This post was originally published by Samantha Cleaver WeAreTeachers and sponsored by the AIFS Foundation.
Sure, hosting a foreign exchange student is a commitment, but it may also be the most rewarding endeavor a teacher can ever take on. (And not just because every once in a while you might come home to find delicious authentic international cuisine waiting for you after a long day at work!) High school students who live and study in the United States through programs like Academic Year in America (AYA), sponsored by the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) Foundation, will not only offer you and your family a rich cultural experience, it will enliven your work in the classroom.
1. It’s a Semester-Long Unit Study
Imagine having a unit study on geography, culture and language show up right at your front door. That’s what hosting an AYA student is like. As John, host-dad to Ga-Won from South Korea, remembers, “Before I had a Korean exchange student, I knew very little about the country of South Korea. However, Ga-Won would teach us about her culture by cooking a traditional Korean meal or by teaching us her language.” Your students will love learning more about your exchange student’s country too. Record their questions, then research to find the answers, and compare what you find with your exchange student’s experiences.
2. Bank New Stories
If you’ve been in the classroom for a while, it’s likely that you fall back on the same old examples and stories. Hosting an AYA student will teach you some new jokes or phrases, and the experience will leave you with new stories to bring into your classroom. Take the story of Abrar, an AYA student from Pakistan, who came to the United States with high aspirations—to take advanced courses, do community service and join the drama club—all while learning English and adapting to a new family and country. He promptly earned a role in the school production of The Producers, and that was just the beginning. Stories like this will inspire and motivate your students. After a few years, your new students will be begging for new stories and you’ll just have to host another exchange student!
3. Score New Lesson Ideas
Ask your AYA students how education works in their country and how they spend their days. You’ll get ideas for new ways to approach classroom management, assessment and instruction, not to mention some new books or movies to bring into your class.
4. Broaden Your Students’ Horizons—but Not in the Way You Think
Hosting an exchange student is about more than defining the differences between your cultures: It’s also about finding the similarities. As Roman, an AYA student from Germany, reflected: “Especially when two countries are very far away from each other, like the USA and Germany, the knowledge of the other culture is mostly based on stereotypes. So people from both countries get to know many new things about the other country through the exchange student … but there are also many similarities that emphasize how close both cultures are to each other.” Bringing in examples of how cultures are similar helps your students see commonalities and gives them confidence to reach out to people who are different than themselves.
5. Expand Your Students’ Understanding of the World
Hosting an exchange student also sheds light on just how much countries have changed. Host a student from a former USSR nation, for example, and you’ll learn what life is like in modern Ukraine or Georgia. Use that information to combat the stereotypes that your students have about that region, and bring in literature and current events to shed even more light on a corner of the world.
6. Inspire Your Students to Travel Abroad
Cultural exchange goes both ways—your AYA student has traveled to the United States, and hopefully your students (and you) will travel around the world as well. As host-dad Ben, who has hosted students from Brazil, remembered: “I know how important the exchange student experience can be. Sixteen years ago, when I was a junior in high school, I met a young man from Germany who was an exchange student at my school. Since then we have become lifelong friends. I have visited him in Europe and he has come back and stayed with us as an adult.”
7. See Your World Through New Eyes
After a while, it’s easy to take things for granted. A foreign exchange student sheds new light on the familiar. After all, it’s all new to them. Transfer that enthusiasm and curiosity to your classroom by recording your AYA students’ reactions to things that your students would find commonplace—like going to a school football game or not going to school on Saturday—then have your students reflect on experiences that have become mundane to them.
Have you hosted a foreign exchange student? What was the experience like? How did it impact your teaching?