The meaning varies according to the sponsoring institution but basically one of many organizations formalizes the exchange of students from one country to another for varying lengths of time. This is not a one on one exchange, i.e. the Smiths don’t get the Jone’s kid in exchange for theirs. Rather, the Smith’s kid stays home to be the part of the temporary family for the Brown’s kid. Hmmmm, rough explanation…. Someday the Smith’s kid may go be an exchange student with a different family but not the same year her family hosts the Jone’s kid.
The time a student spends in the program can vary; typically 4 weeks, 5 months or 10 months are options. The countries that the exchanges take place in vary and certainly do not always involve the United States.
All the programs require the student have reasonable accommodations in terms of a bedroom of their own or a bed of their own if sharing a room with a same sex host sibling. They all expect the exchange student will be treated as a member of the family; they will be included in school and family activities and meals and they should share in family and school chores, rules and expectations. The exchange students have their own insurance; their biological families are expected to pay their expenses above basic room and board type things. In reality what this means varies according to the host families comfort level and budget as well as the student’s budget. Families may choose to pay for activities that the student does with the family rather than ask them to pay or not have the family go at all if the extra body would cost too much.
Students may be high school age (15 to almost 19) in some programs or college aged in others. If in a 5 or 10-month program they are enrolled in school. In the 4-week programs the sponsoring organization typically includes organized activities for the student 9 to 5 or so Monday to Friday. Language skills vary considerably.
We have been a host family twice, once of a 16-year-old girl and once for an 18-year-old boy. They were both wonderful kids and it was a great experience. These were both summer programs. We plan to host a student for a 10 month program in 2 or 3 years when our oldest child is no longer at home. We don’t want to have kids share a bedroom for a whole year although it worked well for the 4 weeks. We will still have a high school student at home at that time.
On the other hand, I admit to a big double standard. I would not allow my kids to go as a student while in high school. I couldn’t give them up that long and I couldn’t trust them to strangers despite having been just such a stranger myself.