Frugal Foreign Exchange Hosting

by Katy on March 13, 2016 · 16 comments

Japanese host family

As the parent of two kids who went through a Japanese language immersion program, I’ve hosted at least twenty foreign exchange students and teachers through the years. It’s been for as few as three days and as much as six months. It’s always on a volunteer basis, and I like to think that I’d worked out enough of the kinks to make for a smooth and positive hosting.

But then I went to Japan in 2012 and was assigned my own host parents and realized that I needed to up my game. My far from wealthy host family treated me to multiple restaurant meals, endless local attractions and wouldn’t let me spend a dime. They also presented me with an armload of gifts and a personalized photo album of our time together.

Since that trip, I’ve enjoyed figuring out ways to provide similar experiences and treats without breaking my family’s budget. We have a exchange student from Sapporo arriving tomorrow for an eight day visit and I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. Kentaro will be kept busy during the school days, so we’ll only be responsible for mornings, evenings and the weekend.


There’s a $70 stipend “available” that I’m happy to accept. My younger son went on the reverse exchange to Sapporo in 2014 and stayed with two different host families for two weeks apiece. I paid a stipend and clearly recall paying between $100 and $150 per week. You bet I’ll accept that stipend!

Hoard freebies

My husband was given a Portland Timbers T-shirt in a medium size and to quote the big lug, “I haven’t been a medium since junior high.” It still has the tags on it, so we’ll gift it to Kentaro on Sunday when we take him to a Timbers game. We also have patches and scarves. The extra soccer ticket cost $25, and will be our treat.

My health nut of a father was given a gift certificate to Voodoo Donuts for 13 free donuts/month for an entire year. We’ll be able to stop by this Portland tourist trap for treats and people watching.

Plan inexpensive activities

Instead of taking Kentaro to admission based activities, we’ll likely find free things to do like stomp around Mt. Hood and visit my father’s cabin. It’s only an hour’s drive from the house and always a hit. (This is weather dependent, as I have yet to meet anyone who enjoys being forced outside in rainy weather.)

We live within a few blocks of a street filled with adorable shops. My son can walk Kentaro over for souvenir shopping and general sightseeing.

We’ll drive the mile over to the Mt Tabor reservoirs for iconic Portland views and photo ops.

Say yes to free opportunities

There’s a host family Hawaiian food party one evening, and you know that I was quick to accept. Not only will this cross off one evening’s meal, but the location is just two blocks from the house.

Borrow instead of buy

The twin sheets on the bed in our spare bedroom are getting extremely thin. Instead of buying new sheets, I called my mother and asked to borrow a set. (She has huge numbers of sheets due to her guest cottage business.) Yes, I’ll still need to source some new sheets, but now I can find some free ones without a deadline.

Be deliberate with meal planning

We do plan on two restaurant meals during Kentaro’s stay with us, but I’ll also meal plan the entire week which is not usually my style. (I usually plan one day in advance, which works well for us.) We’ll eat at a Mexican restaurant on Mt Hood on Saturday and also hit up a Texan style barbecue restaurant that’s very American in decor. (Yee haw!)

Of course, all plans are open to change and dependent on Kentaro’s interests and energy level. (Jet lag is a bitch!)

My family has really enjoyed the personal connections that we’ve made through hosting. International travel is prohibitively expensive for most people, but being a host family has allowed us to get an in-depth view of Japanese culture without leaving home. Hosting does not require a luxurious home or a high income, it simply requires an open mind and a willingness to expand one’s world.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth B March 13, 2016 at 2:15 pm

I love that you host foreign exchange students! The more understanding and connection we can build between people in different countries, the better off the world will be.


Katy March 13, 2016 at 2:43 pm

So so true!


Marilyn March 13, 2016 at 2:20 pm

When my kids were young, we also hosted groups from Japan. Mostly, it was for one week per year and it was 2 or 3 young students at a time. I enjoyed doing it and my kids loved it. We did not have money for international travel, so I felt this was a good way for my kids to meet people from another country and understand there is a big, wide, fascinating world beyond our little corner of SW Washington state. Katy, I think your plans for your visitors are wonderful. They will have a terrific time!


