Our Experience with International Students

posted by Andrea | 08/11/2012

It’s officially been two full months since our international students moved back home to their countries… well, actually, one of our students was “removed” from our house in February due to a HUGE attitude problem — the other student moved out in June.

I guess we’ve just been so busy with weddings and remodeling this summer, that I never posted anything about our hosting experience.

I’ll start by saying that although it was definitely quite an experience {and somewhat stressful at times} I’m glad we did it. Dave and I had talked about hosting students for several years already, and I’m glad we finally had the opportunity.

However, I’ll also say that we probably won’t be doing it again any time soon! 

Here’s a little recap of the year — as well as a bit more about why one of our students was removed before the year was over :)

Things were great in the beginning…

The first few weeks actually went much better than we thought they would. Both girls seemed to get along, both girls were doing well in school, adjusting to American life, eating American food, and were quickly learning the “routine” of our daily life.

Of course there were small issues because of language and cultural barriers, but Dave and I were both pleasantly surprised at how well things seemed to be going, and we were all really excited for the year ahead.

However…

After only a few weeks, we started to have issues with our Korean student. Nothing huge, just simple “rules” we asked her to abide by, and she seemed to purposely do the exact opposite.

At first, we gently reminded her. When that didn’t work, we sat down with her to see if maybe she didn’t understand. After we realized that she definitely DID understand us and was just being stubborn, we emailed her parents back home and contacted the agency who set up the international program.

Unfortunately, we got VERY little support from her parents {they basically said, “that’s how she is… deal with it”} and equally poor support from the agency {they made lots of promises to help, but never really did}.

By November, things were starting to get worse, and we finally decided to get Dave’s principal and school counselors involved {they were both attending Dave’s high school}. We were hoping to resolve some of the issues before we brought a new baby home from the hospital… but although we got tons of help from his school staff, our efforts failed again.

So not only did we have an extremely fussy and sensitive newborn who hardly ever slept (which meant Dave and I never slept)… we also had a rude and disrespectful teen who was slacking on her homework, staying up all hours of the night, disobeying even our simplest of rules, and basically causing a very stressful home environment for us and for our other international student.

We decided to “ride it out” through Christmas break, and figured we could talk with her more during that time — especially since our other student went home to Vietnam during the break.

We had a promising intervention…

After our “intervention” during Christmas break, things got better through the start of 2nd semester. Dave and I were very clear with her and said that if things didn’t change dramatically over 2nd semester, she would have to find a new home.

We were hopeful that the involvement of Dave’e principal, school counselors, and our more serious tone helped… and that she really was willing to change.

But…

After less than a month {late January}, things started going downhill — fast.

And as you can imagine, Dave and I were not extremely patient anymore. We had been living with little to no sleep for two full months, and dealing with her attitude and disrespect for almost 4 months.

And then she broke the final straw…

She stayed up super late, over-slept, skipped school, and shaved half her head all over her bedroom carpet (after we specifically told her she had to wait until we could make a hair appointment later that week).

When Dave tried talking to her and explaining why we were so upset, she looked at him and said, “This is just how I am and you need to get used to it.”

Dave walked down stairs and immediately emailed the agency saying we wanted her out of our house by the following week.

And she was gone! 

She was completely out of our house by the middle of February, and the rest of the year was so much more enjoyable.

Sure, there were still some awkward and inconvenient times… but our other international student was extremely polite, respectful, pleasant, funny, talkative, and she LOVED playing with Nora. We couldn’t believe how much she actually opened up and participated in more family and school functions after all the stressfulness and negativity was removed from our home.

The summary…

As I mentioned before, we are glad we did it once… but I don’t think we’ll be doing it again for a long time {especially now that we’ve started our own family}.

However, for what it’s worth, we were assured {again and again} that we had an extremely rare situation and that most of the international students are not this challenging!

Dave and I are also glad that we had two students, because things went so smoothly with our other student that it kind of “reassures” us that WE were not the issue.

We actually thought about hosting our Vietnamese student again this year, but she decided to attend a school in California because Michigan was too cold for her! :)

It’s hard to believe that last year at this time, we were just getting ready to welcome the girls into our home. Crazy how fast a year flies by {even a stressful year!}

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10 comments

  1. Jeana Gump

    08/11/2012

    I just want to let you know that this is sooo not the norm. We had a student from Ukraine who fit right in with our family (including a very high needs special needs child) and who I desperately miss. I have never heard of such outrageous behavior from an exchange student. I do hope you consider it again when things settle down with you. We are hosting another from Germany this year and looking forward to it. :)

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  2. Melinda

    08/11/2012

    I’m glad to hear that at least half of your experience was wonderful! I will say, though, that your other student situation was not as uncommon as you might think. Growing up, we had an exchange student from The Netherlands who behaved in much the same way that you describe–with the added element of bringing drugs into the house. Needless to say, she didn’t even make it to Christmas.

