Host Family Orientation
Review the information in the expandable panels below to complete your Host Family Orientation.
Cultural ExchangeClick to Open
CIEE high school exchange students travel on a J-1 visa, which indicates the student is here on a cultural exchange to live with an American host family and attend a local, accredited high school. Host families of J-1 students are prohibited from receiving compensation.
Student ApplicationClick to Open
Let’s review the student application. It includes the following forms:
*Please make copies of this page and keep it in all family vehicles.
Please familiarize yourself with these forms. Your student may need copies of each for school and/or travel.
Preparing for Your Student's ArrivalClick to Open
Make room for your student
Make sure your student has enough storage space for his or her belongings and a quiet place to study. Remember, your exchange student is not permitted to share a room with more than one other individual. Please alert CIEE if any changes are made to the student’s accommodations listed on your host family application.
Get to know your student’s home country
Take some time to learn about where your student comes from, particularly his or her hometown.
Learn a few words in your student’s language
It’ll help them feel more at home.
It is a requirement that CIEE provide you with culturally specific information regarding the student you will be hosting. Select your student’s country from the dropdown below to read important information about their culture and country!
Student Orientation DatesClick to Open
Many students will arrive in the U.S. two to three days prior to joining your community to participate in an orientation in New York City. During this orientation, we’ll discuss host family integration, program rules, how to identify sexual harassment in the U.S., and many other important topics.
Orientation dates vary for each student. Please ask your local coordinator if you do not know your student’s arrival date.
Certain students do not attend orientation in New York City. In the event your student does not attend a New York orientation. Your Local Coordinator will facilitate an In-Community Orientation within one week of their arrival.
Student Arrival/FlightsClick to Open
Greeting your student at the airport or train station for the first time is an exciting event! Consider bringing a welcome sign, balloons, or other tokens that say “Welcome to the USA.”
Though we’ll know your student’s arrival date well in advance, we often don’t know the exact arrival time of your student until orientation two to three hours prior to his or her arrival in the host community. Your local coordinator will contact you with this information as soon as it is available, though you may not have a lot of notice. Your local coordinator will work with you to coordinate your student’s arrival with your schedule. In case of flight changes or cancellations, please make sure your correct cell phone number is listed on your host family application so we can easily reach you.
The first few days
During the first few days, students will be tired and jet-lagged. Try to keep things low key and let your student sleep—students will be ready to engage as soon as they are rested. Also, speaking English when it isn’t a person’s first language is exhausting, so be sure to give your student a few days to get used to talking with you and your family.
Remember, exchange students are not houseguests—they are new family members. The sooner you show your student where to find the glasses, where you keep snacks, and so on, the sooner he or she will feel at home.
Helping Your Student Settle In
Here are a few examples of what to do with your student when he or she first arrives:
- Don’t plan too much too soon; even going out to eat is scary in the beginning.
- Talk to your student about the arrival orientation and what he or she learned there.
- Review the sheet of questions students receive at orientation—it’s a useful tool for getting to know your student.
- Ask if your student has a nickname.
- Talk about what you would like your student to call you: your first name, mom or dad, or something else.
- Show your student around your home, where to unpack and store items, and so on.
- Discuss where to keep important documents, such as an insurance card, passport, travel documents, and more.
- Within the first few days, take your student on a walk to familiarize him or her with the neighborhood.
- Make a contact information card for your student with your family’s name, phone numbers, and address.
Follow-Up Home VisitsClick to Open
Soon after your student arrives, you will be contacted by a contractor with CIEE to schedule a time for a follow-up visit, which is a requirement of the Department of State. During this 15-minute visit, the contractor will need to see the student’s room, bathroom, and all common areas of the home to verify it is in accordance with the submitted host family application. The contractor will not need to speak with the student.
Starting SchoolClick to Open
For some students, school has already started by the time they arrive to the U.S. Others may have to wait a few weeks before their school start date. This difference is due to varying school start dates throughout the U.S. Often, students’ tickets have been bought long before they know where they’ll be placed.
No matter when they start, the first day of school is always a challenge for exchange students. On the following slides are topics to discuss with your student prior to his or her first day of school.
School RegistrationClick to Open
It’s best to make an appointment with the school guidance counselor so your student can discuss course schedules.
Students are required to take the following:
- One English or Literature class
- One U.S. History, Government, or Social Studies class
- Two additional academic classes
- Below are a few topics to discuss with your student.
- Explain what a yearbook is and show an old one to your student.
- Explain that in the U.S., there is generally no early release. In many countries, if students are finished with their work they may leave the campus.
