Before IRIS’s last batch of students left for their home countries in June, they took the time to gather their thoughts and memories and form them into advice for future host families. As with any family, living with an exchange students will have its many highs, and also a few moments of confusion. This advice will help future families know how to keep the highs high and the lows to a minimum!
Open your mind
Just like traveling, open your mind to cultural differences! But instead of traveling, you’re going to have the experience right at home through the experience of hosting a bright individual. You might run into greetings or gestures that might be not of the norm around here, but hey, you are just as foreign to your student as they are to you in the beginning. You’ve done the first few of the big steps; opening your homes and your family to these students, so take the next step and open your mind and soul to them.
Provide a safe and welcoming space
The home is a go-to place by the end of the day. By providing a safe and welcoming space for someone who’s new to your family, let alone the country they’re in, it will be easier for them to assimilate themselves into their new environment. Treat the students like your own children, and they will be more willing to open up to you and your family.
Food and religious accommodations
Along with coming from a different background, there also may be differences in food palate. Sometimes it is food made with ingredients not available in their country; sometimes certain ingredients are not allowed due to the student’s faith. For example, Muslims do not eat pork and observe Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, and Hindus do not eat beef. Here’s an appendix of food for religious beliefs and faiths that may help you with knowing what is and is not permissible for the students to consume! Of course, you can always ask them beforehand as well and see what are they comfortable with eating. Although it doesn’t always happen, some students come from cultures or families that do not strictly adhere to various aspects of their religion, and food may not be an issue at all.
Give them responsibilities
Like all the other members in the household, assign the students tasks or chores to be completed. This gives them a chance to feel more close to your family by taking over some of the responsibilities in the house. Don’t worry about “overwhelming” your student — they are likely from a home that also assigned chores. Ask the student to let you know if they begin to feel overwhelmed, but it’s better to start them out with roles to help them feel like they are part of the family, too.
You’ve already graciously opened your home to these students, so you’re bound to share your lives with them as well. Share your culture, your stories, and your time with them. The YES program is for the kids, but it is a two-way street when it comes to the hosts. It’s a valuable cultural exchange experience that money can’t buy, so, share.
You might be as confused as the students might be from time to time. Therefore, ask. Approach any questions or concerns in a respectful manner, as it might be sensitive, but we’re sure that the students are more than willing to answer and explain your inquiries. Don’t forget, your local coordinators are also here to navigate cultural questions and differences!
IRIS is a phone call away if any student or any host parent has any questions or doubts that needs to be clarified. We are excited to welcome the students on the first week of August! We hope all host families feel the same way, and we’d like to thank you for coming on board along this journey.