Lessons Learned from Being a Host Parent

Today’s post is brought to you by Cambridge Network Host, Francesca Donlan, about the lessons she learned from being a host parent. You can follow along with her journey hosting and read her latest post here.

The other day, I sat next to someone at lunch who asked me how many children I had. I told her that I had a 13-year-old, a 17-year-old and a 16-year-old Chinese exchange student. “Oh,” she said and paused to think of the right words. “Whose idea was that?” Well, I have to give Julie Peters credit for the original idea. She tucked it gently into conversations and planted the seed. We are happy that she did. My husband and I had both lived abroad at different times. I spent a semester on a Greek island at 18 and Mike taught English in Japan in his early 20s. We both relied on the kindness of strangers. So we thought, “What’s one more?”

This is our second year hosting a Chinese exchange student. Last year we hosted Joanna Wu and this year we hosted Qi Qi Li. As I prepared for Joanna’s arrival, I realized there wasn’t much information about Chinese exchange students living with American families. So as a former journalist, I thought I would blog about it.

I remember reading one story about a woman who said that your exchange student will change your family – but not in the ways you expect. I secretly imagined more teen harmony and a cleaner house with this new student. I was wrong. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way.

Lesson 1: The family you have now is exactly the family you will have when the exchange student lives with you.


While the house has not miraculously gotten cleaner, there have been positive changes. We do eat dinner more regularly as a family. Chinese students eat meals formally, and that has sort of shamed us out of grabbing a sandwich and eating it in front of the TV.

Lesson 2: You should keep your routine the same.


It’s a big change to add a new person to the family so the more you can keep your life the same, the more everyone can adapt.

Lesson 3: Your family may be on its best behavior for the first week, but that ends quickly.


These students are coming to experience a real American family, and that comes with all of its highs and lows. When you have a house full of teenagers, the highs and lows can happen on an hourly basis. It’s important to try and explain what the heck is going on.

Lesson 4: Some people will think hosting an exchange student is crazy. Others will think it’s noble. It doesn’t matter what other people think.


We have enjoyed getting to know Joanna and Qi Qi and feel privileged to have had this opportunity. Our family is better for knowing them. We have learned so much about Chinese culture and shown our exchange students some of the best parts of Southwest Florida and beyond. These are some of the bravest kids you will ever meet. They fly across the world to a country full of strangers and attend a school with high academic standards. Both Joanna and Qi Qi have made honors in spite of having to translate most of what they are learning. They are polite and kind and work very hard to succeed. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to host them. If you have an extra room in your house, I will consider it. It will be an experience you will never forget.

To read more about our experiences visit my blog.

Check out other Cambridge Network host family testimonials here. If you’re interested in hosting an international student, please fill out an inquiry form!

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