As soon as you know that you are going to be a host family, it is time to start getting acquainted. Assuming your student hasn’t left their home country yet, please email or write to the student about you, your home, your town, school, what clothing will be needed, anything that will help the student become more familiar with the upcoming exchange experience. Send photos of your family and home. If the student is already here, invite them into your home before they move to your house so they will be acquainted with you as a family and with their new surroundings. The more things that they can know and be certain about will help ease the transition and allow them to open and be himself/herself.
Plan to meet your student at the airport upon arrival. If you have contacted the student prior to their arrival, your presence at the airport will confirm that you really want to have him or her as a part of your family. This is true even if you are family number four. If you can’t be at the airport, plan to meet the student as soon as possible. You could host a party for the student and other host families, or you could have the student over for dinner or a weekend event. Don’t delay. You will have more fun with your student if he/she is comfortable with you as a family.
The first host family or YEO needs to allow the student notify his/her parents ASAP that the student has arrived safely. The student needs to email, call or both to reassure their parents that all is well. You do not have to pay for the call, but it would be a nice gesture. You could allow the student to call collect, use a calling card, or reimburse you when the bill arrives.
You need to provide your student with a bed of his or her own and a space to study without interruptions. A separate room for the student is desirable but not necessary. Many times, when an exchange student feels blue and homesick, they want to be off by themselves until their feelings have been worked out. That’s where a room of their own can be a big help. On the other hand, there are students who would rather share the same room with their host brother/sister and have the opportunity of getting to know them better. Either way, exchange students are good at adapting to your circumstances most of the time, so plan to share your family just as it is, not as what you think someone else would like it to be.
Exchange students are really poor at knowing how to fit into a family just by observing the family members in their daily lives. Therefore, you need to hold a family conference with your student almost immediately after he/she moves in with you. It doesn’t matter whether your family is the first host family or last one. YOUR family does things differently from the way they were at home and from all other host families. A list of "First Night Questions" is available in both English and your student’s home language. Your YEO should provide this to you. The interactive form is also available in a combination of many languages at www.yeoresources.org.
THESE ITEMS ARE THE RESPONSIBITY OF THE YEO:
All students arrive with certain valuables that need to be cared for during their time with you. These valuables should be cared for the by the Host Club’s YEO.
During the first days after arrival, the student may be suffering from jet lag. He/She could have spent upwards of 40-50 hours up, awake and traveling before getting to you and may be exhausted on arrival. Many students sleep practically through the entire next day before they arise to see what they have gotten themselves into. You should consider this before planning the first day or two of the student’s life with you. A big party the first night in your home may leave you talking to yourself while the student falls asleep. Please be considerate of the student who has left the comfort and security of home, has been worrying about what life will be like in their new home, who is scared to death and now, is totally exhausted.
If you are not the first host family, make arrangements in advance so the current family and student know what day and time you will be coming to get the student. The YEO can also provide the transition and transportation to the new home. The student should be packed and ready to go at the arranged time. Don’t be in a rush to get in and out. You may have to deal with tearful goodbyes as the time comes to depart and this could cause a delay. Tears are common, the hardest thing a student has to do is change a family, given up the known and loved for the unknown, and you too will experience this when the student moves from your home.
On the Second Day the first host family (at least) gets the honor of holding yet another conference with the student which is the mother/daughter or father/son conference. This second conference may be handled as tactfully as you desire to make sure that your student is properly versed about life here in our District. Say that you are going to review things about our way of life to make sure there are no misunderstandings, even though life here may be exactly like it is at home.
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as exchange student segregation, and it can even be in their host families. The segregated student is one who is treated either as a guest of the family, or just as bad, like a family servant. How does this come about?
Sometimes it may seem easier to not go through all the effort it takes to expand your family to make your exchange student a real family member. It’s okay if you treat this student as a guest, isn’t it? After all, guests are put on a pedestal and have things done for them to make their life pleasant. You don’t ask guests to take out the garbage or shovel the snow. Yet an exchange student really wants and is expected to be included in all aspects of family life, even if that means shoveling snow or caring for animals, doing dishes or pulling weeds in the garden. Because that is part of how a student knows he or she is really accepted into the family. Students may grumble about some of the less pleasant tasks, but a student who is not included in the family activities to the same degree that the other family members are, realizes it and feels rejected.
Occasionally a student has the opposite problem with a host family, and he/she is assigned to do the jobs the family doesn’t want to do themselves. Maybe the student is used as a perpetual baby-sitter, or even as a modern day Cinderella without the fairy godmother, prince or glass slippers. Any student in this situation is sure to feel abused and rejected by his or her host family.
