Host Mom :: What to Expect and Helpful Tips for Hosting an Exchange Student


what to expect and helpful tips for hosting an exchange student

Two short weeks ago, a friend, Shena, who is a representative for the International Student Exchange, messaged me asking, “I have a weird question for you, but have you ever thought about being a host family for an International Student Exchange (ISE) student?”

I was very interested, but I knew that opening up our home would have to be a decision that my husband and I made together. I texted my husband, and his answer was “maybe” (mainly because he needed more information). Shena told me about Donny, a 17-year-old boy from Vietnam, and how he was in need of a Host Welcome Family.

That night my husband and I talked it over. We weighed the pros and cons, considered how our life would be different (especially with two kids under the age of four), and ultimately decided to give it a go!

If you have ever considering hosting an exchange student, here are some details about what to expect, as well as some helpful tips and information to keep in mind leading up to the first day he or she arrives in your home.

The Screening Process

Once we said yes, we had to go through a screening process that was relatively easy. We were asked to provide a lot of photos of our home — including the faucet in the kitchen and the toilet in the bathroom!

We were also asked to fill out a profile and provide four references who had visited us in our home who we had known for at least one year and who were not relatives. It was similar to filling out a resume for a job.

Then, our representative asked us to provide even more photos — so I ran through the house at 11 p.m. in a bathrobe taking photos of everything missed on the first run through and sent them to her in a Facebook message.

We were finally approved a few days later, and two days after that our student, Donny, arrived.

Picking Up at the Airport – It’s Harder Than You Think!

We made a sign to welcome Donny to Columbia
We made a sign to welcome Donny to Columbia

We took two cars to the airport, since I didn’t have the chance to jockey two car seats around to fit him and the entire family in one car yet.

Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE) has free parking for the first 20 minutes, so after meeting up with Donny and taking a quick photo of our new “family,” I sent my husband and daughter home while I waited with Donny for his luggage. It took 40 minutes for the luggage to be unloaded from the airplane!

During this time, we talked. Donny’s English is very good, however, there were some things I needed to reword so that he could better understand. At times, I have felt like a human thesaurus, but I think that’s a good thing and a challenge I am embracing. I am also learning to speak more clearly and talk slower.

Arriving “Home”

The first hour after we arrived home was spent showing Donny where things are in the house.

Then we went about our normal activities which included going to church that evening. I sing in the choir, so Donny sat with my husband, Jonathan, and two kids, Lucie and Asher. He held Asher the entire mass, and I have never seen my children behave so well!

After church we came home, and Jonathan started to cook dinner. Donny volunteered to help, and we had a wonderful meal of hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries.

Things I Have Learned in My Short Time Hosting an Exchange Student

I have noticed several great characteristics from Donny that I, and the rest of my family, should implement in our own lives:

  1. Gratitude – He is extremely polite and says “please” and “thank you” every single time it is appropriate. Every. Single. Time.
  2. Helpfulness – He doesn’t wait for us to ask him to do something. He readily volunteers.
  3. Manners – He waits for everyone to be seated at the dinner table before beginning to eat. He opens and closes the car door for me. Yes, these are little things, but many of us have lost touch with how meaningful these gestures can be.
gift picture
Donny brought us a gift to thank us for hosting him – just one example of his gratitude

Hosting an International Exchange Student has been such a positive experience so far — I can’t wait to see where else this journey leads us and additional lessons we’ll learn! Have you ever considered hosting an International Student Exchange student? If so, what was your experience like?

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Barbara Reggio is a wife, mother, and small business owner. She has been married to Jonathan since May 2011, and they are partners in parenting their two children, Lucie (January 2012) and Asher (April 2014). The Reggio family relocated to West Columbia from Long Island, NY in March 2013 when Jonathan accepted a job transfer. She has the best of both worlds working both outside the home at a Customs House Brokerage and running her home based business, Trendy Babywearing. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Maritime Studies from the State University of New York at Maritime College. When she is not working or writing articles for Columbia SC Moms Blog, Barbara enjoys walking at the Riverbanks Zoo with her family, babywearing, reading, singing along to the radio (loudly) in her car, loom knitting, documenting her children's lives with photography, and writing on her personal blog Barbara is currently working on her goal of becoming a lifetime member with Weight Watchers.


  1. This is our 2nd time hosting. This year we took in a girl from the flex program then they needed an emergency placement for a boy. We decided to keep him also. We have our kids for 10 months and could not imagine life with out them. They have brought a new perspective to our small town which we moved to less the 2 years ago. It is not always easy but so so worth it. To see our 3 cultures come together just proves there is hope in the future. These kids will do great things in the world.

  2. We are going through the process of getting approved to host for the very 1st time. We have our house inspection soon. Do you have any details or tips for me. We are excited about starting to be a host family.

  3. Thanks for the great tips for being a host family. We’re thinking of having a Chinese exchange student come live with us for the year, so this is great. I love how your student is so polite and kind to you all. Hopefully, we can host someone like that.

  4. We are hosting our 10th this year. I’m addicted. They enrich our lives and our children’s lives. Open your mind and your heart and you will have children all over the world to love that you communicate with daily. We’ve hosted from the ages of 15 to 19. High school and college. German, Finnish, Swedish, Slovakian, Bosnian, Serbian and French. So much love. All our children!


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