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People have asked me, in all seriousness, why I would
do such a thing. To bring a teenager into my home,
willingly? I must be crazy! But itís different to have a
foreign exchange student than a regular teenager. They
have hoped and dreamed and worked for years for this
opportunity and they want to do their best while they
are here. Sure, they want to have fun. But for most of
them, everything here is fun. Even grocery shopping is
fun. And the mall, oh the mall, they love the mall!
Honestly, these kids are friendly, polite, helpful,
smart, and very studious individuals. Well, most of them
are. That is where you have to do your homework. The
most important thing is to choose a good agency and to
pick a student with common interests to fit in with your
family. Make sure they speak and write well in English
or school will be a nightmare. Most of the Asian
students are used to attending school six days a week
for 10Ė12 hours a day plus homework. Many of them will
have to repeat the year they are here when they get back
home because the courses do not transfer, but they are
willing to do that for the opportunity to see America.
You need to understand that the child you choose will be your child, a real part of your family, for probably 10 months, depending on the program you join. They will live in your house, eat your food, visit the places you visit, and do almost everything with you. In the end, you will send them back home, but they will always be a part of your family. My daughter loves to tell people she has six sisters! You should see the looks I get, until I explain that five of them are foreign exchange students. Actually, they still look at me like Iím a little nuts, just not quite as nuts as they thought I was before. Those of you who are adoptive parents probably already know that look.
We are currently hosting our fifth foreign exchange student. She is from a city just north of Beijing. She is sweet and honest and does her best to answer the many questions posed to her about China by inquisitive and not particularly polite Americans. She is wonderful with my very active nine-year-old daughter who was adopted from China. They have long conversations about the similarities and differences between our two countries. She has no problem with my older son, three dogs, and cat, even though she has no siblings or pets at home. She happily attends church with us although she is not Christian. Her English is excellent and her only complaint about her school (Westwood High School) is that it is too easy. She apologizes if she doesnít make an A. She loves trying new foods (particularly spicy ones), and when I apologize for my relatively bland cooking, she says not to worry because it is better for her complexion. She talks to her family back in China on Skype and says she isnít homesick. If she is, she hides it very well. She is a movie buff, as is my husband, so they are constantly comparing movies. And, of course, we go to a lot of movies. She loves conversation of any kind. She wants to know about everything! She loves baking; she had never baked before. She tried to teach me how to cook dumplings. We may have to try that again. She is awesome! My other four girls were also awesome, although not from China. We have had two Korean girls, one from Japan, and one from New Zealand.
There are no guarantees that your experience will be the same as mine. If you decide to try it, make sure you have an agency you can trust. There is a lot of information on the internet and a lot of agencies. Talk to the people who work at the agency. Find out what all the rules are. Some agencies allow driving, others do not, that sort of thing. Find out how strictly the rules are enforced. I know of one child who was sent back home for driving, which was forbidden, just because he backed the car up in the driveway; he never even went on the road! Other agencies have allowed teens who were ticketed for public intoxication to stay. Talk to people who have worked with the agency, especially people in your area to see what their experience was like. Find out what sort of help the agency will offer if there are problems. If you want to host someone from a specific city or province, you may have to search through several organizations. And check out your school to find out what the requirements are and if there are openings for foreign exchange students. Many of them have limited openings with very specific requirements and deadlines that seem somewhat arbitrary. Most of them require that you have a specific student to register and will not just hold a place for your family or your agency. This can be a problem if there is an early deadline because many students do not get all the paperwork completed and approved before summer.
Then, the most important thing of all, choose your student carefully. Check their grades, their English testing, and read their letters. Look for things that fit well with your family. Loves dogs/cats? Enjoys small children? Favorite books? Movies? Hobbies? And see what their parents and teachers say about them. Pick someone you feel a connection with, for whatever reason. It makes everything go smoother.
More questions? Let us know. We are here to help: FCC-Austin Foreign Exchange Student Consultants.