AFS is a worldwide family made up of local volunteers, natural families, and hosting families.
- As a host sibling, you play an important role in the experience of the AFS Participant who shares your family's life for a semester or a year.
- Sharing your home with another student is an adventure with the potential for your own personal growth, the chance to make a lifelong friend from another country and to have a lot of fun.
- Remember that every family has its ups and downs, but there are many things you can do to make sure you and your new sibling have every opportunity to make the most of this experience.
- By trying to understand another person's perspective, you are beginning to understand more about others and yourself.
Here are some helpful tips on how to have a successful hosting experience:
First of all, be yourself. This is not a job or task with a right and wrong way of acting. The AFS Exchange is a chance for you and your new sibling to learn, share, and grow. It will, of course, require a little more patience than if you were making friends at school; for one thing, the hosted participant lives with you.
If you start out trying to impress the hosted participant, you will find later that it is more difficult to be yourself. Your new sibling expects you to be you, just as they want to be himself or herself. So, relax and be honest with each other. This is how the best friendships begin.
Be a Sibling
Try to think of the AFS Participant as a new sibling. This does not mean that you will be expected to spend every minute together or have the same friends. You will have your personality differences and your own interests, just like you have with your existing friends and/or sibling(s).
You and your host sibling may enjoy each other’s company, but also pursue individual interests. If your parents seem to spend a lot of time with your new brother or sister, it is because they want them to be as comfortable in your home as you are. You can help with a little patience and understanding, and by always lending a hand. Don’t let the daily differences cloud the overall importance of a good relationship between all the members of your family. Above all, try to be open with everyone in your family and share how you feel so that misunderstandings and differences can be quickly overcome and do not grow into bigger problems.
While every effort should be made to develop a close sibling relationship with your host sibling(s), becoming romantically or intimately involved with a host sibling, regardless of age, is not appropriate and is likely to cause discord in the host family home and your removal from the host family home. If you start to feel emotionally drawn to your host sibling in a way that goes beyond a sibling relationship or friendship, speak to your liaison straightaway.
Be a Friend
Beyond your role as a host sibling, you may want to become friends with the hosted participant. This will make living together easier and give you a better understanding of the hosted participant and yourself.
Like all friendships, it will take time and a lot of shared experiences before you are comfortable with each other and have learned more about each other. This requires patience, tolerance, acceptance, and flexibility. The results will be worth it. When the experience is over, and the hosted participant has returned home, your friendship will still be there along with the satisfaction that you have reached across a great distance to understand another person.
Be a Guide
The AFS Participant is not a “guest” in your house – they are a new member of the family. To feel “at home,” however, participants need to be able to find their way around and to know where/how things are done. You can help them a lot by introducing them to people in the community and by being a guide to important places around the house, the school, and the community. During this time, you may discover new things about your environment which you took for granted or never saw before. By discovering this new perspective, you are, like your AFS Participant, discovering something new about your world.
Be a Language-learning buddy
For most AFS Participants, English is not their native language. They will not, of course, speak as quickly or confidently as you do. Sometimes when they are tired or nervous, their ability to communicate in English will be impaired. By having a little patience, you can help the hosted participant adjust, as well as demonstrate your ability to perceive and respond to the needs of other people.
Experienced Host Sibling Advice: Show the student the ropes. It is actually quite frightening to not know anyone. Take them places, spend time together with him and your parents, but also give the exchange student their quiet time and privacy.
Below are several things that you can do that may be very helpful for your new hosted sibling:
- Speak slowly using short, simple sentences
- Make sure rules, dates, and other important information are understood
- Repeat important information; repetition will help the hosted participant absorb the important things
- Try to be a good listener
We all like for others to listen to us as we try to communicate, so it is only polite to give the AFS Participant the opportunity to ask questions and practice learning English. If/when it is an appropriate time, politely correct only the most important things at first. Don’t worry about correct grammar or complete sentences. Instead, just encourage the hosted participant to talk and look for words to express feelings or needs. In the process, you might learn some of their language. The thought of learning an entirely new language can be frightening (imagine trying to learn yourself!), so give the hosted participant a compliment now and then. It will work wonders.
Relationships and Rewards
There is no formula for the perfect relationship with your AFS Sibling. Each and every interaction between two people is unique. It’s often a matter of the mixture of personalities, interests, and environment, as well as cultural differences. Your willingness to see another point of view, to compromise, and overcome minor irritations will help establish good communication. Sometimes your expectations of friendship may be fulfilled and sometimes they may not be; but accepting and respecting each other’s individuality will be a tremendous learning experience.
During your AFS experience, it is natural for hosted participants, as well as host siblings, to want to speak openly with someone outside the home that understands AFS and the unique challenges that accompany the hosting experience. Your AFS Liaison and other volunteers can provide an objective and informed point of view, and they are willing to listen and help both you and your hosted participant.
Throughout the exchange, your liaison will initiate separate contact with you and your host sibling each month. It is important to remember, however, that you don’t need to wait for your liaison to contact you. In fact, we urge you to ask for assistance at any time before difficulties and misunderstandings become serious.
In many cases, small but persistent problems can be resolved if an AFS Volunteer talks separately with the hosted participant and host family. Mediation by a neutral third party often helps each side to better understand the other’s point of view. Whomever you choose to talk with, you deserve a great deal of credit and thanks for your efforts to work through any difficulties which may arise. Learning to understand yourself as well as others is all part of the AFS experience.
Gaining a New Perspective
The AFS hosting experience gives you the opportunity to form a new perspective on your values, obstacles, and goals. You may gain new insights into your way of life or into the world around you. By opening your heart and home as a host sibling, you are a central part of the AFS experience.
Experienced Host Sibling Advice: I’ve never had a sister before which means I’ve never had to share my room and belongings, my privacy, my mom and dad. It’s difficult to see how one could love a person you’ve never known before, yet I couldn’t help but love my host sister and her actions. Through this love, I’ve learned patience. The biggest adjustment I had to make was sharing my parents. When our AFS student arrived, she needed extra love at the beginning. I wouldn't trade this sharing experience for anything else in the world.