The AFS experience is open to ALL types of families. Single parents, childless couples, and two-parent families can all host successfully and learn from an intercultural experience. The composition of your family is not nearly as important as your family’s flexibility and willingness to adjust as needed. While there is no formula for knowing in advance exactly what adjustments will be necessary, anticipating the need for some adjustments may make things easier when obstacles arise.
Please remember that a normal hosting relationship involves happy, satisfying times as well as difficulties and misunderstandings. Regardless of cultural background, family dynamics and familial relationships are complicated, change over time and include both positive and negative interactions. Therefore, hosting an exchange student from another country and culture is no different.
Some helpful tips to help build a solid relationship with your participant include:
- When challenges arise, it’s important to communicate and begin working them out.
- Assume positive intent when handling difficulties.
- Do not blame individuals – including yourself!
- Try to understand the situation from your participant’s point of view.
- Be patient and supportive while your participant is trying to adjust to your way of life.
- Discuss possible points of disagreement or friction directly with your participant, rather than letting them fester.
- Contact your liaison with any concerns. They can help prevent small misunderstandings or frictions from becoming larger issues that may be more difficult to resolve.
If you have child(ren) or teen(s) at home, it is important to talk with them about their expectations of being and having a host sibling. An open discussion can sometimes reveal unrealistic expectations. A common expectation is that an AFS Participant will be your child/teens’ best friend. Talking about this in advance can help your child(ren)/teen(s) to understand that their new AFS sibling(s) may have similar different hobbies, interests, personalities and friends. Discussing expectations prior to your hosted participant’s arrival can help avoid possible disappointments and misunderstandings.
It’s possible that your child(ren) or teen(s) may feel neglected or overly competitive toward hosted participants. They may feel burdened by having to “look after” the hosted participant at school. If misunderstandings, jealousy, or other signs of friction develop, then begin by giving each person a chance to talk to you privately about the relationship. Try to bring the situation to a point where a three-cornered discussion can take place. Your role is to serve as a neutral referee. Using this approach, the grievances on both sides can be aired and a possible resolution to the problem can be reached.
Agree to work out adjustments as they arise. Your child(ren) and your hosted participant need to be willing to share their feelings with each other while feeling comfortable retaining their individuality. If there is tension between your hosted participant and your child(ren), handle the situation as you would among your own children.
Likewise, should discipline become necessary, trust that your approach to your own children is also appropriate for your hosted participant, with the EXCEPTION OF corporal punishment of ANY kind.
Please be aware that hosted participants must always be able to contact their liaison and parent(s)/guardian(s). Therefore, please do not take your hosted participant’s mobile phone away from them unless contact is available through alternate means (i.e. landline phone, email, etc.). Consistency in approach can prevent tension or jealousy. If you need assistance, do not hesitate to contact your local AFS Volunteers.
Keep in mind that you may need to take the lead in a discussion about problems or friction with your hosted participant. AFS Participants may feel reluctant to speak openly for fear of hurting your feelings, seeming ungrateful, or making matters worse instead of better. In addition, some hosted participants come from cultures in which the accepted practice is to keep problems to oneself. If your hosted participant appears unwilling to discuss problems at first, do not jump to the conclusion that they are being uncooperative or disinterested in finding a solution.
Be patient, keep trying and consider adjusting your communication style to be more direct or indirect, depending on your hosted participant’s preferences and cultural background. In some cultures, sharing concerns directly with those involved in the conflict is not generally done. The preferable way to resolve the situation is indirectly, through a third party. This allows for all parties to “save face” and maintains outward harmony in the relationships. This style of communication is common in more group-oriented cultures, such as Asia, Latin America and other cultures as well.
While AFS does encourage host parents to promote positive sibling relationships between their children and the host student(s), there have been situations, on occasion, where romantic feelings have developed between teenagers. It is not appropriate for a host student and their host sibling to become romantically involved while living together and AFS strongly discourages it. If you believe this may be the case, please contact your liaison to discuss it immediately. The likely outcome will be a host family change for the student.
If you sense that something “seems off” with your hosted participant, but they insist that “everything is fine”, please ensure that they have ample opportunity to speak with their liaison (or another local volunteer) outside of the presence of family members. Often, this will be enough to get communication flowing. With guidance from you and the local volunteer, your hosted participant will gradually learn to communicate with family members in a more open and direct manner.