- Go over bus and class schedules.
- You are required to provide your student with three meals a day, including food for the student to take to school for lunch. If he or she chooses to buy lunch at school, it is at the student’s personal expense.
- Discuss the student’s requirements for playing sports. Some states require eligibility forms, medical checks, and fees to play sports.
- If you believe your student would benefit from outside tutoring, your local coordinator can help you find resources in your community.
School GraduationClick to Open
Schools aren’t required to offer exchange students graduation or a diploma. Find out if your student’s school does and make sure your student is aware of the answer prior to enrolling in the program. Students, host families, and local coordinators should never pressure a school allow an exchange student to graduate. This is against CIEE program rules and standards. Remember, your student is on a J-1 visa, which is specifically for cultural exchange. There are other visas, such as the F-1 visa, that are specifically for academics.
Culture Shock & HomesicknessClick to Open
Students may not realize or admit that they are homesick or experiencing culture shock. Look out for some or all of the following symptoms:
- Making frequent comparisons to his or her home country/culture
- Displaying a negative attitude
- Spending hours alone in his or her bedroom or on the computer
- Communicating frequently with his or her natural parents or friends from home
- Crying, depression
- Difficulty sleeping
- Turning down many opportunities to become involved with the host family, friends, and/or school
- Unwilling to try new things
Homesickness and culture shock are natural. Here are a few things you can do to help your student through the transition:
- Listen and encourage your student to speak openly about how he or she is feeling.
- Acknowledge that this is simply an adjustment stage and that it will get better.
- Ask your student open-ended questions. If he or she provides a one-word answer, show interest by asking the student to explain further.
- Discuss your student’s interests. Encourage your student to share his or her culture with you by cooking a meal or watching a movie from his or her home country together.
- Identify specific cultural differences and discuss them in order to better understand your student.
- Encourage your student to get involved in school and family activities.
- Encourage your student to spend time with friends after school and/or on the weekends.
- Push your student to get out of his or her comfort zone and try new things.
- Check in with your student after he or she has spoken with his or her natural parents.
- Encourage your student to limit communication with home. If this is difficult, start with a goal of one call per week.
Contact your local coordinator if:
- Your student is withdrawing from your family, activities, or school.
- You feel frustrated with your student.
MoneyClick to Open
There are many ways in which exchange students access money while in the U.S. Some are able to open bank accounts for their parents to transfer money into. This option requires the student’s passport. Other students will need help with money transfers from their parents. And some students will come to the U.S. with a credit card.
Discuss how your student will be managing his or her money and find a safe place for him or her to keep money and personal items. And don’t forget to talk about stolen credit cards and security pin numbers.
PLEASE DO NOT exchange money (loan or borrow) with your student.
Budgeting Let your student know what he or she needs to pay for and explain activities like prom, sports, purchasing a yearbook, and so on that cost money. For many students, this is their first time being responsible for their own money. Your student may need your guidance.
InsuranceClick to Open
Students receive all insurance information, including their insurance identification cards, at orientation. The CIEE insurance team will send you an email with basic insurance information and Aetna medical providers in your area in case your student has questions or needs help. Seeing an Aetna medical provider means fewer out-of-pocket expenses for students.
Please familiarize yourself with the CIEE insurance policy and check out a full list of benefits and exclusions at www.ciee.org/insurance.
Contact CIEE’s insurance department at 1.888.268.6245 or email@example.com any time your student goes to the doctor or hospital.
You should never sign on behalf of a student when taking him or her to a doctor’s office or hospital. Instead, bring a copy of the Permission for Treatment form from the student application. Keeping a copy of this form in the glove box of your vehicles can save valuable time when a student is sick or injured. Students should also carry their insurance cards or store them in a safe place that can be accessed quickly.
Some schools may require sports physicals or immunizations for a student to start school or play sports. These are not covered by the insurance plan — please try to locate clinics in your community that offer free or reduced price options.
Host Family RulesClick to Open
Students are family members, not guests. However, they may or may not be accustomed to doing regular chores. Communicate clearly with your student about his or her responsibilities—when chores should be done and how to perform them—and invite him or her to ask questions. Be prepared to tell your student more than once as teenagers tend to be forgetful!
Most students do not do their own laundry and are not familiar with using a washer and dryer. You may choose to do your student’s laundry or teach him or her how to do it. Be sure to explain to your student about sorting, machine settings, where dirty clothes go, and more.
It’s important to set expectations with students about meals: whether the family eats together each night, typical meal plans, what time you usually eat, and what meals he or she may need to cook.
