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YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Filtering by Tag: gifts for Host families

11 Tips for First Time Exchange Students



1. While walking home from school one day, bring home flowers.

Or a cool plant. Or chocolates. Or their favorite food/drink. Whether your exchange is just a month or a year, surprise your host family with a small and simple gift that serves as a nice reminder that you’re grateful for them.

2. ALWAYS ask if you're able to take a shower. This is courteous to do even in the comfort of your own home.

This is especially important if your host family has only one bathroom/one shower in the house. It’s a simple politeness that goes a long way.

3. "I'm too shy" is NEVER an excuse.

In most cases, you learn and grow from what you do and say. If you’re always too shy to open your mouth and take action, how will you grow?

4. "I don't know what to say" is also not an excuse.

Whenever I had time to myself, I worked on a note in my phone and wrote down every question (in French) that would start an interesting conversation. I would memorize two or three questions before each meal to start up a good conversation. It worked! Conversation flowed long after dinner was served. The more you talk, the more quickly you will get comfortable with your host family.

5. Treat your host room as if you were living in the family room.

Keep it clean. "I was never an organized person" is not an excuse. Even if you have the luxury of having your own room, you must keep it clean. While you’re most likely not required to vacuum every day, keep your things (such as dirty laundry) off the floor. In some households, it's also impolite to eat in one's room as well. Keeping your room clean shows that you appreciate having a room in the first place. So keep it tidy, make your parents proud.

6. Speak in the host country's language.

You're going to hear this a lot. This isn't a cliche-whatever rule, this is a if-you're-going-to-do-one-thing-right-this-better-be-it rule. Unless it's an emergency, always speak in the host country's language. Don't "try", do it. I asked a lot of questions that I had memorized how to say even though I didn’t understand a lick of the answer I was given. It's always frustrating to not understand and to not be able to express yourself the way you want to, but that's how it is being an exchange student at the beginning of your exchange. And the more you talk, the more you learn and the easier it gets speaking the language. There will come a moment when it will all just “click” for you. It will be glorious.

7. There will be days when it feels like you've been living in your host country for ten years, and days when it feels more like ten seconds.

Make the best out of every minute of it. There will be more embarrassing moments than you can count. Make the embarrassment your friend, not your enemy. Every embarrassing moment will always (and I mean always) become a funny story later on.

8. Excuses don't work here.

Excuses are a popular way to justify failure to do something. This is never a good practice. Your exchange should highlight that. If you have done something wrong or forgotten to do something, like offering to do the dishes, do not to make yourself feel better by mentally feeding yourself excuses (i.e. "I'm too tired," "I didn't know how to say it in x language," "I thought she was going to say no anyways.") Baaaaaaad!

9. Show your gratitude.

You can never say thank you enough. It's better to say thank you too often than too little. If there's one thing you can overdo, it's saying thank you. Merci. Danke. Gracias. Thank you. One of the biggest issues between a host student and a host family is the lack of a display of gratitude. If you don't hear an acknowledgement after saying thank you, say thank you until you get one (as they may not have heard you the first time). For a great exchange, it is vital that your host family knows you're grateful.

10. Suggest to make breakfast for the family one day.

Give them a taste of what it's like to be American - literally! If you want to take it a step further, you could even offer to make a family breakfast on a regular basis. Whether it's weekly or monthly, how often is up to you. Making breakfast for your host family, even if just once, is a great way to assimilate yourself into family life and show that you are eager to participate and become more than just an exchange student in their home - that you want to become a member of their family.

11. There is always free wifi at tourism offices!

Okay, you don’t really need to know this to have a great exchange year. But if you're on the go and in desperate need of a wifi hotspot, tourism offices should have them for free. You don’t even have to go inside, simply standing near the entrance will do the trick.

(*****This knowledge is based off of my experience in Southern France.****)

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Logistical Preparation


Among all the emotional adjustments happening, while preparing to leave, there are the practical tasks that need to be accomplished. As everyone in the family is preparing mentally, it is sometimes good to have actual tasks and research to do before the departure date.

Language and Communication.

In almost all cases, your child will be learning a new language or perfecting a language they have learned in the classroom. Encourage them to take advantage of language learning opportunities like

  • Rosetta Stone, watching/listening to movies in their host language,

  • little extra tutoring on the practical things in life, and

  • of course following any instructions from the host country.

When your child gets their host family information, they should contact the host family right away and prepare at least one sentence in the host language. But for those student who know the language, they should communicate with them entirely in the host language!


It is important to check with your international airline to learn about the restrictions for luggage. Not only size but weight also. In many cases, they will be allow one checked suitcase no heavier than 50 pounds.  Any additional bags or if they go overweight will be at your cost.  Unless you fly regularly, you and your child will be surprised how quickly their possessions adds up in size and weight so packing strategically is very important. 

Your child will want to purchase clothes and other popular items in the host country, so save the money and let them spent it in the host country.  When preparing the suitcase, the luggage tag should have their host family’s address on it and another piece of paper in the suitcase with that address too.

Carry On Bag. 

Students must keep their passport, visa, their host family's address and phone number, traveler’s checks, debit or credit cards, medications, cash, and other important papers with them and not in their luggage. A safe way to carry these items is in a fabric pouch that can be tied around the neck or waist and worn under all clothing. These pouches are more difficult to lose or steal.

Your child should bring a few basic toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, etc.) and “freshen up” clothing items (clean underwear and a shirt) in their carry-on in case checked luggage is delayed or lost en route.  Check with the airline’s website for any liquids/toiletries restrictions for carry-on bags.


Have you talked to your son or daughter about the kind of monthly budget they will have while in their host country? Now’s the time to do it! Since your child will be responsible for many things that are usually “free” to them at your house (personal toiletries, postage, etc.), it is important to think through all of the items your student will be responsible for and provide them with a budget to match. Generally speaking, depending on a country’s cost of living, it is recommended to provide them with $250-$300 per month.

Cell Phones.

If your child wants to bring his/her U.S. cell phone, be sure to contact the service provider to find out if the phone will work in the host country and what the rates and terms of usage will be. Your child can also opt to rent or buy a cell phone in the host country and purchase a pay-as-you-go service (this is usually the more affordable option).


It is customary for exchange students to present their host families with small giftsof gratitude when they arrive in their new homes. When considering what makes a good gift you should consider the size, weight, durability during travel, etc. You should not worry about the price of the gift; host families will generally appreciate something thoughtful, personal and/or creative or representative of your State. Something they can show off to relatives or visitors! Due to custom’s checks, your child should not wrap the gift(s) before departure, but rather take wrapping paper or gift bags with them.

You can read in depth about all of these topics and more in the SA Parent Handbook that was sent you when your child was accepted. We encourage you to read this section for more indepth details and more.

What gift ideas do you have?