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Tackling the Dust Bunnies (and other surprising benefits of hosting an exchange student)

By Elizabeth Markleson, host mom

You could say I'm a relaxed housekeeper. Our kitchen table is covered with piles of papers "to be dealt with later", our sink is often full of dishes, and you can be sure there is a whole family of dust bunnies living under the furniture. When my kids were little and they would see me go into my cleaning mode, they would always ask, "Who is coming to visit?" Not much changes over the years! When it comes to housework, a guest is a great motivator.

The days were ticking down before our Spanish student arrived and my to-do list was getting longer and longer. “Don’t stress too much about it,” my sister said. “Isn’t your student just supposed to blend into your family as it is? This is an exchange student, not a visiting dignitary, after all.”

True, but I am a strong believer in the power of first impressions. When my daughter went to Spain a few years ago, her host family added some really nice touches to make her feel a pitcher of water beside her bed in case she woke up on her first night. It was a small thing, but it set my mind at ease that this family cared about my daughter’s well being. A week later, when my daughter complained to me that she was bored and nobody was talking to her, my first impulse was to jump on the phone and request a new family, but then I remembered that thoughtful touch and instead I said, "Hmmm," I said, "let's figure out why this is happening." It turned out that my daughter had been listening to her iPod a lot, and nobody wanted to interrupt her. She had essentially isolated herself…no wonder she was bored!

Flash forward to our own hosting experience. My theory was that making our home as welcoming and inviting as possible would allow for some slack with our student and his parents if there were any miscommunications...or if we got busy and ate boxed or frozen food for a week (it happens), or if the student got homesick as teenagers inevitably do.

I regarded our student’s impending arrival as just the kind of kick in the pants we needed to tackle our growing household list. After some initial grumbling, the whole thing turned out to be a fun family project. We divvied up jobs and worked together to deep-clean the house (something that had been on my list since early spring, anyway), cleared out the clutter, stacked some fresh towels on the bed, and placed a pitcher of water and some flowers on the nightstand. Not only did our effort make our student feel good when he arrived, but it put our whole family into welcoming frame of mind.

The best part was that we did it all again when my husband’s parents came to visit toward the end of the homestay, and our student enthusiastically joined the family cleaning party! Sometimes a little pressure can be a good thing.

Of course, as a host, you don't have to be as extreme as our family (both in terms of accumulating clutter and deep cleaning it,) but I thought I would share some tips from ANDEO to help you make a good first impression:
Here are some tips from ANDEO to make a welcoming first impression:

The Basics

Pay attention to things around your house that might leave an odor. Take out the garbage, empty the kitty litter, and vacuum the dog hair.

Clean the bathrooms! Clear out hair from the shower drain. If your student will be sharing a bathroom with your kids, and your kids are responsible for cleaning their own bathroom, make sure you check their work---this is the number one reason students feel like they can't stay in a home.

Create an inviting place to rest. (Be sure to make the bed. Choose sheets without stains. In some countries, it's common to iron sheets--you don't need to do this, but know that sometimes students mistake wrinkled or stained sheets for dirty ones.) Make sure the blankets aren't covered in pet hair.

Place a towel and washcloth on the bed or dresser. Sometimes students don't know how to ask for one.

Clear out some space in a dresser or in the closet for the student to unpack.

Clear out some space in the bathroom for the student to put toiletries.

Provide a bottle of water, a pitcher, or a cup that students can fill.

If you will be hosting a girl, show her where to find feminine hygiene supplies.

Show the student where to put dirty clothes and towels, and let them know who does the laundry and when. If you want them to wash their own clothes, be sure to show them how to use the machines the first time.


Put a small bouquet of flowers in the student's room

Have some fresh fruit available for a snack

The efforts you make to create a good first impression will help your student relax and feel at home and ready to become part of your family.

Would you like to welcome a teen or college student from another part of the world? You can find more information about hosting here.


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