Types of dress vary greatly from country to country, as do students’ perceptions of “American” style. Try to be open-minded about your student’s dress and acknowledge that cultural differences exist—but also be sure to talk with him or her about your standards for proper attire.
Although it may seem obvious to you, a closed door is not necessarily a barrier in other countries and may not have the same meaning for your student as it does to you. Communicate clearly that closed doors are a way to provide privacy for both you and your student and let him or her know to knock before entering.
Bathroom door open or closed after use? Most Europeans close bathroom doors once they leave. Let your student know your preference. Also, many areas of the world do not have modernized plumbing. In these cases, they do not flush toilet tissue, but instead place it in the trash can. It may seem obvious, but you may want to mention to your student that in the U.S. toilet tissue should be placed in the toilet and flushed.
TV and Movie Rules
Rules regarding TV and movies vary not just from culture to culture, but also from family to family. Be very clear with your expectations for using the television, pay per view, Netflix, and so on. Don’t assume your student knows what your rules are.
Internet and Computer Usage
Some students come from areas without unlimited wireless Internet, while some are accustomed to “living” on the computer. It’s important to establish clear guidelines from the beginning of the exchange experience. Set and enforce limitations as you would with your own children. Be sure to discuss whether use is restricted to a common room and/or certain hours of the day, how much time your student is allowed online each day, types of sites that shouldn’t be visited, if your student can download files, and so on. For more information, please view our guidelines on how your exchange student should be using technology.
Discuss with your student how you feel about dating and relationships, including topics such as having a friend in the home when you aren’t there, open/closed door policies, and your level of comfort regarding going on dates. It is very important to have this discussion prior to it becoming an issue. Many cultures are more open, accepting, and liberal in their views of relationships, therefore, you should acknowledge, without judgment, these possible differences while clearly communicating what is acceptable in your home.
School Nights vs. Weekends
Schedules and expectations are different from country to country. In discussing your student’s plans, make it clear that there are distinctions between how and when to schedule activities on school nights as opposed to on the weekend. Curfews, rides, your availability, and so on may differ greatly from weekdays to weekends, so it is important that your student understand your expectations.
Upon arrival, student will be uncertain as to how to communicate their transportation needs to you. Some may think they’ll walk everywhere, while others may “tell” you they need a ride instead of asking. Let your student know how much notice you need and work with him or her as your student adjusts to this new way of life. If you live in an area with public transportation, explain the system to your student. You’d be surprised—most exchange students are more comfortable taking public transportation than U.S. teens.
Telephone and Long Distance Charges
The advent and use of Skype, international phones, and calling cards provide many options for long-distance calling. There is no reason your student should need to incur charges to your telephone bill. CIEE discourages host families from adding students to their cell phone plans. Instead, encourage your student to buy a pre-paid phone with minutes.
There are many rules for your student to learn—please be patient as he or she navigates through all of this new information. Most importantly, be open in communicating with your student. If something bothers you, sit down and discuss it immediately. Remember, this student is your child for the next 10 months. The rules and chores you have for your children should also apply to your host student.
ReligionClick to Open
Religion is one area that calls for special consideration and understanding and cannot be forced on your exchange student. If you attend church, encourage your student to join you and attend youth groups. This is a great way to make friends and participate in fun activities with peers. Please do not try to influence your student’s religious beliefs.
Regulations & Program RulesClick to Open
Download the Department of State’s Regulations. You may remember reading these when completing your host family application. It is mandatory that CIEE provide you with a copy of these regulations, so please familiarize yourself with them in preparation for your student’s arrival. The most relevant items for a host family have been highlighted in yellow. If you need to contact the Department of State, the phone number is 866.283.9090.
View our Program Rules. These were also part of your host family application. Please familiarize yourself with them to prepare for your student’s arrival. Below are a few highlights:
No drinking or drugs. CIEE has zero tolerance for drinking and drugs and students will be dismissed from the program if they are caught with either. As a host family, you are required to tell CIEE immediately if a student has been drinking or using drugs. Trying to cover it up for them only makes matters worse.
No driving while in the U.S., with the exception of driving with a certified instructor as part of a driver’s education class.
Students must maintain a C+ in each class and submit grade reports to the local coordinator each reporting period.
No visitors from home prior to January 1. Only family members may visit after that date; no boyfriends/girlfriends or other friends. Student must have host family approval prior to making any plans. Please notify your local coordinator prior to planning any visit.
Sexual Harassment TrainingClick to Open
Required - Sexual Education Video Training:
Complete the required Sexual Harassment training videos. There are 16 slides to watch, which will take about 30 minutes in total. Your student will watch the same videos prior to arriving to your home.