Probably the worst family situation an exchange student can get into is to be "shunned." Shunning is the custom of treating a person as if he weren’t there, and excluding him from all forms of human communication. As hosts for an exchange student, it is far too easy to unintentionally "shun" a student who arrives with severe language difficulties if you figure that it’s too difficult to try to talk to your student other than saying "good morning," or "time for dinner."
What can your family do to totally integrate your exchange student? Some of the techniques may be obvious from the examples, but basically you should make your student as much a part of your family as if born into it. Be sure he/she has equality of status within your family, the same as all of your family members. No more, no less.
Be sure your student shares in the love of your family, just like all the other members.
Be sure your student has the benefit of lots of communication with the other family members. If you happen to have a student who is weak in English or shy or introverted, you need to make conversations take place. You can talk about life in the student’s home country and family. Talk about their day in school, what the student likes and doesn’t like. Just talk, talk, and talk some more. Your student will learn faster by talking and can be brought out of himself/herself by talking, so it is well worth the extra effort it takes.
Celebrate the special events in the life of your student as if he or she had always been part of your family. These could be things like a birthday, Christmas, Easter, or graduation. There may even be other days that are important in the life of the student such as the “Name Day” and Saint Lucia day of the Scandinavians. Just find out what days are important in the life of your student, how they are celebrated, and join in. You will have a happier student, and will have fun learning something more about life in your student’s country.
MOST OF THESE ITEMS ARE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE YEO, HOWEVER THE FAMILY HAS DAY-TO-DAY CONTACT. IF PROBLEMS ARISE, PLEASE NOTIFY THE YEO.
If you are the first family, you need to do some preparation for school even before your student arrives. You should find out who the counselor will be for your student and arrange for a block of time when you can bring the student to school to review his/her current academic standing and to plan the classes for the coming term. If you think that your student will have difficulty speaking English, you might also arrange to have someone speaks his/her language there as an interpreter. For example, if your student speaks either Spanish or Portuguese, you might be able to use the Spanish teacher at the school. You might even have to search your community for someone who is at least partially fluent in your student’s language and ask if they can help you. If at all possible, have the Club’s YEO along to make sure he remains the point of contact for the school. After all, the student will move to another host family and may "forget" to change "guardians."
Remember to take the Certificate of Immunization Status form to the school at time of enrollment or you may not be able to enroll the student.
Our Alaskan system of high school are almost universally unlike what exchange students will have encountered in their school at home. We seem to be respectively unique in having the teachers stay put and the students roam around from class to class. Most everywhere else, this is done the other way around. To get your student prepared for this new and different procedure, we suggest you have a "walk-through" set up for your student to go through after receiving their class assignments. The guide could be a host sibling or school assigned guide or maybe a friend of the family if you don’t have kids in that school. A good walk-through should start at the beginning of the day, from the place that the student will arrive on campus, and go to all places the student will have to go. It should include going to and opening the locker, each class in succession, the restrooms, and lunchroom or eating area. The guide might also show how to get to the office/counseling area so the student will know where to go to discuss problems in a particular class or with scheduling. We have heard many stories of first-day confusion, lockers that wouldn’t open, classes that couldn’t be found and other problems that might have been avoided with a walk-through.
Your student will normally enter school at the beginning of a school term. Students who arrive in the summer usually have anywhere from one to two weeks to get accustomed to life here and to be prepared for school, and even the winter arriving students usually have a week or two to prepare for school. If your student arrives after classes have started, try to set up a schedule leading to the beginning of school that neither rushes nor delays too much before classes begin. Allow a day or two to adjust to your family and get over jet lag, and your student will be better prepared to deal with school. Then, when you have met with the counselor and your student has had a walk-through, go ahead and start classes.
The first day of school is going to be a major event in the life of your exchange student. All students find it exciting, but some are totally devastated by discovering their English isn’t going to get them through. Even students who think they know English pretty well can find themselves in language trouble because of the North American slang which gets thrown at them. For the students who are weak in English, this day becomes a blur of language, none of which is understood. Why? Because they have to translate back and forth between languages and they can’t do it fast enough. Many students have come back from the first day in school and have insisted on calling home to see if they can get out of this horrible mistake right now!!! “I want to go home” is what you are likely to hear.
