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Helpful Hints for Host Families


When your student arrives, make sure his room is prepared. Feed your student if he is hungry, or at least offer some light refreshments after he has had time to freshen up. Keep the food simple; bread, cheese and fruit so as not to shock their systems with new American foods. Suggest the student call home to assure his parents he has arrived safely. (Europe is 7-8 hours ahead of this time zone)
Your student is often exhausted after his long journey to the United States. It is not unusual for him to sleep a great deal the first day or so. Try to minimize activities during the first few days until he has had time to rest and orient himself to his new environment.

After your student has rested sufficiently, explain in detail the manner in which your household operates. Here are some ideas:

  1. Make a household information sheet. Include a schedule of family activities (meal times, bed times, church, etc.)
  2. Do they need permission to: use the phone, watch TV, help themselves to food, etc.
  3. Explain the use and operation of household items. For example, how to use the bathtub or shower, what can and cannot be flushed down the toilet, door and window locks, use of the television, laundry facilities, and use of the kitchen and it’s appliances. No need to explain how to use most video game systems!
  4. Give him a simple daily chore. This may make it easier for him to feel like a part of your family.
  5. Treat him as one of the family, not as a guest.

By briefly writing down what the household rules and expectations are for your student, you are being helpful, not mean. It will help avoid confusion and hard feelings during his/her stay with you.


Because your regular diet may be unfamiliar to your student and because he may hesitate to accept second helpings at meals, he may feel that he is not getting enough to eat. International students sometimes find that American breakfast and lunches are much smaller than their meals at home. If you want your student to feel free to help himself to more food, keep offering, otherwise he may feel it is rude to ask.

Try to make dinnertime a family occasion, a time to gather together and share the day’s events. This is a great time to relax, get to know each other better, and learn more about each other’s cultures. One thing you may discover about your student’s culture is that he is accustomed to taking meals at different times of the day than Americans do. European families typically eat breakfast when they arise, lunch at 2:00 – 3:00, a light snack between 5:00 and 6:00, and dinner at 9:00 or 10:00. Give your student time to adjust to your family’s meal schedule.


Household pets are not as common in Europe as they are in the states. The student may find it strange that pets are allowed in the house and are considered part of the family. However, this is usually one of the things he will miss upon his return home.


The students will have varying degrees of fluency of the English language. You will learn this early on, and will be able to modify the following suggestions accordingly.

When listening to your student, give him time to formulate his thoughts in English and then tell you his thoughts before you respond. Many cultures have a longer response time than the American culture does; be patient.

Talk slowly and clearly. Be alert to the fact that he may not understand what you are saying. Though he may smile and nod his head, this may be a polite way of acknowledging that he hears you, but it may not mean that he really understands what you said. If it is something important, ask him to repeat it back to you.

Be aware of your use of slang and idioms. For example, if Americans don’t understand what someone has just said, we often say, “Run that by me again.” These kinds of phrases could confuse your student. Don’t stop using them, rather be aware when you do and explain their meaning. You may be surprised at how much slang you actually use! The students usually feel pleased to go home knowing slang phrases that they can use on their friends.

When communicating, watch for non-verbal cues. Some of these cues might come in the form of posture, facial expression, touching, or eye movements. Your student may tell you one thing verbally to avoid being rude, but his body language may communicate the opposite.


Follow the legal ages for smoking and drinking. The drinking age is 21. Many of these students have had drinks both at home and with their friends, as it is legal for them at home and is part of their culture. It is, however, illegal here! The legal age for smoking is 18 here. If your student is 18 and you allow smoking in your home, that is your decision. If your student is not yet 18, or if he/she is 18 but you do not allow smoking in your home, then the student must abide by that. The rules of your house must be followed.

The student should never be allowed to travel alone. They may meet a friend locally, but should never travel into Chicago, for example, without an American chaperone (adult). Another exchange student 18 years old or over does not qualify as an adult chaperone in this situation.

The student may travel with the host family on extended weekends, etc. The local coordinator and overseas leader must be notified in advance with the family’s contact information, in case an emergency arises and the student must be contacted.



Tolerance is an important element in building relationships with people from other countries, especially in areas such as religion. Please be tolerant of your student’s religious beliefs. Some of the students may have a negative attitude towards attending church. If your family regularly attends church, include it as part of the family schedule. Explain to your student that this is an opportunity to experience a cultural difference, and that our church services are very different than those in Europe. If your student is clearly uncomfortable and unhappy about attending church, use your discretion on how to handle this situation. Don't hesitate to call your local coordinator for some advice.

Usually, if you have asked and your student does not want to attend, just leave it at that. It will not hurt him to sit at home for a couple of hours by himself. Also, if he would like to attend a church other than the one your family attends and you can accommodate the request, allow him to do so.


Americans are fairly punctual and time-conscious. People in other cultures are sometimes more relaxed about time. It is important to explain to your student that Americans expect others to be on time or that a telephone call is an assumed courtesy if he will be late. This is very important especially where the field trips (and train schedules, etc.) are concerned. Please help to make sure the student understands this and is on time for field trips!


Students will bring their personal cell phones. Check your cell phone company to determine if there is a fee for international texts. If you call your student’s cell phone and it has an international phone number, you will get charged for an international call even though you are in the States.

If your student is calling home more frequently than once a week or so to check in, homesickness may be an issue. It will only be prolonged by frequent calls to home. Try to discourage this if you see it becoming a problem and feel free to call the coordinator for assistance.


Students are fully covered for medical and dental visits. If your student should need to see a doctor or dentist, please contact your Overseas Leader and Local Coordinator for insurance forms and instructions. You may take the student to your family doctor or dentist. In a true emergency, get medical assistance first and notify the coordinators immediately.


Students are not allowed to drive any motorized vehicle.


If you don’t have a teen in the home, here are some things to think about. Teens usually want to hang out with their friends. That is one of the reasons why we have the excursions. It is okay for your student to get together with another student once in awhile. It is not okay for you to become a taxi driver and hotel. Please limit their extra interactions to a reasonable amount. The students are here to be part of your family. Teens need guidance. If you go out with your student and want them to pay their way, let me know ahead of time what the cost will be and let them say yes or no. Some students have a lot of disposable cash and some do not. You are not expected to pay for everything. In short, let the students know your expectations of them. Give them some responsibility. Give your student some jobs around the house. Setting the table, helping clean up, putting away groceries. Teens are fun but it is a difficult time of emotion growth. Just try to remember how you were at that age!


Learn as much as you can about your student, his country, his culture, and his language. He will be delighted by your interest.

Respect your student. Enjoy his differences. Be flexible.

Keep a sense of humor. RELISH IN THE ADVENTURE OF IT ALL!