Living with a High School Exchange Student

Sharing your daily life with your high school exchange student will be the most important part of the exchange experience, and this section provides some ideas what to expect and how you and your family can navigate through this amazing journey with your new family member.


Realistic Expectations

To Get A Great Start

Living in close proximity with family members can sometimes be challenging, and living with a teenager from a different cultural background is no exception. ICES and its partner organizations abroad provide education and preparation to exchange students, helping them understand realistic expectations and how to handle common challenges. The host family handbook, interviews and pre-arrival orientations discuss the same topics to prepare American families for these challenges too, but from a different perspective.

To be well prepared as a family will help both you and the exchange student to have a great start on the exchange experience. Here are some tips from two ICES blog post that may come handy in the preparation for your student’s arrival:

BLOG: How To Be an Awesome Host Family
BLOG: What you should know about receiving your exchange student

Exchange Student Arrival Day

The joy and happiness that accompany an exchange student’s arrival are truly heartwarming. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to witness one of these arrivals at an airport, you know exactly what we are talking about. The smiles on the faces of the students and their host families say it all – a new adventure is about to begin!

Check out this blog post to get even more excited!

BLOG: They Are Here! The Excitement of Student Arrivals

Host Family Rules

Welcoming an exchange student is welcoming a new member of the family into your home, and a bit of guidance can go a long way. Unlike welcoming a new baby, this new family member comes to you with preconceived notions of what an American family is like. Often these ideas are based on things learned from the movies, television shows and from other people’s experiences. Your student will also arrive with their own experiences, customs and habits from their home, family and culture. Knowing this ahead of time can help avoid some common mistakes and get right into having an amazing time.


Tip #1: Define Your Expectations

In the back of the ICES Participant Handbook is a form called Home Sweet Home. This form is designed to help you clearly teach your exchange student the rules, routines, and expectations of your family. We have found that families who use this have more successful communication and an easier transition. Sitting down as a family to discuss and put into writing your expectations, routines, and traditions is vital to your success as a host family. As you do this, your student may nod their head and smile at you, not really understanding at first. But as you journey through the year, the things that you wrote down will begin to make sense. If you haven’t done it yet, it isn’t too late.

You can download the handout here. Just click on the button below to get the PDF:

PDF: Home Sweet Home!

Tip #2: Don’t Misjudge Cultural Differences as Bad Behavior

In many countries, parents do things for their children–such as cleaning, doing their laundry, and making them snacks–as a way of showing love and affection. So our exchange students can be genuinely surprised and somewhat hurt when the host mother teaches them to do their own laundry, keep their bathroom clean, or doesn’t fix them a snack after school. Putting these actions through their cultural filter, they interpret them to mean that the host mom doesn’t care about them.


Tip #3: Remember You’re Not Alone

Something often forgotten by first-time host parents is that you have a large support system ready, willing and able to help you navigate this experience. Your Local Coordinator is nearby and full of experience and tips to share with you. Staying in close contact with your Local Coordinator, keeping them up-to-date with the good and the not-so-good will allow them to support your efforts and keep small issues from escalating. Behind the Local Coordinator is a Regional Manager who has a vast amount of experience and ideas to offer. Finally, there is the ICES Student Services department which is staffed with full-time counselors to provide support during the toughest situations.

In this blog post a host mom reflects over her own first hosting experience:

BLOG: Don’t Make My Mistakes

What’s the Best Way to Give Feedback to a Foreigner?

Our culture conditions the way we give feedback to other people. This is one of the fascinating lessons we can explore with people from other countries. In places like Holland or Israel, you can expect people to say it like it is, while in Saudi Arabia or Japan it could take you weeks, months or even years to realize someone is hoping you will eventually get the hint. And in between these extremes, you have as many formulas for giving feedback as you have cultures around the world.

Simply click on the button below to read the blog post!

BLOG: What’s the Best Way to Give Feedback to a Foreigner?

We Asked Students and Host Families About Their First Impression

First Impression for Exchange Students

Have you ever wondered what it’s like for an exchange student to arrive in the U.S.? What cultural differences stand out to them? What do they enjoy most? What surprises them? In these early weeks of the school year, we asked this year’s incoming class to share some of their first impressions of life in the U.S., and they had lots to say!

