Your home, like most homes, probably has its fair share of chaos. There are multiple people of varying ages running around, all with their own activities, and trying to make sure that everyone gets to every place they need to be on time can test the planning skills of even the boldest engineers. So with that in mind, you might hesitate at the thought of adding another element- an international student needing a family with which to stay for a semester or a year.
That hesitation is understandable. We all have chaos, but it is our chaos, and something we’ve learned to manage. But while there are challenges to hosting, those difficulties are tiny in comparison to the benefits. You already know that opening up your house is a good and decent thing to do for a child who is coming to a strange country, full of excitement and fears. It is a great kindness, and makes the world a better place. But for the purpose of this article, we’re going to look inwards, to your own family. Hosting an international student is something that can bring your family closer together, can open them up to new experiences, and can teach everyone something about themselves and others.
Bringing to World to Your Door
Kids know their family and friends. One’s family isn’t something that is chosen, and everyone usually shares a lot of similarities. And for most kids, their friends are people in their neighborhood or in their class, generally with a lot of overlap. It isn’t until one is in college, generally, that they meet people with whom they choose to be friends. What I am saying is that it is easy for a child to be comfortable and not have to think about people outside his or her immediate circle.
Having an international student living with you changes the entire dynamic. Suddenly, the vastness of the world comes home, and abstractions- collections of strange languages overheard in news reports- become a real person. It can be a wonderful lesson for your children, that all over the world, in every livable space, there are children just like them, who have to eat, go to school, and brush their teeth; there are individuals who want to learn, play, run around, and who laugh and sulk. In a strange way, it makes the world a real place.
When they hear about war or famine in a distant land, it may not just be white noise and some strange images flickering away from their attention. The child writing a wartime diary– that could be a real person, just like the kid who stayed with you last year. After living with someone from another country, it is impossible to see the world the same way.
And that is to say nothing of other qualities they will learn, those more tangible than empathy. Your kids will learn about different cultures, languages, food, and beyond. It’s a child’s nature to ask questions, and even if at first it is just curiosity borne from proximity to strangeness, it will grow into a real sense of wonder, and a desire to learn more. By the end of the year it is almost guaranteed your child will be saying phrases in a new language and telling their friends about the amazing food they’ve tried. And even if they are just mouthing these phrases phonetically and are just awed by the novelty of the food, that seed has been planted.
Friends for Life; A Closer Family
Abstract lessons are great.. but there is more than that. Your children could gain a friend for life. There will be tensions and irritations, as there always are when you have a bunch of people under one roof, many of whom are adolescents, competing for attention and trying to find their way around life. But these are surface tensions. Your children will make a new friend, one they can talk to for the rest of their lives, and grow up with, even if they spend the rest of their days on opposite sides of the globe. An international student can become a lifelong friend, and there is nothing better than making a new and real friend.
And the experience will bring your family closer together as well. For the rest of your lives, you’ll have this shared memory- what you learned, what made your student and family laugh together and cry together, the experiences you had. You’ll get to know each other better, as reacting to different and challenging situations is the best way to really understand someone. It is something everyone in your family will always carry with them.
So yes- hosting an international student is doing them a great service. You are allowing them to come to America and learn and grow. But it isn’t all altruism. You are also doing something wonderful for you and for your family, creating an experience they will learn from, memories they won’t forget, and opening up a lifelong interaction with the world- and with their new friend from across the planet.
The international student experience is both challenging and exciting. Whether you are a student considering studying in America, their parent, the host family, the Head of School, an international coordinator, or even a potential classmate, there are as many opportunities for confusion as there are to learn. The ISPA is here to help bridge that gap, to ensure that this opportunity and adventure is met with the highest level of success.