Traveling is fun. But, going with a personal connection to another country is even more meaningful. FLAG – Foreign Links Around the Globe – can help you make that personal connection to the world by hosting an exchange student. Indeed, the benefits of hosting an exchange student are enormous.
FLAG’s mission is global diplomacy, and they provide high-quality international experiences that transform the lives of high school students, host families, and communities throughout the world.
Hosting A German Exchange Student
One family in Texas teamed up with FLAG, and it has taken them to Germany twice.
The Schnable’s were interested in the benefits of hosting an exchange student after their third child graduated from high school. They had one natural son in the house and thought it would be a fun experience to have a host son. They chose a student from Germany. JoMax was a junior in high school and quickly found himself in a small Texas town of 1000 people. Most of the high school students had never traveled abroad, so JoMax was a big hit. He quickly made friends and became a cherished family member.
Over the year, the Schnable’s formed a beautiful friendship with JoMax’s parents. After JoMax returned to Germany, the Schnable’s took a two week vacation to visit him and his family and see Germany for the first time. They met all JoMax’s extended family, and they traveled to the gorgeous countryside. It was their first international trip, but it would not be their last.
The Schnable’s Take a Trip to Germany
The following year, JoMax graduated from high school in Germany. The Schnable’s returned to Germany again to take part in their exchange son’s big event. He had grown even taller and had matured into a wonderful young man. This time in Germany was a little bit different than their first trip. They not only got to see JoMax, but they also got to see their host daughter, Lea.
The year after JoMax left Texas, the Schnable’s hosted again. This time they decided to do a double placement and hosted two young ladies. Lea was from Denmark, and Ingefred was from Germany. The Schnable’s adored these two young ladies. And, they added a rich cultural experience to the local high school.
The second trip to Germany was exciting because the Schnable’s got to meet Lea’s family for the first time in person. They had become great friends with them while their daughter was in Texas. And they finally got to meet them and see their beautiful host daughter again.
Hosting an exchange student is so much more than a visitor in your home.
These relationships become lifelong connections to the student, their family, and their country. They become phone calls and Snapchat messages with new family members. Last, they offer a cultural exchange of new recipes and a deep understanding of another culture.
“It is always bittersweet to see our “bonus kids” come and go – lots of anticipation and excitement for the unknown. From the time they land in our arms to smiles, hugs, thank you’s and a tear or two when they turn to walk away, we are so thankful. Another year of culture brought into our home by two amazing young ladies,” said Ms. Schnable as her last bonus daughter boarded a plane to Germany.
Exchange programs bridge the gap between American culture and the cultures of others. These students come to America to represent their country. They are proud and want to share it. It is an opportunity for American students to make a connection with someone from another country on a deep, personal level. Hosting student exchange programs provide education at its finest and offer life long benefits they never forget it.
These days, with all the COVID19 restrictions, there’s never been a better time to scratch that international itch by hosting. FLAG has several students signed up to come to America in the fall of 2020 from a variety of countries. They can’t go unless they are matched up with a host family and have a spot at the local high school.
Requirements of a Host Family
FLAG encourages all types of families to experience the benefits of hosting exchange students. To be sure, there’s no “typical” host family. Indeed, there are all types of host families. And yes, even single parents are more than welcome to join. Each family is unique and offers the student a genuine local experience.
The FLAGship program is an unpaid experience. However, a tax deduction is available to host families for the months they host an exchange student.
International high school students become part of an American host family for one academic year or semester. They must attend a local high school as a full-time student. This year COVID19 has put some schools on hold. We recommend checking with a charter school if your regular school is not meeting in person.
A host family provides students three quality meals a day, a place to sleep and study, and a loving, supportive environment. There is no need for students to have their own bedroom. The exchange students have health insurance, and spending money for things like sports, prom clothes, travel, etc.
FLAG has consistent success in placing the right students with the idea of host parents. However, we do understand that problems can come up. Indeed, FLAG offers extensive individualized support throughout the year to both the exchange student and the host. Also, each host family gets assigned a local FLAG Coordinator who will check in with them monthly. Yet, if a placement does not work out, FLAG assumes responsibility to move the participant to another host family.
How Hosting Exchange Students Benefits Everyone
Host families tell us their decision to host is due to the benefits the experience brings to themselves, the students, their community, and the world. Hosting exchange students is an opportunity to introduce the world to family members who may not have the chance to travel abroad. Hosting brings families closer together. Indeed, it presents an opportunity for the family to share their unique traditions & customs.
Siblings are happy to take an active part in showing the exchange student “the American way of life.” Indeed, many host families will tell you that the benefits of hosting exchange students changed their children’s lives forever.
FLAG students travel from more than 51 countries. Upon their return, the exchange students are viewed as role models and leaders in their home communities. They demonstrate maturity and motivation to study abroad. Also, many of these students are scholarship recipients. They had to compete against thousands of students to earn this life-changing experience!
Jaime, An Exchange Student from Spain
While each student is unique, the one that joins your own family is the one you will remember forever. In the fall of 2019, our family welcomed our first exchange student, Jaime. When deciding on a student, my only requirements were that he had to be a boy, must love basketball, and he needed to be from Spain. (I had high hopes of practicing my Spanish.)
A student’s application will tell you what sports they play. But, there is no way to gauge precisely their skill-set or interest. But, it turned out that Jaime loved basketball as much as my son. They were a dynamic duo and super fun to watch. Jaime played point, and my tall son played under the bucket. They complimented each other well. The team ended up making the playoffs. It made Jaime’s high school experience in America even more exciting.
My Experience Hosting An Exchange Student
Although Jaime was only about 5″ 6 and barely weighed 130 pounds, he was happy to play American football. He did an excellent job and enjoyed himself. Indeed, the last game of the season was a nail-biter as the score had been tit-for-tat all night long. When the game was over, the opposing team won by a few points. When Jaime came off the field, he was crying. I assumed he was sad because it was his last football game, and he would never get the opportunity to play again. It turned out Jaime was crying because they lost! That is when we saw just how competitive he was.
It was fun watching both of my boys play on the same football and basketball teams. We have a natural son and daughter, so we had never experienced two kids being on the same team. It was also fun watching my son have a brother. They went everywhere together. My son, a year older, was always teaching Jaime something. He would translate for him when needed or tell him the schedule of events for the next day. It was fun to watch them interact.
A COVID19 Course Correction
Unfortunately, due to COVID19, Jaime had to return to Spain a few months early. With all the unknowns of the virus, many families wanted their kids back home.
We were looking forward to watching Jaime run track in the Spring. To be sure, this was something he had not done before, but he was super quick, so we knew he would enjoy it. He also missed out on prom. (He wasn’t too keen on dancing, so I’m not sure he was sad about that one.) In Texas, we go all out for prom! We were also looking forward to summer activities on the lake. But, COVID19 had other plans.
A young, shy boy from Spain forever changed our family. My husband and I loved our time with Jaime, and we miss him dearly. My kids still talk to him daily on Snapchat and keep up with him. I also speak to him on occasion, but like most teenagers, he enjoys talking to my kids more than me. It is incredible how one person can change your life in a few short months.
Hosting exchange students is a fantastic way to learn the history and culture of another country and benefits everyone involved. And, it is a great way to add some international relationships to your family.
Jimi Coplen is best known for her work in rural Texas (USA) as an economic developer. She has a passion for helping grow small businesses and entrepreneurship. She also has a deep curiosity for culture and travel. This brought her to FLAG where she works as a local coordinator, matching up international students with families across the United States. She is also a wife and a mom of two, almost-grown children.