BLOG: They’re Here! First Impressions of the U.S.

First Impression for Host Families

Now we’ll give our host families a turn to share how they’re feeling during these early weeks of turning a complete stranger into a member of the family. You might be surprised at what they have to say!

BLOG: Host Families’ First Impressions

Helping Exchange Students bond with host siblings

10 Ways to Create Connection Between Exchange Students & Host Siblings

Hosting an exchange student can be an incredibly rewarding experience for your family. It provides an opportunity to learn about different cultures, create lasting friendships, and broaden your horizons. One aspect of hosting that often plays a crucial role in the exchange experience is the relationship between host siblings and the exchange student.

Check out our top 10 tips and strategies to help host and exchange siblings connect and make the most of their year together.

BLOG: 10 Ways to Create Connection Between Exchange Students & Host Siblings

Home Sickness

Your exchange student is living thousands of miles from home for an extended period of time. Virtually everything is different from what they are used to, and they are constantly having to adapt—to new customs, new people, new foods, a new language, a new school. On top of all this, they are young, and in most cases, this is the longest they’ve ever been away from home. It’s only logical that they will sometimes feel homesick, discouraged, frustrated, or all of the above. A natural response is for the student to want to communicate with home. But will reaching out to family and friends at home help? Or harm?

ICES recommends that students limit their contact with home to a maximum of one hour per week. Many students—and their host families—ignore this recommendation because they don’t think contact with home will hurt the student’s exchange experience. In fact, many hypothesize that communicating with home will actually help the exchange student overcome homesickness and culture shock.

The following two ICES blog posts will explain more and by following the guidelines, you can help ensure that your experience with your exchange student is a positive one that benefits everyone involved.

BLOG: Helping Your Exchange Student Through Homesickness
BLOG: 10 Reasons to Limit Contact with Home

Culture Shock

Adapting to a new culture is stressful. Very stressful. When you are receiving an exchange student from abroad, it’s easy to underestimate just what a struggle it can be to leave everyone and everything behind you – and then start from scratch:

  • New home
  • New family
  • New school
  • New friends
  • New routines
  • and even a New language!

THE BAD NEWS: Your student can really hit bottom

THE GOOD NEWS: It doesn’t have to be that way

These two blog posts will explain and provide you with valuable tools to identify and help your new family member get through this common process for exchange students.

BLOG: 10 Culture Shocks in the USA
BLOG: Listen Like a Detective!

Explore and share the USA that you love with Your Exchange Student

Sharing the USA with your exchange student is a great way to help them learn about American culture and customs. There are many ways to do this, such as taking them to local events, festivals, and attractions, sharing your favorite American foods, and introducing them to your friends and family. You can also encourage them to participate in extracurricular activities at school or in the community, such as sports teams, clubs, or volunteer work. By sharing your experiences and traditions with your exchange student, you can help them feel more connected to their new home and create lasting memories.

This blog posts will provide you with tips of activities and things to do and explore your with new family members – one activity for each month.

BLOG: Share the USA with Your Exchange Student – a Monthly Guide

And if the above blog post didn’t support your student’s and family’s appetite and curiosity, here are some additional blog posts that suggest other seasonal things to do through out the year.

Activities for the Fall season

BLOG: Top 10 Fall Favorites in the U.S.


ICES has been connecting American host families with international high school students since 1991, and it has been a privilege to be a part of this amazing journey over the years.

We would like to take a moment to express our sincere gratitude for opening your home and your hearts to your exchange students. Your kindness, generosity, and hospitality make the students’ experience of studying abroad truly unforgettable.

Living with a host family in a new country can be challenging, but you have made the transition so much easier for the students. Your support and encouragement have helped them adjust to their new home, school, and community, and create lasting memories.

Thank you for giving international high school students the opportunity to experience American culture firsthand, make new friends, and create lasting connections. Your generosity has made a difference in their lives, and we are grateful for your continued partnership with ICES.


ICES President and founder