Review the article Advice for Host Siblings of AFS Participants for even more useful information.
If you have an infant, toddler, or young child in your family, we encourage you to talk with your hosted participant about basic safety practices and interactions. Family expectations on safety practices include:
- If/when/how the hosted participant should/may hold the infant safely.
- The child’s nap/sleep schedule and diet.
- Any allergies or medical conditions about which all members of the family are aware.
In addition, please inform your hosted participant of how your family deals with disciplining the very young child in your home. Clearly explain family rules and expectations, such as:
- We do/do not give spankings in this home.
- Only the parents may discipline the children in this home.
- Please come to me if you feel the child has done something wrong and we will work out a solution.
We recommend sharing with your hosted participant some ideas for activities that they and the younger sibling(s) may do together. We recommend having this conversation, even if your hosted participant has experience with younger siblings back home, as some practices related to infants and young children that are acceptable in your hosted participant’s home or culture may be unacceptable to your family.
We encourage you to discuss with your hosted participant about any childcare responsibilities you may ask them to take on as a member of your family, such as occasional babysitting, helping the younger sibling(s) get ready in the mornings, etc. It is very important to ensure that you, your hosted participant, and the younger siblings are all comfortable with any arrangement discussed. It's also important for everyone to understand that the hosted participant is here to become a member of your family and participate in an intercultural exchange experience, and NOT as a childcare provider or nanny. We ask that host families NOT expect hosted participants to babysit younger host siblings on a regular or consistent basis.
Your Participant’s Family
While your family and the hosted participant are the most visible participants in the AFS experience, your hosted participant’s parent(s)/guardian(s) are also “participants” in their own way. They also have to adjust to their new family dynamic. They may be missing their teen as much as their teen is missing them. Since they have never met you and your family face-to-face, their natural concern for their child’s well-being and happiness is heightened. While AFS does not recommend frequent e-mail or phone calls with your hosted participant’s parent(s)/guardian(s)s, AFS does encourage you to email them occasionally to let them know how their teen is doing. Reassurance from you that their teen is happy and adjusting will be welcomed and appreciated. Please be reminded however that if there are any concerns with student behavior or adjustment, rather than going directly to the sending parents you should contact your liaison.
AFS has a standard statement, which is shared with all hosted participants and their families regarding frequent e mail and phone contact between participants and their natural families and friends back home.
AFS has the sole responsibility of determining host family placements. AFS will assist your family and hosted participant in having a successful hosting experience. However, AFS Volunteers have the authority to move the hosted participant to another family if they feel it is in the hosted participant’s best interest, or the best interest of your family.
Sometimes a placement does not work out, despite the honest effort put forth by the hosted participant, host family, and volunteers. Whether this is a result of a change in family circumstances, unresolved differences, or simple incompatibility, a change of family is necessary in some instances. Either you or your hosted participant may initiate the change, but the decision to move a hosted participant from the home will only occur after discussions take place with the AFS Volunteers in your area, unless there is a concern for participant safety. In the case of participant safety concerns, AFS will remove the hosted participant immediately while further looking into the concerns. Please be assured that family changes are not that uncommon and, although changes can be difficult for both hosted participants and families, we hope that if you have one experience that does not work out, you will be willing to try again.
In the event that a family change is made, the hosted participant will be placed, when possible, in the same community so that they do not need to change schools. In the case of a family change, AFS does not place blame on anyone. Rather, AFS seeks to ensure that both the hosted participant and host family feel supported. In all cases, AFS will take final responsibility for deciding if and when a family change is necessary.
Experienced Host Family Advice: Host families should know that moving a student to another family is NOT a failure. Sometimes it’s just not a good match. It is sad when a move becomes an angry one instead of a friendly understanding that sometimes people are just too different to live together easily.
Government regulations state that two foreign participants may be hosted by the same host family only with express prior written consent from the host family, parent(s)/guardian(s)s, and students being placed. The hosted participants may NOT be from the same country or have the same native language. Please notify your AFS Liaison (or, if the liaison is not available, AFS Staff or another volunteer) in a timely manner if you are considering hosting any other participants, even on a temporary basis. While double placements are permitted, the U.S. Department of State strictly PROHIBITS more than two participants living in one home.