CIEE takes a proactive approach to protecting students from inappropriate adult/child relationships. As they are coming from a different culture, foreign students may not know what is appropriate in the US in regards to these adult/child relationships. One action we take is to require that students and families view the following educational video. Another is to ask you, their host family, to please help us keep these students safe by alerting CIEE immediately if you feel they are being exposed to an adult doing any of the following:
- Making others uncomfortable by ignoring social, emotional, or physical boundaries or limits.
- Refusing to let the student set any of his or her own limits. Overprotection for the good of the student is often a warning sign of jealousy or possession.
- Insisting on hugging, caressing, kissing (forehead or other), tickling, or wrestling with a student in a way that clearly makes the student feel uneasy.
- Turning to a student for emotional or physical comfort by sharing personal or private information or activities that are normally shared with adults.
- Frequently pointing out sexual images or telling inappropriate or suggestive jokes with students present.
- Exposing a student to adult sexual interactions without apparent concern.
- Signs of having secret interactions with the student, such as purchasing alcohol or drugs for them, or sharing pornography with the student.
- Being overly interested in the sexuality of a particular student (e.g., talks repeatedly about the student's developing body or interferes with normal teen interactions).
- Insisting on or managing to spend unusual amounts of uninterrupted time alone with a student, not allowing them to develop healthy relationships with friends their own age.
- Seeming “too good to be true” (shows extreme favoritism to the student, takes them on special outings alone, buys them presents, takes them on trips, without involving others)
- Frequently walking in on students in the bathroom or bedroom when the door is shut.
- Allowing students to consistently get away with inappropriate behaviors.
TravelClick to Open
Travel is only allowed with adult members of the host family, on a school sponsored activity, or with CIEE local coordinators. Should a student need or want to travel in situations other than the above; or if when traveling with their host family a student would miss school, fly, or travel out of the country, he/she needs to contact their Local Coordinator and fill out a Student Travel Form. This form must be submitted to the CIEE support department via email or fax 207-553-5299 for approval 28 days prior to the proposed date of travel. The Student Travel Form can be found online at Student Travel Form Page.
- Host Family and Local Coordinator must agree to the proposed travel request.
- Students must be in good standing (prior warning or probation letters may result in denial of travel request).
- Students must be staying with an adult.
- Missing school is discouraged.
- CIEE must receive a natural family release for independent travel
Please be aware that independent travel is not guaranteed. CIEE may deny any request for independent travel if deemed necessary.
Community ServiceClick to Open
J-1 high school students are required to complete 8 hours of community service per semester while on program. FLEX and YES students are required to complete 10 hours each semester, 20 hours total. CBYX students are required to complete 25 hours over the course of the year. Students receive a certificate of completion of program at the end of the year upon completion.
Students participating in The Year of Exchange in America for Russians (YEAR) program are required to complete 25 hours of community service.
The Local Coordinator does not monitor community service hours or reports. The Local Coordinator can help schedule events and give ideas to the students, but it is the student’s responsibility to keep up with their community service hours. They need to mail their hours in to CIEE at the end of the year with a short essay. Please refer to our website for ideas and more information.
The Role of your Local CoordinatorClick to Open
You will receive support from a CIEE Local Coordinator that lives close to your home. The Local Coordinator will help you choose a student that is right for your family and prepare you and your family before the student's arrival.
Throughout the year, the Local Coordinator is responsible for being available to you and for supervising your student through monthly communication by phone, in-person casual meetings, or student group activities. Local Coordinators also maintain contact with the local high school your student will be attending.
The Role of CIEE Support StaffClick to Open
In addition to your Local Coordinator, CIEE has an entire support staff ready and able to help should the need arise. Support Coordinators are familiar with each student’s country, culture, customs, agency, and, many times, speak their native language. Should you feel you are in need of assistance or are unable to reach your Local Coordinator; the CIEE Support staff may be contacted any time by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 1-800-448-9944. This number is staffed after hours and it will be answered 24 hours a day, should you have an emergency.
Wrap-UpClick to Open
You will soon embark on a year you will not forget. The information you have just received will go far in making the transition a smooth one, easing you and your student through the initial adjustment phase. Remember, as much as you will be adjusting, your student will be even more so. Soon, however, you will find it difficult to remember when this young man or woman was not a part of your family. Always keep communication open and let your local coordinator know how he or she can support you along the way. It is our pleasure to welcome you to the CIEE community of host families.
Once you have answered the following questions, CIEE can register that you have completed the online portion of your host family orientation.