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Oregon Family Magazine

Create Lifelong Bonds

08/30/2017 ● By Sandy Kauten
Our first exchange student, Rosa from Chile, arrived a few days before her 16th birthday. She was very shy; her English wasn’t great and my partner and I had very little idea of how to support a teenager… but we took the leap.

We still keep in touch, thanks to social media. In fact, about a dozen years later, I helped her with a graduate school application. I’ve watched proudly as she’s become a brilliant artist.

Our second exchange student, Marilia from Brazil, arrived the following summer, not long after I found out I was pregnant with our first child. She was bubbly, outgoing, joined the Willamette High School cheerleading squad and was one of the first family members to welcome her baby “brother” to the family. Her career path has taken her to business and agriculture law and I beam with pride when she shares her milestones.

While occasionally stressful and challenging to welcome a stranger — a teenager even — into your home, we found the rewards far outweigh the drawbacks. And we’re not alone. About 25,000 high school students come to the US every year from all over the world and the vast majority participate in homestays. 

Sandy Kauten, Oregon Family Magazine’s Publisher, agrees that hosting is a valuable experience for the whole family. She initially saw a flyer at her son’s school for North American International Student Services (NAISS), which brings Chinese students to the northwest. They applied to be a host family for the summer program. By lucky coincidence, the program director’s son, Ryan, was placed with the Kautens and has been able to come back every summer.

“The bond that Ryan and [my son] Brandon have is great,” she says. “They stay in touch all year through WeChat, sometimes talking for an hour or more! It’s truly a lifelong friendship.”

Brandon has become very interested in Chinese culture thanks to this bond with his new friend. He’s even teaching himself Mandarin using Fluenz language-learning software! 

Think you’re interested in hosting a student? We have some tips:

Have a sense of adventure. Hosting a student gives your family the opportunity to see your community, the region, and even the country through fresh eyes. The ordinary turns into the extraordinary!

Eugene host mom Kelly Prusz suggests taking your host student to the top of Skinner’s Butte — it’s a perfect place to see the geography of the region.

Be flexible. Hosting a stranger in your house can disrupt routines and change relationship dynamics — that can be both good and bad. Staying flexible can help your family, and your student, adjust quickly.

Consider time constraints and financial budgets. High school students are often active and involved in sports, clubs, and other activities. When our student from Brazil joined the cheerleading squad, that meant adjusting to practice schedules and even attending high school football games (which we hadn’t done since we were in high school!).

Some organizations offer a small stipend to cover food and some activities, while others ask for volunteers. Be clear about what the student is expected to pay for and what your family’s obligation will be.

Test the waters with a short-term stay. A full academic year is a big commitment. If you’re not sure if your family is ready for that, try a short-term hosting arrangement first. Our first student came for half an academic year (January - June), and many programs are looking for families to host for summer or winter break stays.

Keep it simple. You’re not expected to entertain your student for weeks and months on end. The best experiences happen when a student becomes part of your family - including enjoying lazy Sundays, making trips to the grocery store, and even doing household chores.

There may never be a perfect time to welcome a stranger into your home, but the rewards of creating lifelong connections and the diversity of thought and culture that he or she brings to your home are immeasurable. You’ll create experiences that turn into cherished memories that will last a lifetime.

And years from now, as you watch your high schooler turn into talented, smart, young professional accomplishing great things at home and around the world, you can celebrate right alongside her and beam with pride.

Learn more about hosting a student:

Ayusa: (full-year program)

North American International Student Services: (summer program)

AFS-USA: (full-year program)

EF Exchange Year: (full-year program)

International Student Exchange: (full-year program)

CCI Exchange:  (full-year, semester or summer programs)


International Cultural Exchange Services: (full-year, semester programs)

ASSE International: (full-year, semester or summer programs)

American Discovery: (summer programs for French and Spanish students)

Northwest Student Exchange: (full-year or semester programs)

Do your research on each organization to determine which is right for your family. Some questions to ask: Does the organization have a local coordinator available for support? How are the students chosen? What are you expected to provide? Are there organized programs available for the student during the year?

Bio: Kelli and her partner, Michael, have hosted two exchange students through EF Exchange Year. Rosa is pursuing her PhD in Scotland and Marilia is practicing business and agriculture law in Araraquara, Brazil.