One way to get a cross-cultural experience without actually committing to a long period studying overseas is to host an international exchange student. At tertiary level, these will often be students from Asian countries looking to improve their English through immersion while studying a concentrated English program. In return, you may be able to pick up some of their language as well with reciprocal lessons – or if you cook together, learn some new skills. You can find a student to host through Student Exchange or ISEP, however agreeing to host an exchange student comes with certain responsibilities. These include:
- Helping the student with figuring out how to get around their new location, especially how to get to and from their institution.
- Being a warm and comforting environment if they become distressed, homesick or experience culture shock.
- Giving them space and quiet to study.
- Depending on your boarding agreement, you may need to provide meals.
- Ensure the safety of the student, checking on their location if they stay out late and making sure you know where they are without being overbearing.
In exchange, you receive a weekly board payment (unless it’s part of a reciprocal agreement where you will stay with them in return) to help cover costs as well as provide extra profit. Sadly some people see this as an opportunity to make fast money, crowding students into small rooms and offering little support. The ideal homestay experience is staying in a home – with people constantly around, particularly locals who know the area well.
Most exchange students will be young, friendly and outgoing. They’ve already made the decision to come to a foreign country to study, so they’re probably excited to make friends, put their skills to the test and step outside their comfort zone. Encourage them to go to social events and Going out with them and showing them the sights as well as the best places to buy a coffee or quick dinner isn’t required, but it’s a much appreciated gesture.
Some exchange students will become withdrawn and quiet – a natural reaction to being overwhelmed by a new culture and a foreign environment, far away from friends and family. You need to show patience and try to comfort them as best you can – culture shock usually operates on a cycle, and given enough time they’ll be ready to settle in a bit more.
Hosting an exchange student can be an incredibly rewarding experience, allowing you to learn more about a different culture and make a friend for life. Be prepared to take on the responsibilities that it entails however, and be ready to go the extra mile to make their trip memorable.