How to find the perfect host family

Lots of families want to host foreign students. But not all of them want to do it for the right reasons. How do you find excellent home stay families? Here are a few tips.

Offer a Prospective Host Family Information Session about your school. Host families should know what a typical school day is like, what kinds of things the students will be learning and what type of extra-curricular activities you offer. Having them tour the school and meet a few key staff members will give them a sense of how the school operates. You can make this mandatory for prospective host families. The way to do that is to schedule Prospective Host Family Information Sessions on a regular basis – say once a semester or even once a month. Hand out the Host Family Application Package at the Information Session. If families want to apply to host a student, an adult member of the family must attend the information session because that’s when and where the application packages are handed out. If a family can’t be bothered to attend an information session, you probably don’t want them hosting a student.

At this meeting, outline your expectations of the host families. Typical expectations are:

  • Provide 2-3 well-balanced nutritious meals.
  • Provide laundry-facilities that are not coin operated.
  • Provide clean linens (towels, face clothes and bed linens).
  • Spend time with the student practicing the language they’re learning every day.
  • Invite (but don’t oblige) the student to take part in family activities.

Have them fill out an application. In addition to the usual name, phone number and address, the application should ask:

  • How many children are in the home – including their names and ages
  • If they have pets and if so, how many and what kind
  • Why they’d like to be a host family. (Hint: If they respond, “Because we need the money”, think twice before accepting them as a family for one of  your students.)
  • What types of foods do they eat?
  • What kinds of activities do they like to do?

Asking questions like these will help you match students with families. For example, you don’t want to pair a student who is allergic to dogs with a family of dog enthusiasts. Vegetarian students may be well matched with a family that doesn’t eat much meat. A host family that loves to go geocaching may be the perfect fit for a techie student who loves the outdoors. You get the idea.

Request references. Your application form should also include a spot for the names of two or three references, as well as their contact information. References should not be other family members. Examples of good references include pastors, family doctors, work colleagues and even family friends. The reference check doesn’t have to be intensive, but it is part of your due diligence in selecting families. You want to ask these references questions such as:

  • How do you know this family?
  • What kind of people are they?
  • Do you think they’d be good hosts for an international student? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • Would be comfortable allowing your son or daughter to live with them? Why or why not?

Request a police checks for all adult members of the household. Sound harsh? Not really. More and more schools and non-profit organizations are requesting police checks from their staff and volunteers. Check with your local police station about how to get police checks done. If there’s a form to fill out, include a copy in your host family application package as a courtesy. A speeding ticket or other minor offense may not disqualify them as a host family, but if you don’t check, you may not know the whole picture. Who pays for these checks? The host family does.

Conduct a home inspection. So, the host family has attended your information session. Their application looks good. Their references were glowing. Their police check is clean. Everything looks good. But to be sure, send a staff member to inspect the home. Garbage and old tires piled on the front porch is not a good sign. (And yes, I’ve actually seen this.) Inspect the home as if you were the student arriving from another country. The host family needs to provide:

  • A private bedroom for the student. This may seem obvious, but that room should have a door that closes. Curtains are not an acceptable “door”.
  • A window. Basement bedrooms without windows are not only dark, they are a fire hazard.
  • Somewhere to store clothing and other personal belongings. A closest stacked with old linens with no room for the student’s belongings is unacceptable.
  • A desk and chair for studying.
  • A clean bed, with linens.

There are no guarantees that following these steps will get you the perfect host family every time, but they’ll certainly help you eliminate those who are just in it for the money, or who think of foreign students as extra help around the house.

Related posts:

5 qualities of the perfect host family

Sample Host Family Application


Share or Tweet this post: How to find the perfect host family

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

2 Responses to How to find the perfect host family

  1. Anonymous says:

    What a useful post! I enjoy reading your article. It is great to find someone who can find the fun things in life!

  2. Francisco Rubin says:

    Informative blog with good useful information.

%d bloggers like this: