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What's Up Magazine

Host a Student ...and Host the World

Feb 01, 2018 12:00PM
By Kat Spitzer

Nothing adds more to an education than international experience. Our global society makes it almost imperative for students to learn about other cultures and have the ability to interact with people from around the world. While traveling overseas with various study-abroad programs offers excellent opportunities, hosting exchange students provides a chance for families to invite other cultures into their homes. The personal relationships formed can last a lifetime and give both the host and guests the ability to learn so much from each other. Schools around the region offer a variety of programs. And hosting an exchange student has the power to enrich not just one student, but also an entire family.

Local students Journey Brown, Haley Alioto, Bella Allen, Adria Sayan, and Evan Kopf all hosted Japanese exchange students for nine days through a program with Arundel High School. The Japanese students arrived in a group, and the family pairings had been prearranged. The excitement was palpable among the awaiting hosts and the arriving Japanese students. “I was a little nervous,” Adria Sayan admits. “She didn’t look like the pictures she sent. We met them in front of the school and we had all made signs to welcome them. When their bus pulled up, they were all waving excitedly through the window. As soon as I spotted Chiho, she ran right up to me.”

 The cultural immersion starts immediately when an exchange student arrives. “We all exchange gifts from our cultures,” explains Journey Brown. “She brought me adorable kimono socks and gifts for my whole family. I got her some Old Bay chips so she could taste one of the specialties of this area.” While the hosts learn from the students who come to stay, those exchange students learn about our culture, as well. “It was fun watching her try Jell-O for the first time,” Brown says. “She’d never had anything like it.”

By having a student from another country come to stay, kids learn how other places operate and learn things differently. “I learned that their school system is very different from ours,” Haley Alioto adds. “They had to test and take an English class to come here that involved writing, speaking, and listening. It was very competitive and over 60 kids applied to come here for this program. Grade 11 is like senior year, except that it’s more intense like college.” The Japanese students are required to take testing in English for their own universities, which surprised a lot of the American students. The hosts were fascinated by the differences in the education systems.

The hosts also learned a great deal about social differences while hosting the Japanese students. Bella Allen, the only freshman hosting a student, says, “They don’t ever want to say ‘no.’ Anything you offer them, they are willing to try or to do. They are excited about everything.” Alioto found the differences in eating habits interesting. “They take much smaller portions than Americans, and use utensils for everything. You have to tell them it’s okay to eat more.” While the Japanese students were visiting, many of the hosts would get together to have group outings to show the exchange students the local sites. The program also works well because students who have sports practices or other obligations can often find another host family willing to let their exchange student join in a fun activity. 

Kaitlyn Dawson, a graduate of Broadneck High School, had a wonderful experience hosting a Japanese exchange student. “Nono is still in my family’s life after so many years. We send her birthday presents and she always remembers ours. It’s like we have a family member who lives in Tokyo.” Nono stayed with Kaitlyn’s family for two weeks while Kaitlyn was a senior and the experience had a lasting impact on all involved. “I remember my nephew, who was about five at the time, teaching Nono English words, and she was completely excited to learn and communicate with this little boy. She loved everything that she saw and had such enthusiasm for all the food and activities we presented to her. She was such a special friend to have here. Now I love to communicate with her about events happening in the world to get a different perspective. We always talk about plans to visit with each other again.”

Evan Kopf, who had the opportunity to host Japanese exchange students and stay with the same family on his school trip to Japan says, “They are a part of my family. I communicate with them all the time. They will always be a part of my family.” 

If your family might be interested in hosting an exchange student for any period of time, contact your local schools to find out about opportunities. Public and private high schools have a variety of programs, many for days or weeks at a time. There are also private companies like Asse International: International Student Exchange Programs, which offer families opportunities to host exchange students from all over the world from three months to a year at a time. 


On a local level, Annapolis has a unique opportunity to host students from different backgrounds through the Naval Academy’s midshipmen sponsorship program. When the plebes enter the Naval Academy, they are often far from home. With the rigorous schedule of the Academy, the midshipmen have the opportunity to have a little time off with local families, who become their ‘home away from home’ in Annapolis. Potential sponsors let the academy know of their interest and they are matched with midshipmen. When there is time off, they can retreat to the host home to relax and enjoy family time. Sponsor families also include them in family meals, offer rides to the airport, and offer any other support of a local family for the midshipmen. 

“Sponsoring midshipmen has been an incredible experience for my family,” says local resident, Rebecca Saros, who currently sponsors three midshipmen. “By watching these amazing individuals, my children are learning about structure, duty, organization, and how to study. They are like family to us. One told me the other day that one day he will have kids and bring them to Aunt Rebecca’s house to visit and have cookies.” The benefits work both ways. Midshipmen receive down time, rest, and the comforts of a home, and the sponsor family can forge a relationship with a young person who can share experiences from a different background, and who is also working toward serving their country. The program is extremely popular. “I just recommended it to five different families last week,” Saros raves. 

The obligations are not as daunting as they might seem. When the midshipmen visit, sponsors note that having extra food in the house is a very good idea. Also, there are times when they need transportation  to the Academy or other  events. Mostly they just seek down time and a relaxed environment with a family. “We request to keep ours throughout their tenure at the Academy,” Saros says. “They may not need us as much after the first year, but it’s nice to let them know we are still here, and for our kids to see how they are growing and progressing at the Academy.”

The underlying message with everyone who takes part in studying abroad and hosting exchange students, and other students, is family. The word came up with every single participant. In a world so full of differences, it is remarkable to see young people reaching across divides to make lasting bonds with people from other cultures. They all seemed to discover that despite differences in how people live and believe, there is an overwhelming desire to be connected. These students learned that family can reach far beyond blood relatives and can last for a lifetime. As Kaitlyn Dawson put it, “hosting an exchange student opened my eyes and heart in a way that I hadn’t realized was possible at that time. Everyone should consider trying it. It’s really fantastic and lasts a lifetime.”