I am happy to report we have had our two exchange students for one week now and things are going better than any of us have a right to expect. Andrew and Ellen have managed to adjust very quickly to their new surroundings, and with my youngest son Matthew to shepherd them through their school day they are doing well indeed.
I provide this progress report because it is my hope that more families will become host families; we are getting so much out of the experience. This is our first experience hosting foreign exchange students, but we certainly hope it is not our last. The very few hiccups we have had stemmed out of miscommunication due to language barriers, although both of our students speak English well and are very well behaved. Learning about a culture very different from ours has been a great learning experience for our family.
Exchange students are typically Juniors or Seniors in high school, however, our students are fourteen years old and in eighth grade. We have not found this to be a challenge, and while both come from happy homes neither have had homesickness. They have not been very picky eaters and have been open to trying new foods. There are a couple of restaurant chains here in America, that have opened in Korea that the kids are most anxious to try. Seeing places we take for granted through the eyes of someone who has never had the experience has been a real treat for all of us.
We are treating them as a part of our family; they help the kids with their chores, they follow the same rules our kids do with few exceptions, and of course, they are included in all family activities. While we all eat dinner together, and therefore we provide their meals, they were required to bring their own spending money for the times they are on school field trips for example. The students brought calling cards to call home and they email their families often.
Because the exchange program we’re currently part of was started by a couple of local, very hardworking volunteers, the children in this program all come from South Korea. However, if your family is interested in a particular area of the world, you may well be able to host someone from that area. Most families maintain close relationships with their exchange students for years after the student goes back home, even visiting each other again.
There are a number of organizations that run student exchange programs and the local High school counselors can provide you contact information to a reputable one. The students are screened by the placement agencies and usually arrive with fairly solid language skills, however one of the reasons they are here is to become more like native speakers. Most students stay for one year, however our students will unfortunately only be here for one month. My family would tell you that is eleven months too short.