How Hosting an Exchange Student Fosters Empathy

Empathy can make or break your family dynamics. Boosting empathy improves relationships, communication, teamwork, kindness, generosity and so much more. Hosting an exchange student is just one of many ways to foster empathy at home. How can hosting help your family take empathy to the next level? Keep reading!


Cultural Understanding

family photo with mother, father and three sons together

The Clement family with Mauro from Spain and Alessandro from Italy.

When Michelle Clement and her family double hosted students from Italy and Spain in Oklahoma, it was a genuine culture fest. “It was fun watching them experience our American ways, and we loved learning about their countries.” Like the Clements, every year, thousands of families across the USA create new and different opportunities for building empathy as they share  everyday life with a  foreign exchange student...or two.

Personal Connections

Parents and eight children posing for a family photo in the forestBrigham and Tara Baird with their seven children and Santi from Spain.

When Brigham Baird's National Guard unit was deployed, Tara was left with seven small children and their exchange student from Spain. "Having Santi with us helped. He's a great big brother who encouraged the kids to be happy and active," she reported. "I feel like it was a blessing to be hosting during this deployment. And it was good for Santi too. It gave him a unique perspective of American family life and first-hand experience with a military family."

When host families create personal connections with a foreign student in the midst of real life challenges, they enjoy unique opportunities for building empathy in unexpected ways.


Seeing the World Through Their Eyes

two teenage girls with american flags and parents in the backgroundHost families get to see the USA through the eyes of their exchange student.

“Every school has a football field, a gym, a soccer field. This is so strange. I didn’t have that in school back in France. I like it,” marvels Maëlle during her high school experience in Indiana. “The teacher-student relationship is so lovely,” raves Sofia from Brazil who spent a year in Texas. “My teachers from all of my classes were so sweet and so welcoming."

Hosting an exchange student provides an opportunity for host families to see their world through the eyes of someone from a different cultural background. This can help broaden perspectives and deepen empathy as host families gain insight into the joys, struggles, and aspirations of the exchange student.


Developing Communication Skills

Thai boy in graduation gown with five girlsTai with his four host sisters and a friend.

The Browns were devastated when their first exchange student abruptly demanded to move. "We thought everything was going well," Host mom Emily explains. They believed they would never, ever host again.

But then came Tai from Thailand. This time both parents were determined to keep the lines of communication open. “Every day I was asking, 'Are you okay? If there’s anything going on, you’ve got to tell me.'" recalls host dad Kevin. 

Learning to effectively communicate across cultural and linguistic barriers requires empathy, active listening, and an openness to understanding different points of view. The Brown's efforts paid off. “Every day we’d see relationships being built between every one of the kids,” beams Kevin. “Tai really had a special relationship with everyone in the house, including the grandkids.”


Experiencing Diversity

A family of four eating strawberries and cream at a table with a red-checked tableclothAmy, Brandon and Violet Booher with Meilee.

The Booher's signed up for a double dose of diversity when their student, Meilee, happily shared both her German and Chinese cultures. She was prepared to cook both country's cuisines with her host family, and she gave host dad Mandarin lessons. But the best part was the way this family bonded with their student.

“We were considering enlarging our family," explains host mom Amy, "But I couldn’t imagine loving another child as much as I love Violet. Now I’ve learned that having another child means having more love.”

Living with an exchange student exposes host families to diversity in all its forms, including diversity of thought, belief systems, and lifestyles. This can lead to greater empathy and acceptance of diversity. 


Building Lifelong Connections

mother and daughter smiling together in a field of flowersAna Julia and Jamie together in Texas.

Jamie Dauphin from Texas doubted that an exchange student would want to live with her. “How would I feel if I went to live with an old lady who didn’t have any kids to hang around with?” She recalls. “I live in the middle of nowhere. What do I have to offer?” But then Ana Julia arrived. “She had never flown a kite, never went fishing before, never ridden a horse or a bike!” It was the beginning of many adventures.

Hosting an exchange student often leads to lifelong connections and friendships. These lasting relationships can continue to foster empathy long after the exchange program has ended, as host families and exchange students stay connected and continue to learn from each other's experiences. 

When Julie returned to Brazil, Jamie soon followed for an unforgettable adventure with the whole Brazilian family. “I was the lucky one. It’s easy for a single person to just stay home and do nothing. But when you have these young people back in your life, you get out of your comfort zone and realize there are so many great things to do!”


Empathy Opportunities

Overall, hosting an exchange student provides so many rich opportunities for host families to develop empathy by engaging with people from different cultures, forming personal connections, and gaining a deeper understanding of the world around them.

Would you like to create unique empathy opportunities by hosting an exchange student? Here is your step-by-step guide to How to Become a Host Family. Enjoy!

Tags: Host Families, Exchange Student, Reasons to host, cultural understanding, empathy

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