    The good news is that I think the majority (but, maybe not the vast majority) of exchange students experiences are positive ones!

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  3. Donna

    08/11/2012

    We also hosted an exchange student last year. We had a very positive experience, but I know for her friends in other parts of the US there were tons of issues and some of her friends went home. The issues were with the students, but also the families. Who would think of hosting an exchange student when you are on the brink of divorce? I think our experience went well because our student was in the same international youth group as my son and daughter. Not only were there immediate activities and friends for her to connect with, we have a set of shared values that bridged the culture gap. After being through the experience I really can’t imagine having a student who was not a part of the group. It was the glue that held everything together.

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  4. Sandy

    08/11/2012

    So glad you took the risk. God teaches us valuable lessons through all sorts of experiences and people.
    Your experience reminds me of a family whose own (born to them) child who was raised with as much love, expectations and values as their other children, turned on them. The child became malicious, disrespectful and dangerous. You just never know. Because God created us all so unique and with free will, you can only do so much…… and pray.
    Bless you for opening your home. Now you can focus on Dave and Nora!… and finishing that kitchen and helping us all live better, more simply and organized!

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  5. Kat

    08/11/2012

    We hosted one foreign exchange student from Vietnam several years ago, and for the most part it was a good experience. We heard lots of tales of bad situations and problems in other families from him. Basically we decided that our biggest problem was a lot of exchange students are from families that are considered “wealthy” in their home country and then they are put in middle class households here. Leads to some issue, but they can easily be handled based on the attitude of the student. I don’t think we’ll every host another student, but not because of our exchange student, the whole process just didn’t agree with us.

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  6. Ann

    08/11/2012

    Moral of the story: If others ask about hosting students, steer them away from that agency! They should have been visiting your home and the student and involved at your FIRST complaint! We have one agency we will NEVER work with again. Other agencies appeared more willing to be involved when necessary. (And we know some of this not from our students but from other families who experienced some trouble and the agencies came immediately!

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  7. KiwiKat

    08/11/2012

    I used to deal with exchange students and their families on a daily basis, as well as hosting a student (I had been an exchange student in high school, so we hosted as “payback”).

    A minority of the students we hosted in our area seemed to be problem children that had been sent overseas for someone else to sort out – obviously this caused all sorts of trouble, but these students tended to either buckle down and grow up or get sent home within (usually) about 2 months into their 12 month stay.

    The most important piece of advice that we gave or received was “your house, your rules” – exactly what it says on the tin!

    Oh, and the parents attitude? It would seem she was one of the minority kids that should never have been sent overseas – the parents obviously wanted someone else to sort out their problem child!

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  8. Sarah

    08/15/2012

    Hi Andrea-Just had to comment after reading this. When I was younger my family hosted 3 different exchange students at 3 different times…two were for a school year, one was for a summer. My siblings and I were just talking about it all and laughing about it…NOW. I hate to sound spoiled (I swear we weren’t!) but it was really really hard on us. These weren’t even kids that caused major problems at all, but it was just stressful having someone besides family in the house for that long-they all came of course with their own quirks and habits and it just caused too much stress. I would count the days till our family could be back to “normal”. I’ve heard so many good experiences though…that was just mine, as a host “sibling” of an exchange student.

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  9. Jelli

    08/16/2012

    Thanks so much for the insight. My husband and I had been considering hosting too, but with a baby only a few months older than Nora, it would be more complicated. I really appreciate your honest review of what it was like to host. I’d still love to do it in the future, maybe beginning with short-term?

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  10. JB

    08/29/2012

    Really interesting to hear your perspective. I was an exchange student for 6 months in Europe and then my family hosted two separate students for 6 months each. I loved my experience abroad and had a wonderful family that went out of their way to show me the area and even provided a bike for my use! However, of course being in a new culture and learning the language is a very stressful adjustment. After hosting in my own family, I realized that some of the little things that I could have done better as a guest. For example, my host parents offered to send me on a trip with some of their family friends over a school break. At the time I was too nervous about meeting even more new people and adjusting to another family’s routines that I declined. However, after hosting I understood that my host parents / family needed a break and that I should have taken the opportunity. That being said, we have stayed in touch (10 years later!) and have a good relationship.

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