Hosting an Exchange Student

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Catlin Gabel is honored to invite international visitors to our community. Fulbright teachers and students broaden our perspectives and connect us with communities around the globe. We make every effort to graciously welcome a diverse group of guests each year.

Who are these students and how do they come to us?

Usually, between two and six exchange students join the Middle and/or Upper School for between two months and a full academic year. Those who join us for the entire year usually arrive in mid to late August and depart in mid June. We have hosted students from Costa Rica, Botswana, Guatemala, Japan, Spain, Martinique, Germany, Denmark, China, Croatia, Korea, and Thailand, to name just some.

Partner organizations consistently send us students with the attributes required for success in an exchange context: academic proficiency, independence, and social awareness. Maru-a-Pula School, in Gaborone, Botswana, selects a small group of “MAP Scholars” to attend independent schools in the United States. The selection process is competitive and the award prestigious. Students are quiet fluent in English but may not know American colloquialisms or be able to reliably interpret social cues. 

We gain information about students from short biographical statements, admission essays, and phone interviews. Despite all we learn about their relative readiness to live away from home for a year, they are teenagers, imperfect young men and women. Predicting how they respond to stress and culture shock is an imperfect science.

What support does Catlin Gabel provide?

The global education coordinator orients exchange students to life at Catlin Gabel, and the social fabric of the Upper School, with help from the student Global Citizens Club. The assistant head of the Upper School determines course placement and selects a student advisor who has worked with exchange students before. The student’s advisor tracks his or her academic and social progress within the school. The counselor and learning specialist provide specific support as needed. An exchange student may share his or her challenges with any of the above people or other trusted adults in the school community.

What expenses does the home stay family cover?

The host family pays for expenses associated with living at home, such as food and utilities.  The exchange student’s family pays for air fare to and from the U.S, monthly entertainment, college visits, a cell phone, barn bill, clothes, and incidentals. Keep in mind that exchange students are often used to living more simply than our families and will not have endless funds for recreation.  The host family negotiates a mutual understanding with the student about discretionary expenses. Questions can always be directed to the global education coordinator.

How will the exchange student get to and from school?

Depending on the location of the home stay, transportation can include rides with the family, public transportation, or CG bus service. Relying solely on public transportation can be challenging as an everyday means of transportation. Families should plan on a normal, busy, Upper School student life, complete with athletic and evening events. 

Does our child have to be the #1 friend and host?

We place exchange students with families who have children in the same grade, or a grade above or below. Having a host sister or brother at home can help the exchange student integrate academically and socially, but the expectation is not that they will be best friends. In fact, some distance and independence usually grows, to the benefit of both students. We also consider placing exchange students with families in other divisions.  

What challenges do international students face?

Each student has a unique experience with his or her host family. Challenges include adjusting to different social norms, linguistic misunderstandings, homesickness, and fatigue. Exchange students can sometimes withhold questions about household etiquette, family norms, eating, or money to avoid appearing rude or burdensome. The host family should open these initial conversations, but then, set clear expectations for how they’d like the exchange student to communicate.  

Consider the general stages of cultural adaptation below and expect the year to bring highs and lows. Communicate with your exchange student’s advisor or global ed. coordinator if there are concerns.

Source: Vancouver Island University,

May I host an exchange student for half the year?

This is possible and we appreciate the hospitality of all families who can open their homes to this cross cultural experience.

What happens if it’s not a good fit?

The school provides advice and facilitates student-host family discussions so that the relationship may last the year. If unsuccessful, then the school identifies a suitable replacement host family, and the student moves to a new home for the remainder of the year.

How do I express interesting in hosting an exchange student?

Please write Dave Whitson or Becky Wynne, US Global Ed Co-Directors.