Just one month ago, I bittersweetly watched as my exchange students departed from the Pittsburgh International Airport -- and what a month it was. Balancing my life as a high school senior and as a host of not one but, TWO exchange students, was definitely a struggle, albeit an educational and enjoyable one.
The students arrived en mass two weeks after my senior year had begun. My twin sister and I each opted to host an exchange student from Madrid -- one named Santi and the other, Elena.
All of the exchange students study at a private school in the heart of Madrid, Spain.
Here are a few tips that really helped me survive during that long month:
1. Plan group activities
When having an exchange student, hours of awkward silence and inactivity are things to avoid. Although we could've stayed home and watched movies, I found that taking the Spanish students on excursions really made the exchange experience much more enjoyable for them. As a busy senior, however, it was often difficult to budget time during the weekends for such trips. Consequently, all of the American students planned group outings, for example, going to the local amusement park or shopping at the mall. Americans who still wanted their exchange students to have an enjoyable time but couldn't spare any of their time, simply dropped them off with the Americans who could budget enough time to stay. This worked fairly well and the exchange students really had a great time, however, this ties into my next tip: communicate efficiently.
2. Communication is key
I'm not going to lie, communication was quite a difficulty for the American students. The exchange students, alternatively, we're always communicating via Whatsapp, a mobile communication application. As a result of our communication deficit, often times exchange students were "misplaced." I even ended up carting seven, yes SEVEN, exchange students around downtown Pittsburgh because no one was communicating with me! Always exchange phone numbers with all students, American or foreign -- trust me.
3. Don't fuss
Please, I implore you as a student participating in an exchange, to be as excellent of a host as feasible for you. On the other hand, don't let you or your parents fuss over your exchange students! Being fussy is most often a function of wanting to be an attentive host. It's perfectly understandable but, fussiness can come off as rather smothering and unnecessary, especially if your exchange student enjoys some time alone. Trust me, if they're not talking there's no need to consistently ask them if they're "okay." They're probably not planning your homicide or anything of that caliber. Most likely they're feeling homesick or are just plain pensive individuals. Now it's always good to check up on your exchange student now and again to see if they're hungry or tired. It's even nice to ask if they have a favorite food they'd like to have for dinner but, if they say they enjoy pork it might be a little excessive to throw a traditional luau on their behalf.
4. Respect your budget
During the duration of the exchange, I often asked my friends what I should and shouldn't pay for during my student's stay. I've heard everything from "they're here for only a month, if they want it, buy it," to "check their wallets, if they have enough, don't buy anything."
While I think both are a tad unrealistic, it's always best to mind your own budget. Luckily, my exchange student and particularly Sofia, Elena's friend, were budget-conscience. They were always counting their money and rarely asked for us to pay. On the contrary, it's perfectly acceptable to buy them a nice dinner once and awhile and maybe a souvenir or two. Just as they have a budget, make sure you do as well. At first you may love to see their smiling faces after buying them ice cream every day but, once you start spending close to $100 a week, well then those smiles might become slightly agitating.
5. Don't be that (super) kid
I've found that there's really two distinct roles that students play when they have to care for exchange students. Some students are very passive and often forget they have a foreigner staring blankly at their flat screen TV for two hours, and then there are the super-students. These students feel as though they have to constantly be on the move, going from excursion to excursion. Don't play either of those roles, especially the "super" one. These kids eventually crash and fall and it's not pretty. They spend so much time constantly trying to entertain exchange students who, yes it's true, actually get tired. They come off as bossy and overbearing and even worse, begin to become worn down. If you feel as though you're beginning to don red spandex tights and a blue cape, take the time and realize that sitting down for a bit and watching television is perfectly fine.
I really do hope that you enjoy your time spent with your exchange student. It's really a great way for them to get to learn a little bit about American culture and to develop an international friendship along the way. Definitely keep some of these tips in mind so as to make your exchange as memorable and enjoyable as possible.
Soon it will be my turn to take on the role of a foreign exchange student when I visit Spain this March. Hopefully my host family will check out these tips!