If this happens to your student, there are things that you can do to help. You can talk about the first day sympathetically discuss the classes and what might be going on in each. This will help you find out how much your student really picked up and how much was missed. If there is enough of a language problem that your student doesn’t know anything that happened, look for other ways to help him or her get through. One approach is to have your student take a cassette recorder to class (with the teacher’s permission) and record the sessions for later review at home. Another is to talk with the teachers and find out what each class is doing so that you can go over the material later at home. This “home review” is really good for both you and the student, as it helps your student understand school and it helps you know where your students needs help. The practice in English allows your student to make a lot more progress than would be possible just at school, where things often happen too swiftly to be understood at all.
Unless your student arrives a lot later than normal, they need to attend the Fall Orientation that occurs just after school starts, which may help your student get over those opening day jitters and fears. In September, we have a weekend orientation to get the students acquainted with each other, to have fun, and to let the kids know that any problems they have, others also have, and they can all succeed. For students who arrive in January, we have a meeting in January to accomplish the same purpose. Beyond the fellowship and reinforcement that the students get at these meetings, they also have a chance to learn more about the rules and regulations of the program, and more about how to fit into life as an exchange student. Students are usually required to attend a Spring meeting to go over plans for their going home and review their year on exchange.
Because school here often doesn’t demand as much performance or achievement by the students as at home it is easy for them to become bored with school and then become a mental or even physical dropout. If that happens, and if it becomes a habit before it is detected, you may expect to have problems with your student, and he/she will probably end up going home early. Your best bet is to see that your student follows the school requirements of the program, attends all classes faithfully, and achieves all that is possible scholastically. You do this by keeping in touch with how your student is progressing in school.
Talk to your student’s teachers shortly after school has begun to see how your student is doing in each class and find out if there are any problems to be addressed. Each teacher should be informed that this is an exchange student, and is willing to undertake the extra effort that might be required. If not, it might be better to have your student moved to another class where the teacher has time. Not all students require more effort in all of their classes, but some students do in at least some of their classes. North American or Canadian History is good example of classes where teacher cooperation is needed in order to achieve success, because exchange students have neither the background expected of the U.S. or Canadian students, nor the vocabulary necessary to really understand the text.
Having once made contact with the teachers, you will find it easy to follow up occasionally and assure yourself that your student is doing well in class and attending school regularly.
A school open house is another good time to see how things are going for your student. Visit with the teachers and the counselors and administrators and make sure you really know how things are going in school. If there are any issues, you/YEO can request a special grade report from the school. For this, the teachers issue interim grades and attendance information as of that time, and the school will send you the report. You/YEO may also send emails to each teacher requesting periodic updates. In a few instances where there have been real difficulties at school, the exchange student’s hosts have received weekly reports until the problems have been resolved. Both the YEO and the teachers involved will appreciate knowing that each other cares and is working on correcting the problems.
If you are unfortunate enough to receive an attendance or scholastic deficiency notice from the school, don’t hesitate. Act immediately, talk to your student, to the YEO and to the Counselor. Get to the bottom of the problem and see that it is resolved. Consider this a warning that the student may be getting into other problems as well, and that only prompt action may be able to save this exchange. Remember that if your student has to be sent home due to problems, the exchange program in your community could be in jeopardy for the next several years.
Grade reports will normally be sent to the student’s YEO who will share them with the host family. When you get grade reports, review them carefully and congratulate your student for successes, and counsel your student where he needs to improve. Take careful note of any stated absences, and make sure they fit your own knowledge of attendance. Discuss any issues with the YEO and Counselor.
Yes it is. Because this is a school year exchange and the student is expected to benefit as much as possible from the school experience. Anything, which interferes with school, must be minimized. Nevertheless, there are some Rotary functions which conflict with school functions and take precedence over school events. These are the Fall Orientation, Winter Orientation, Spring or District Conference and Host Club meetings. Since these are ROTARY Youth Exchange Students, we feel an obligation to have them informed about Rotary as well as things taught in school.
On the other hand, we don’t want our students off traveling during school time when it can be avoided. Please defer your travel plans to weekends and vacations while you are hosting rather than pulling your student out of school to go to Disneyland for example. Missing a day or two won’t cause a crisis, but try to avoid trips which would require your student to miss a week or more of school unless you have the permission of your student’s YEO.
Basically, we are asking you to use common sense about school achievement and attendance. If you were as happy with the progress of your exchange student as you would be if they were your own children, great! If you have doubts or are dissatisfied, it’s time to consult your Rotary Counselor and/or YEO. We really want to help you make your hosting experience one you will want to repeat. We hope that you will, the next time the opportunity arises.