Become a diplomat: Host an exchange student

Family pictureEF High School Exchange Year, the top high school exchange program in the United States, has promoted global awareness through student exchanges for more than 30 years. Since 1979 it has connected more than 100,000 international students with caring host families from the Carolinas to California. The non-profit organization is designated by the U.S. Department of State to operate a J-1 student exchange program. (A J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by the United States government to research scholars, professors, and exchange students participating in programs that promote cultural exchanges.)

The key to EF High School Exchange Year’s success has been its host family. These families have provided a hospitable and supportive home for the exchange student throughout the school year. In their homes, students are treated like members of the family and not as guests.

Responsibilities of host families include providing the exchange student with three meals and healthy snacks, inclusion in family activities, attendance at EF meetings, and arranging transportation to and from school.

Each EF exchange student goes through a demanding interview process. Once accepted into the program, students are expected to maintain a positive attitude and healthy relationship with their host family, school and community. They should also maintain a “C” average or better in their schoolwork. Students are also expected to cover all personal costs, buy health insurance, and participate in school and community activities.

The host family and EF exchange student have a liaison to ensure harmony at home and at school. This is the job of the International Exchange Coordinator (IEC). The IEC is the local representative of EF High School Exchange Year. Where the family is the key to the program, the IEC is its heart and soul. It is the IEC’s responsibility to find loving host families, work with the high schools, make monthly contacts with families and students, organize group activities, and conduct mandatory EF meetings.

Exchange students’ parents are encouraged to motivate their teens to develop a positive relationship with host families so their children can become successfully immersed in the American cultural experience. Parents also pay program fees, obtain student travel documents, provide transportation to their local airport, and respond to updates from EF about their child.

IECs, host families, students, and their parents have an extra support team in the EF administrative offices located in Boston, Denver, and key cities abroad. All support administration communicate regularly with the students, students’ parents, and IECs to maintain high quality EF programs and to keep those programs in compliance with U.S. State Department regulations. The EF High School Exchange Year offices also arrange for student travel, support IECs, screen host families, arrange student visas, and oversee high school enrollment.

From recruitment to orientation, preparing a student bedroom, to welcoming EF exchange students into their homes, the host families can plan on an exciting year of teaching a foreign exchange student about life in the United States while learning from the student about their home and culture.

If becoming a EF High School Exchange Year host family ignites the inner diplomat, feel free to email your local IEC at

Michael is the author of four published novels—Goodbye Tchaikovsky, The Abduction of Joshua Bloom, and The Koolura Series—The Legend of Koolura and Koolura and the Mystery at Camp Saddleback. He is also a columnist for the Los Angeles Examiner writing articles about parenting and education. His blog features YA authors and books.

2 thoughts on “Become a diplomat: Host an exchange student

  1. Joe Bock Reply

    This is a win-win program for the exchange student and the host family.

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