Top Ten Reasons Hosting an Exchange Student Might Not Be For You

Youth Exchange | Midlife Sentence

This weekend we welcomed our latest Rotary exchange student into our family. Eighteen year-old Marine is from Belgium, and I can’t pronounce her name right (that darn French r), but she says I’m in the ballpark.

We’ve shown Marine the basement bedroom we’ve tried to make as comfy as possible, and introduced her to the dog and to Colin’s various and assorted fish and flora. She hasn’t asked about bus routes back to her previous host family just yet, which I’m going to take as a promising sign.

In fact, when Colin was introducing Marine to his lizard, Speedy (which at 10 has lived way longer than the pet store told me when we bought her for the kids back when I didn’t realize handling lizards is a good way to contract salmonella, which is how Speedy has since led a life of sad confinement, making me feel guilty and horrible, but that’s another story), Marine asked about her diet, so Colin revealed the stash of mealworms we keep in the refrigerator.

This is, of course, the same refrigerator in which we keep the people food, which prompted me to assure Marine that the worms are kept separate from the people food and neither is in any danger of coming into contact with the other.

She was completely unfazed, and told us people in her country actually consider mealworms people food, so our storage situation doesn’t bother her at all.

Which is how this conversation happened:

Me: You eat worms?

Marine: Yes, but not raw, we fry them.

Me: …

Marine: We also eat scorpions, crickets, and spiders.

Me: …

Colin: Cool!

Long story short, I think she’ll fit in.

Whenever we tell people we’re hosting another exchange student, they either think we’re weird for inviting more than our actual allotment of teenagers into our home, or they have a mild curiosity about hosting themselves, but have never taken the leap.

In fact, there is a dark side to hosting someone else’s kids – especially the foreign variety – for any length of time. There’s stuff no one ever tells you about. Just like any other teenagers, they may eat all your food and beg for rides to the mall. They’ll also ask a lot of questions. You’ll have a lot of explaining to do.

Like that thing when Americans ask “how are you?” we’re not really curious about details, but just saying hello. This may lead to a breakdown of the origins of the word howdy. Really, no one needs to do a deep dive on that.

Ultimately, hosting an exchange student isn’t for everyone, and since I’ve unabashedly posted stuff in favor of it in the past, I thought I’d speak to those of you who are pretty sure I’m just dishing out the picture-perfect-Pinterest version of our lives and not giving anyone the straight poop.

For those of you who want to know but are afraid to ask, here are the Top Ten Bummers about Hosting an Exchange Student:

  1. They’ll derail your diet. Whether your student is working to convince you their homeland is the origin of the best chocolate, rye bread, cakes, pastries, pasta, or whatever, or you’re trying to convince her that your pizza shop makes better pizza than anything she’s ever dreamed of; when you’re hosting a student, there’s a lot of eating involved. Food tends to be a competitive sport, internationally, as well as a bonding ritual. Break out the elastic waistband pants. You’ll need ‘em.
  2. Your kids don’t need more role models in their lives. Really, when have you ever wanted your own kids to see what it’s like for someone other than you to unload the dishwasher or bring in the groceries? And for that matter, why should your own offspring ever have to witness one of their peers actually doing homework or helping with dinner? Don’t they have enough to do figuring out how not to leave the sofa all day? Let them be.
  3. If you’re a serial host parent, you could end up having a lot of people you didn’t actually sire and/or raise bothering you on Mother’s or Father’s Day, or sending you postcards from their travels, holiday cards, birthday gifts, or whatever. Really you get enough mail, don’t you?
  4. Also, it’s just plain exhausting to learn about other places and/or people. This week we found out it about Saint Nicolas Day in Belgium, and how we were supposed to put a carrot on the hearth and candy in the kids’ slippers and eat crepes all week (see #1). How much energy do these people think we have to learn new stuff (and how many elastic waistband pants for that matter)? I just want to sit here with my reruns of Friends and wonder what happened to my dream of Jennifer Aniston hair.
  5. And they’re interested in ALL the stuff ALL the time. Gah. All the questions….
  6. And you don’t want to answer so many questions (but, honestly why do Americans ask “How are you?” if we don’t really want to know?).
  7. In fact, you actually don’t want to think too much at all (see #4).
  8. Then there are all those other kids exchange students bring home with them. Teenagers make friends and bring those friends over to your house and it’s chaotic. And messy. And they always want food. What’re you, a Piggly Wiggly’s?
  9. Then there are the ones who come back to visit. Didn’t they get enough of you all while they were here the first time? No. They’ll be back and they’ll bring folks with them. Sometimes they’ll bring their boyfriend for you to meet. One day you might find yourself just trying to make a pancake breakfast and someone proposes to someone else on the sofa and then there’s all this emotion and happy tears and so forth. It’s like a freaking Nicolas Sparks novel in the living room and all you want to do is read the Sunday paper, for crying out loud.

And finally …

  1. You’ll have to say good-bye, sometimes over and over again, because they keep leaving. That’s no fun. Those jerks.

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  1. When I was growing up my mother would toss out invitations like potato chips to her friends for their children to come and stay. Our spare bedroom was home to folks from Guatemala, Japan, Scotland and Costa Rica and you are spot on about the need for elasticized waistbands …