The first ICES exchange student of the season arrived last week! Tina has made the long trek from the Czech Republic to her new home in Oklahoma where she was greeted by her very excited host family. Tina is thrilled to finally be in the U.S. and to be with her host family face to face.
Many other students are busy packing their bags, shopping for host family gifts, and building bonds with their host family via email and social media. They are eager to come to the U.S. and begin the exchange they’ve spent so many months preparing for. They look forward to improving their English and becoming a real part of their host family by participating in everyday life.
However, there are students who are still waiting. . . waiting for that much-anticipated phone call or email notifying them that they have a host family. Though they are assured they will get to come, it’s hard to wait and impossible to prepare. These students don’t know whether to pack shorts for a Florida placement or the winter coat they’ll need in Montana. And they are oh-so-eager to learn something about the American family they will live with.
ICES has a wonderful, dedicated staff that works tirelessly to place each and every student in a quality home. They have been working hard for months in what has been a challenging year. As the clock of summer ticks down, we now turn to the heroes of August: our Welcome Families.
What is a Welcome Family?
A welcome family is a short-term host family that agrees to welcome an exchange student into the community by hosting them for 4-8 weeks. This allows the exchange student to come to the U.S. and start school on time while the Local Coordinator continues to search for a permanent host family. A welcome family is also sometimes referred to as a "temporary family" or an "arrival family."
Being a welcome family is an excellent option for families who like the idea of hosting but are not ready to make a commitment to a full semester or school year. It’s also a great option for families who would prefer to “try out” hosting before committing to the entire exchange.
What are the requirements to be a Welcome Family?
Host parents must be at least 25 years old and able to pass a criminal background check. The exchange student must have their own bed, but they may share a room with a teenage host sibling. Aside from these basic requirements, we are simply looking for families who can provide a safe and nurturing home to a student. ICES host families--both welcome families and permanent families--may be married or single, with or without kids.
What is the screening process to be a Welcome Family?
To ensure the safety and well-being of every student, ICES has the same screening requirements for our welcome families that we do for our permanent host families. This means you will complete a brief online application, undergo a criminal background check (at no cost to you), and have a home visit from your Local Coordinator. During the home visit, the coordinator will meet all family members, provide more detailed information about the program, and answer any questions you might have.
How long do exchange students stay?
ICES exchange students come for one or two semesters--five or ten months. Welcome families commit to host the student for the first 4-8 weeks. During this time, the Local Coordinator is working to find a permanent host family for the student in the same community so the student doesn't have to change schools.
Who decides which exchange student we host?
In most cases, you can select the student you want to host, even if you are a welcome family. Your Local Coordinator will provide you with profiles of students awaiting placement, and you can read their letters to learn more about them and decide which student is the best fit for your family.
What kind of support will we have during the exchange student's stay?
ICES is committed to providing outstanding support to our students and host families. Your Local Coordinator will be available to answer questions and help with any challenges that might come up. In addition, you will have access to an experienced, full-time Regional Director, ICES student counselors, and a 24-hour emergency hotline.
What if we decide we want to host our exchange student all year?
Some families discover that being a welcome family is so enjoyable that they’d like to host the student all year. In most cases, this is possible and you would simply need to notify your Local Coordinator of your intent. While we love to see our welcome families turn permanent, please know that you are under absolutely no obligation to do so, and ICES greatly appreciates your willingness to help by being a welcome family.
What if a permanent host family can't be found?
Local Coordinators are trained in a wide variety of methods for finding host families, and a permanent family can usually be found in the community. However, in the unlikely event that a local family is not found, ICES may seek help from other field staff outside the local community to help find a permanent family as quickly as possible.
With all that is going on in the world, why do exchange students still want to come?
We've heard this question a lot this year. Since Tina just stepped off the plane, I thought she would be the best person to answer that. Here's what she said: "Even though the Coronavirus is here, it wasn't a big issue for me or my family. I have insurance, and I'm fine to wear a mask. It's ok if I have to start school doing online classes.
"There may be some things I can't do [here] this year, but it's ok because I can find other things to do to make up for it and it will still be a great experience for me and my host family."
Well said, Tina.
As we head into our final few weeks of the placement season, we ask you to consider welcoming one of our remaining students. We'd love to discuss this with you, answer your questions, and share profiles of students who are still waiting. This could be the experience you've been waiting for!