Bringing the World Home: North State Families Host Foreign Exchange Students


In an evermore connected world, opportunities to learn about other cultures are as easy as pushing a button. Yet none can quite compare with real, one-on-one experiences. Some North State families have found an in-person opportunity to bring the world into their own homes by hosting a foreign exchange student.

Jessica French is the regional director for American Cultural Exchange Services, as well as a veteran host mother to multiple exchange students. Jessica notes that host families come from all walks of life, including single parents and retired couples along with more traditional two-parent family units. She adds that hosting opportunities range from a full semester or school year to shorter three- to five-week summer programs.

Lauren MacQuown of Paradise is currently hosting two teenage girls from China for the spring school semester. “We wanted to learn more about another culture and open our hearts to enlarge our small family,” says Lauren.

art-315-exch2Lauren has found integrating the students into her family to be a fairly easy process and says they are “enthusiastic, respectful, humble about their accomplishments, and willing to try everything.” She adds, “They’re also cheerily positive, respectfully punctual, proudly independent, and exceptionally good students.”

The family members connect before and after school, sharing meals, laughter, fun and cultural tidbits, using a Chinese-English translator app when they need help with communication.

Since the students have been eager to share their culture, they are teaching Lauren’s family to cook some Chinese dishes.

“After meals, both girls always jump up to do the dishes. Often, they fight over who gets to help me. The superior manners of these sweet girls has impressed and raised the bar for my own daughter, who sticks around to help clean up dishes now too!” says Lauren. “We consider it a privilege to share our home, values and lifestyle with these two amazing students. Who knows, maybe someday we will get to visit their city too. Our family has indeed enlarged.” 

While most exchange students are in high school, Andrea Marchyok of Mount Shasta hosted a middle school student from Japan for a shorter term two-week stay last summer.

“We found a rhythm after a few days. The first few nights were hard on our exchange student. She was homesick and mostly missed her Japanese food!” She adds, “My daughter and Moeka were very reserved for the first few days, but as soon as they hit it off, they were joking and playing like crazy.” 

Because the students in the group came from a very large city, Andrea says they especially enjoyed Mount Shasta, taking advantage of sledding and other opportunities. “It’s fun to show off your place, life and town; it makes you appreciate all you have.”

Andrea adds that her own daughter loved the experience. “The bonding is intense and deep and the kids get to see how courageous other kids can be. It may inspire them. You also get some insight into what you take for granted in your life.”

Margy Haimbaugh of Palo Cedro has hosted two separate students from France, one of whom came back a year later for a “non-exchange” return visit. “I wanted to host because I love to travel and learn about the world,” says Margy. “I thought hosting would be a good way to learn about other cultures and let my kids learn too.”

“We didn’t do a lot of prep for the visits because it was stressed to us by the organizers that the kids were coming to see normal American family life,” Margy adds. “The organizers took groups of exchange students on lots of touristy excursions, so the host families didn’t need to go to the expense and hassle, but just provided a home, food, and the opportunity to soak up the culture.”

The Haimbaughs enjoyed sharing local sites and activities that make the North State special, like hiking, swimming, boating, camping and even teaching their host students to ride the family’s horses. They also made time to share some of their favorite American films and took a fun family road trip to Southern California.

This summer, the Haimbaugh family will be traveling to Paris and have already made plans to meet up with one of their former exchange students and her family.

Margy summed up a sentiment echoed by many host families: “To other families considering hosting, I would say, ‘Go for it!’ Hosting a foreign student is a great little window into another culture. I plan on doing it again.”

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Learn more about foreign exchange student programs
through these and other organizations:

International HomeStay Agency

American Cultural Exchange Services


Pamela Llano
About Pamela Llano

Pamela Jorrick is a northern California writer and homeschooling parent.

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