Leslesy March 13, 2016 at 2:22 pm

What a great picture of you, Katy!


Katy March 13, 2016 at 2:44 pm

It’s few years old . . .


Jennifer March 13, 2016 at 3:01 pm

Very flattering pic, Katy! Love these ideas. I would have to clean my house for an entire month to host somebody. We aren’t home much so things aren’t company ready most of the time. I do hoard freebies for all kinds of other reasons though.


laurie matzko March 13, 2016 at 3:04 pm

We have hosted 4 students for 10 months each, and other than the initial cost of getting a bed, desk, etc, the cost is pretty minimal. Well, except for feeding them, but even then, if they buy their lunch or go out with friends, they pay for themselves. Upon researching things to do with them, we have found free/low cost things to do in our own city, which is a bonus! Also, if you are lucky enough to visit them, you have a free place to stay and tour guides, which is fantastic!


Kim from Philadelphia March 13, 2016 at 3:15 pm

What an awesome opportunity, for both your family and the students you host!


Mariana March 13, 2016 at 5:23 pm

I came to the US as an Au-pair and stayed with my ‘host family’ for 3 years! I have loved them as much as my own family and they have loved me too.
Now, 13 years later I am living in the US (thanks to all their help to make that happen) and we are still in touch. I visit them at least once a year.
What a great opportunity, in some cases, life changing, just as it was for me.
Hats of to you Katy for being a host, you may not know when you change someone’s life around. x


Vickie March 13, 2016 at 5:36 pm

One of my co-workers just hosted a Japanese college student for a few weeks. They had a big BBQ and allowed her to invite a few of her friends. Since they moved to a small acreage back in the Fall, he’d bought a four-wheeler. He said giving them rides on the 4 wheeler was a big hit. They were apparently thrilled to experience a real American backyard BBQ.
The itinerary you have sounds great, have fun!!


Nancy March 13, 2016 at 5:56 pm

My cousin has hosted some Japanese students and said taking them to the food store was a particularly big hit!


Mimi March 14, 2016 at 4:26 am

I’m very interested in hosting an international student or family. Can you offer advice on how to connect to reputable companies to sign up? Likewise, if we are interested in sending our child to an exchange program overseas, do you or any of your readers have recommendations?


laurie matzko March 14, 2016 at 12:45 pm

We have worked with EF, and I’ve enclosed the website. You are able to choose the country, sex, interests, etc of the student that you pick.


Linda March 14, 2016 at 5:31 am

I think you’ve got the balance right with your plan for Kentaro’s visit. Spending time with your family eating home cooked meals and participating in everyday activities is as valuable a part of immersion as visiting restaurants.


JD March 14, 2016 at 6:03 am

My sister and brother-in-law hosted for a year a Japanese exchange student, whom they LOVED. When she decided to return to the U.S. for another year, she requested my sister and brother-in-law as her hosts. She married an American and now, 20+ years later, they all stay in touch and visit when they can.
The best part was my parents’ turnaround. As a WWII veteran who fought in the Pacific against Japan, my dad, and my mom, were both surprised to find they had previously unrealized lingering issues with the Japanese. After getting to know the student, though, they warmed up and left those long-buried issues behind for good. What a happy ending!


Jill March 14, 2016 at 6:41 am

I love this! I was a member of AFS in high school and though I didn’t study abroad my family hosted exchange students a few times. It was always enjoyable. And my husband has traveled to Europe several times for business and there is usually an employee who “hosts” him on the weekends even though he stays in a hotel. He has had an Epiphany dinner at a family’s in France, boated the islands of Sweden and given so many gifts and a tour of Turin, Italy. Sure, travel is about seeing a place but it makes it so much more special when you are able to see a place through a local’s eyes.


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