Families who host international high school students often tell us about the joy of experiencing another culture while sharing the American way of life. Cultural exchange experiences can be life-changing for the high schooler AND for the host family. Host Families often develop long-lasting relationships with their foreign exchange students and their families.
We asked Hunt Neely, one of our experienced host dads (he’s been hosting for years!), to share what makes hosting a successful and rewarding experience to both students and their host families. Here’s what Hunt shared with Greenheart.
“Love, trust, honesty, security, flexibility. These are the qualities that have helped make me a successful host. I am currently hosting my 15th exchange son, having hosted 4 Brazilians, 1 German, 3 Czechs, 2 Spaniards, 1 Hungarian, 3 Italians, and 1 Frenchman. I have loved each of them as my own son and to one degree or another, remain in touch with all of them. I have children all over the world!
I got the idea to host after my wife passed away and my two adult daughters were out of the house living their own lives. I had an exchange brother when I was a teen, Freddy from Venezuela. Through the miracle of Facebook, we are still in touch with each other after 50 years.
The boys help me keep active and feeling younger than I am. I am dazzled and enthralled with their discovery of new situations and friends in the USA and love to see familiar places through a new set of eyes.
I was at first concerned whether the boys’ parents might worry about an older single male hosting their son. Now, I tell any prospective student to feel free to contact my former students or, more importantly, their mothers to see if I am a good host. Not bragging, but I get glowing reviews!
I found early what my students desire most is the same they would ask of their natural parents – to be loved, trusted, and safe. Once they have this assurance in their minds, most anything else can be worked out.
Flexibility on both sides is a huge part of the equation. You have a stranger being thrown in the middle of your family dynamic. He has to get used to the “dance” we all do with our families and you must get accustomed to how he “dances.” Once they understand the house rules, roles, and duties, they normally adapt pretty quickly. Be certain you are also adapting. Both sides need to get used to different moralities, customs, and ideas. Host siblings should understand there is a new and different family mix. Their role is not diminished, it has only changed slightly.
Honesty is another major key. Be forthright and open with your expectations. Do not hesitate to both compliment and criticize, with love. Expect the same of your student. They need to know they can come to you with a problem and you will listen to them and try to help, whether it is a life problem or a situational issue. Don’t be afraid to be their friend but, at the same time, everyone should know who the adult in the relationship is.
Encourage your student to get involved, get involved, get involved. The more involved they are, the more friends they make and the more successful their exchange will be. I pity the kids who come and sit in their rooms playing computer games. More than one has said they regret not doing more with their exchange. As important as encouragement is enabling and supporting them. The kids can’t drive. If other transportation is not available, they are forced to depend on you. Be ready to help as much as possible.
Be certain the students know and understand they are living in a safe and secure environment. Their personal privacy and security is of paramount importance. If they share a room, they need to have at least a small space that is only theirs and everyone must respect this space.
Above all, love your child just as you would love your natural child. Everyone who knows me knows that I will be standing in the airport crying when my child leaves. I make them a large part of my life and, consequently, become a part of theirs. I am very open with my feelings and my children, both natural and exchange, know they are adored. Love conquers all is a true saying. Each of my boys goes home with his house keys. I want them to know they always have a key to their home in the USA.
A natural mother’s message to host father, Hunt Neely:
“Sergio is living his dream and it is all thanks to you. I can never thank you for how happy it makes me to see him so enthusiastic.”
Sergio’s whole family watched the live stream of the game from Spain to see his kicks. It started at 2:00 a.m. Spanish time.
Greenheart’s Executive Regional Director – High School Programs, Connie Deans says, “Hunt feels he always chooses the most incredible student each year and that’s why they have awesome experiences. What he doesn’t realize is that 95% of the experience is due to him being an awesome host parent! He supports and encourages his students to get involved in the life of the school, and to make the most of it. They always leave knowing Hunt gave them their dream of a lifetime.”
Thank you Hunt for sharing these remarkable observations, hints and tips and guidance for hosting! We thank you for continuing to open your heart and home for our international exchange students and playing an instrumental role in shaping their U.S. exchange experiences!