International exchange programs:  Preparing for the welcome

When a family opens their home and hearts to a youth in an International yearlong exchange program, preparing for the welcome is an important part to ensure a good experience for everyone. Here are some suggestions for their arrival.

Michigan families participate in the 4-H International Exchange programs opening their hearts and homes.  Many of these families recently said goodbye to their one month summer inbound exchange program students from Japan and Poland.  As some families have tearfully done their farewells; there are now families preparing to welcome a yearlong inbound exchange student.  The States’ 4-H International Exchange Program has a mission of “Enhancing world understanding and global citizenship through high-quality 4-H international cultural immersion and exchange programs for 4-H aged youth.”  Youth are learning about the cultures, customs and lifes''tyles of Americans by living with host families through a homestay program. These international youth exchange programs promote cross-cultural understanding through the development of personal relationships between members of different countries and cultures.

When a family opens their home and hearts to a youth in an International exchange program preparing for the welcome is an important part of having a good experience. 

Here are a few some suggestions from Michigan State University Extension before your student arrives:

  • Exchange contact information and connect as soon as you can via email, Facebook, Skype, etc. to get to know each other prior to arrival.  This is a very important part of the bonding process. 
  • Introduce the school, school activities, after school programs and clubs, host brother’s or sister’s friends, and make the connections.  This will ease the stress in making new friends and not feeling alone or having homesickness.
  • Mailing of letters or photographs is nice and personal, but keep in mind the mailing time may be lengthy.
  • Share special interests, hobbies and foods as a way to look for commonalities of future activities you can do together. This can include cooking a special meal or going to a sporting event.
  • Prepare for a welcome celebration that fits your needs; a large or medium sized welcome party with neighbors, family and family friends, or a small family evening dinner.
  • Plan something special to do together before school starts if possible. Go school supply shopping, cook a favorite meal, go camping, watch your favorite movie.
  • Prepare a calendar with all the special events marked such as holidays, vacations and special events.
  • Discuss chores, household rules and expectations or even posted if needed. This may include doing laundry, curfew times, room cleanliness, computer usage or cell phones. This is an easy way to make sure everyone is on the same page and there is a consistency within the family.

Some other steps to prepare for your student are feelings and emotions. Through the first contacts the realistic expectations of each other will develop. Furthermore, during this time feelings of caring and interest will begin to grow.   Families will need to keep in mind that teenagers will be teenagers, no matter where they come from and be prepared to handle situations as they arise like bullying, importance of friends, cultural challenges, homesickness and communication misunderstandings.  Overall, the experience should be positive for all if everyone is prepared. 

Michigan 4-H  will be recruiting host families interested in opening their home and hearts to international youth in 2014.  The Michigan 4-H International Exchange Programs website contains information on these life changing experiences.  There is also a Facebook page where families share questions, photos and special moments.  Contact your local 4-H program coordinator and fill out the Host Family Application to get started and be prepared to welcome an international youth into your family.

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