The advantages of hosting two exchange students

Hear from Helen, Jack and Jaob about their experience hosting two exchange students at the same time.

We are Helen, Jack and Jacob and we have been a host family for EF since 2014. We decided to become a host family when our son was still a baby and have now hosted approximately 23 exchange students. Predominately exchange students stay with us for 9 months (academic year) but some have just stayed for a few nights whilst their host family are on holiday. We have also helped with emergency short term hosting, where needed.

 

As a host family we see hosting students as an integral part of our family life. We used to use a holiday host family when we went on holiday ourselves but since 2017 our students have all joined us for breaks away, as we can only get away during school holiday time now our son is older. Our students usually join us for at least two holidays a year and one of those will be a weekend at Center Parcs.

 

Our extended family were a bit cautious about us opening our home to exchange students but after initial reservations have been completely on board with us being a host family. They always meet our students and we often spend Christmas with them. Some students choose to go back home but, especially in the last 2 years since Covid, many students choose to stay. They will only get to experience a proper British Christmas once so our students usually stay for Christmas week and then go home between Christmas and New Year.

 

We made the decision to start hosting two students in 2015, a year after starting to host. Through the local community of host families we became aware of some families hosting 2 (or 3!) students and decided it might work for us. We also felt that if it didn’t work out, for any reason, that we only needed to commit to two for a maximum of 9 months. We set about preparing the two rooms, that we had at the time, for two students and welcomed two boys in August 2015.

 

Hosting two students is now our “normal” and as we currently sit contemplating how the next year will look with just one (due to Brexit our options were more limited this year) and we are hoping we can go back to hosting two students again soon.

What are the positives of hosting two?

  • There is nearly always somebody around in the house. We like a busy house so if one person has gone out there is nearly always somebody else still around.
  • There are more people to share experiences with and it is always interesting to see our students reactions when we visit new places and do new things.
  • Our students are not alone for that nerve-wracking first day of school and are able to navigate those nerves with somebody else around to support them.
  • Often our students make a best friend for life and all of our double placement students have remained in contact with each other. Many have also visited each other in their home countries too. As I type this our two girls from 2018 are currently in Oslo travelling together!
  • More people around to help around the house! A busy household requires everybody to pitch in and we are more than happy to teach our students valuable life skills as part of this. For example, one of our most recent students got to learn how to change brake pads on a car as it was a job we needed to do that day. We find our students often have a “can do” mentality and throw themselves into learning new skills willingly and quickly.
  • It is twice the cultural exchange. Our students are not only sharing their culture with us, but also with somebody else from another cultural background too. Some students have very similar traditions but there is always something new to learn about.
  • Why pick up bits of one language when you can learn two? Typically we host Norwegian and German students so we are now becoming more adept at recognising these languages. They also share elements of their home language with the other student. “How do you say it in Germany?” In the UK all students are expected to speak English, even if their home language is very similar (i.e. Swiss and German). In 2016 we hosted two German girls after one of them needed to move from her original host family and both of them spoke English 100% of the time. They said it would have been “weird” to speak German in the UK, even though they both spoke it fluently.
  • Our son has twice the people around to talk to, play with etc. He loves having our exchange students around and can often be found in their room, having convinced them to put his favourite program on their TV. He also loves being out and about with them and will prefer to hold their hands instead of ours ! Now he’s older he also loves being part of the “teaching” and is more than happy to reel off facts and info about the places we visit.

Are there any downsides to having two students? It would be unrealistic to say it is plain sailing all of the time but generally we find there are few bumps in the road. If I have had a busy day at work sometimes it can be a little overwhelming to think I have three young people at home who are all wanting to talk to me and be entertained, but then I get home and it isn’t overwhelming at all as everybody is pitching in and helping out. We sometimes worry we aren’t giving enough of ourselves or sharing out the attention evenly between our three young people but I think this is something that most parents of multiple children experience. Once you become a parent the worry about whether you are giving enough attention never stops, regardless of what you are doing anyway. We would say the biggest adjustment to having two students is the practical elements of it. It is sometimes more expensive to take multiple young people to places, especially on holiday. We now need a three bedroom, minimum, place to stay on holiday but we do always have the option of using holiday host families if we did not want to shoulder this cost. Our students do often help out with these additional costs too, although we don’t expect them to. Our students always pay for their tickets on day trips etc. We are a family of 5, which means we cannot, comfortably, fit into a standard size car. We upgraded to a 7 seater vehicle when we started hosting two students and this has been more comfortable for everybody. There are also the accommodations of ensuring you have enough space in your home for everybody. We are fortunate enough to live in a four bedroom house and have turned our largest bedroom into our student room. Our students then have dedicated use of the large family bathroom, as we have our own en suite. This keeps everything comfortable for everybody and our students say they are happy with the space and room we provide. We have recently renovated our student bedroom with fresh paint, flooring and furniture so it is ready to keep hosting more students.

 

The absolute worst part of having two students is the inevitable part, despite our best efforts to convince them to stay, and it is when they walk towards airport departures for the last time in their exchange year. We have now stood sobbing in every airport within a 2 hour radius of home and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. For two students we often have two airport runs, so we get to do this twice in a year. We always try and convince our exchange students they want to do a second year and eventually we will be successful! Due to Covid our previous students haven’t been able to visit as freely as they usually would, but we are hoping they will start to be able to visit soon. Our last two students say they are hoping to study at a UK University so we will see what happens.

 

For any host families considering two students - take the leap, it is so worth it!

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