Lasting Impact of Cultural Exchange on a Host Family

Each school year, thousands of everyday American families welcome exchange students into their hearts and homes. While our host families come in all different shapes and sizes, and they each have their own reasons for participating, one thing remains the same: the impact hosting has not only on their students, but their families and communities as well. Jodi and her husband have hosted students for a number of years, and today she shares their hosting story.

IMG_0128 Jodi Arnold

“During the fall of the 2012-2013 school year, our school staff had been asked to consider hosting an exchange student, to help boost our student population since we are from a remote area. We talked about it briefly, but were in the midst of infertility treatments and felt it was not the right time that fall. As the new year, and second semester, approached, I realized I needed a break from treatment - I was physically tired and emotionally defeated. Over Christmas break I saw an acquaintance post about hosting STS Foundation exchange students for the spring semester, and we decided to give it a try - after all, five months isn’t a big time commitment and if it wasn’t for us, we didn’t have to do it again. Dani and Amy became our first daughters and the rest, as they say, is history. We have since had 21 students in our family.

Our first experience was wonderful and filled our empty, quiet home. The next year we hosted for the full year and it was even better. We have found that we are passionate about helping foreign exchange students experience something unique and improve their English. My husband is an English teacher and we both love the transformation that can happen in a student’s life as they become more fluent in a second language. 

Our home community is also a unique American experience with a small school that allows for students to be very involved in sports, music, drama, speech, agriculture, etc. If they want to do it, the opportunity is there. We love that! Most of the kids we have hosted learn to love the quiet, open spaces of rural America complete with dirt roads, tall prairie grasses, and enough bugs and snakes to remind you that nowhere is perfect.

IMG_0127 Jodi Arnold

Although we did pursue further infertility treatments after our original break, we were never able to have our own children. The only pregnancy we experienced ended in a miscarriage in 2016 and our exchange daughters were right there, loving and supporting us through that difficult time. We have gained so much from hosting but the greatest thing is an international family. We have “kids” (some are now adults!) all over the world and while they are biologically someone else’s, they are ours too. We love and support them for a special time that has forever bonded us to them and in some cases to their extended families as well. I have also served as a Local Coordinator for students many of whom we have had close relationships with and we continue to stay in touch.

Living in a rural area means that our American students are not always exposed to a lot outside of our small corner of the world. Hosting has allowed them to have interactions with real people from other cultures and places. This has taught them a lot about the world, about relating to others that have different ideas and beliefs than them and has brought enrichment into many of their lives.

Our extended family has also benefited. In the early days, I would say our exchange students benefited most from the loving extended family that lives near us. My parents and siblings have enjoyed learning about their different countries, cultures, and traditions and the love they’ve poured on our exchange students has been great. Recently though, our exchange students have been a huge blessing to my nieces and nephews who are young and impressionable. Our students have loved those little ones like siblings and have shared their culture with them. I know that this will result in my nieces and nephews being more well-rounded humans with care and compassion for people who are different than them.

To say hosting has changed our lives would not begin to do justice to the experience. Each year and student has been different. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves, our community, and our world through exchange. We have been given a different perspective on things we thought we knew and have also opened our students’ eyes to a worldview that has contrasted with their own. As Urte from Lithuania loved to say, ‘It’s not better, it’s just different.’ In the different there is beauty Embracing diversity leads to enrichment and joy.”

The lasting impact of exchange is hard to measure, but it changes lives for the better nonetheless. Whether you host once or year after year, you are giving the world a gift. By welcoming an exchange student into your heart and home, you’re helping make a young person’s dream come true, and bringing a different perspective to your community. Learn more about hosting an exchange student today!

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Lasting Impact of Cultural Exchange on a Host Family

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