Travel Cheap Tips #5: Hosting Exchange Students

Looking back on my (almost) 30 adult years, there are a handful of decisions that have added infinite value and meaning to my life. In the top five is hosting exchange students.

In 1997, two 21-year old French girls arrived at San Diego International Airport. Just nine years younger than I, we became fast friends. Over the years, we have visited each other every few years. With each visit, we became more deeply connected, until at some unspecified time in the past 17 years, we became family. In fact, I am writing this post on one of my “sister’s” couches in the tiny village of Martimont. Just a few days ago, I bawled as I hugged my other sister, brother, nephews, and niece in Chamant after a week of visiting, celebrating, toasting, eating, and wandering around France with them. They are truly amongst my greatest treasures.

Hosting exchange students can help you travel cheaper in two ways. Some agencies and most websites pay a stipend to host families, which can be deposited directly into your travel fund. For example, one agency I host for pays $900 in exchange for a private bedroom, daily breakfast, and dinner for one student for 21 days.

The second way is through reciprocation. In the last 17 years, there have been many visits with my French family in both directions—one for the French to experience an American Thanksgiving, one for this American to attend a certain French wedding and drive scooters along the French Riviera, and another to enjoy a San Diego summer together. With each visit, we became more deeply connected, until at some unspecified time, we became family. Both of us saved a tremendous amount of money staying and sharing meals with each other.

As with anything, you’ve got to do your research—and think things through.

Do you prefer a certain country of origin and/or age for your student? Consider your interests and your own personality. For instance, Japanese students tend to be more introverted and respond well to patience and gentle coaxing. Brazilians and French tend to be social butterflies. Younger students need more supervision and stay closer to home, while older ones are usually independent and tend to venture out on their own to explore.

Also, not all agencies pay their hosts, so don’t assume you’re going to get a check. I did not receive a penny for hosting my French students, yet there is no question I am richer and my travel fund has benefitted from knowing them.

Here are some links to get you started with hosting exchange students:

Do you have a university in your area? Check to see if they have an international English program—if they do, they’ll probably be thrilled to add you to the list of student housing options. I have had great luck with a private Facebook group for international students in San Diego as well.

If you’ve ever hosted an exchange student, let us know how it went in a comment. And, don’t miss my other tips for traveling cheap — The Wandering Ex-Housewife’s Travel Cheap Tips!