It is very normal to want to go overboard attempting to make your new foreign exchange student feel welcome and happy in your home. That is what you should do, but you have offered to house them and care for them, not be their bed and breakfast with Limo service for 10 months! I feel very strongly about making the exchange student feel welcome and accepted beginning at the airport. I usually have every member of the family write a welcome letter to our student, and I have a few gifts from our area waiting for them. The over the top hospitality ends there. A home cooked meal that day, of course, depending on the time of arrival! Quiet time and family time, yes! A tour of local places of interest, sure! BUT, after that time, the integration into the family begins.
On the second day, have a family meeting. Keep it light and social. Begin talking about the rules and schedule of the house. I have 2 teenage daughters, and I only take girls. All three have their own rooms, but share a bathroom. One of the items we discuss is the bathroom schedule. I have one daily chore, and one weekly chore per kid. The daily chores are on a rotating schedule, so I have the girls discuss their activity schedules and assign as per that time frame. We plan our meals, so favorites and dislikes are discussed. Bedtimes and curfews are detailed. I tend to allow the girls to sleep in on weekends and stay up later, but prefer to have more specific requirements during the school week. Your list of important rules or priorities may vary, but lay them out clearly and specifically right from the start. Enforce them with consistency and keep your child accountable.
I also discuss a secret code that the girls can use at any time without question or trouble if they find themselves in a situation that they cannot handle or did not plan for. The largest concern for my teenagers is partying or having a friend try to drive while drinking. Remember, if you student is caught, even if not drinking, they will be sent home immediately. Or, if they are at a friend’s house and there are no adults, they don’t feel safe, or any situation that they feel uncomfortable with they are to text or call. We make up a code word that we all know and understand, like ABC123.
If I see this text or they state the code, I leave immediately, no questions until they are safe, and we deal with the situation at hand after they are safe with me again. This gives them a safe way to communicate without allowing the other kids around them to know that they are bailing, and will hopefully prevent any confrontation or hassle for the girls. Teens are teens, but I ask for full honesty and responsibility. I would much rather pick them up, even drunk, than have to call their family and tell them that they have been arrested, harmed, or the unthinkable.
I have been accused by more than one exchange student call me “too overprotective”. Well, I wear that badge quite confidently and with honor! I would rather have them be safe and think me too overprotective than the unthinkable! I treat my exchange students in the same fashion that I parent my own children. I love them fiercely, I protect them, and I set strong boundaries for them.
I hold them accountable, and ask that they simply do the right thing, make good choices, and do the best that they can. If they are able to that, then they are well on their way to being good, strong members of society. I believe in the word NO, as I feel that the world could care less if these kids are happy or have everything that they want, so I have to teach them that you win some and you lose more! NO is one of the best ways to teach and bond. It builds trust. Believe it or not, if the kids know the boundaries and realize they will be enforced, they feel more secure. Security equals happiness and acceptance! You have to care enough to say no.