool!” – host sister Emily, age 11 

Janne from Germany racing up the sand dunes with our 8 year old son

4. Stay Connected for LIFE 

Time and again, host families report an ongoing relationship with their student and his/her natural parents that outlasts the original 5 or 10 month program. These family connections that span continents are probably the most unique and impressive component to student exchange. Host parents are truly expanding their family throughout the world! “You get to know people, and it (student exchange) gives you a more long-term relationship. I was an exchange student in Denmark when I was younger, and I’ve kept in touch with my Danish host families. We were even able to take the kids to Denmark to visit them, and I know that for the rest of our lives we’ll be in touch with our German exchange student Stina, too. Exchange shows you that the world is still big, but it’s not THAT big.” - host mom Jill Fisher 

5. Laugh! (Seriously!) 

You might be surprised to find that IE students don’t need a lot of possessions, excursions, or special treatment. What DO they need? They need YOU! A warm, supportive “home away from home.” A place where they feel safe. A place where they can be GOOFY. Candid connections and good-natured fumbles – these are often the most memorable and endearing! “It’s like our family expanded when we hosted Henrik. We have so much fun remembering all the silly things we did together, like teaching him that shouting ‘SHOTGUN’ meant you wanted to ride in the front seat of the car. (When the kids first did this in front of him, he couldn't figure out what we were doing. Were we going to shoot guns or what?!) I can now say I have 3 children - two in the US and one in Germany.” – host mom Sharon Parry 

Isidro from Spain always had a smile on his face!

Curious about what it takes to become a host family? All you need is a spare bed, an open heart and a desire to be an involved and active family! Students come with their own spending money and insurance and hosts provide: “room and board,” help with local transportation, and (most importantly) the support of FAMILY.

IE-USA places high school students from around the world in carefully vetted host families while attending local private or public high schools for a semester or full academic year... and while they are here, they need a place to live. This is where you come in! Join thousands of other families from across the country and be a part of something that will connect two families from across the world for a lifetime.

What do you say? Think you're ready to learn more? It never hurts to ask questions. Contact me and I'll give you all the information you need to make an informed decision with your family.

This is what it's all about though, isn't it? Being a part of something bigger?