Adult and Student Exchanges, and Hosting Opportunities

Outbound Student Exchanges

Norfolk Sister Cities provides opportunities for parents and students to host inbound students from our Sister Cities, as well as participate in outbound exchanges. Some sister cities have reciprocal agreements where their students visit the United States one year, and the American students visit their country the next, so outbound exchanges may not be available every year.  These exchanges are organized by Norfolk Sister City Association (NCSA). While some need-based scholarship funds are available, the costs are the responsibility of the participants including any costs not covered by awarded scholarship funds. Please note that priority for outbound exchanges is usually given to students that host during a reciprocal year.

Scholarship Information Norfolk Public School students who are in need of financial support are invited to apply for a scholarship if participating in an outbound delegation. These generally occur in even number years. The goal of Norfolk Sister Cities is to make certain that all qualified students are able to participate regardless of financial ability.

Adult Hosting and Exchanges

Suggestions for Host Families:

(adopted from Open World Program Host Guidelines;;; and NSCA Host Family suggestions )

Preparing for your Guest

  • Put away anything that you don’t want your guests to see, touch, etc. This is especially important if your guests are children. Close off rooms that are off limits, and lock them if you can.
  • Have a place where your guests can put their things. If you or they have children, or if you have pets, they should be able to put their belongings in a place where children and pets can’t get to them. Have a place to hang up coats, jackets, bags, etc. If you prefer to have shoes removed in the house, have a place where they can put their shoes without having to pile them up in the corner.
  • Whenever possible, provide guests with their own room. Time away from the host family can be as valuable as time with the host family.
  • Lack of English-language ability may cause some guests to feel uncomfortable and act reserved initially. Engage them in conversation by asking questions about their culture, families, and work.
  • Have cleaning supplies ready to use. If there’s a spill, you can get to it quickly. If your guest spills grape juice on her dress, you can offer her the appropriate remedy (or at least a dab from your laundry stain stick).
  • Have emergency medical supplies that are easily accessible. If somebody gets hurt, you want to make sure you can do everything you can to help them.
  • If you are hosting youth and intend to have them participate in hazardous activities (e.g., rock climbing, backpacking, canoeing), ensure you clear this with their parents beforehand.
  • If possible, contact your guest before they arrive to see if there is anything special they want to see or do while visiting.
  • Be sure to ask about birthdays, special holidays, or a cultural tradition that they would like to share with you during their visit. Special holidays, such as Thanksgiving, can provide a sample of Americana.

Initial Matters

  • If at all possible, meet your guest for the first time as they are getting off the airplane when they arrive in Norfolk. They will never forget that moment and to have a friend meet them will relieve almost all their concerns.
  • Be natural and welcoming to your guest. Make sure to have a smile on your face when you first greet them.
  • Most likely your guest will be tired and hungry when s/he first arrives, and therefore may want to go straight to bed after dinner. If your guest has enough energy and its daylight outside, consider taking him/her for a short drive or walk around the neighborhood.
  • To the extent you are able, try to communicate with your guests in their native language whenever possible. The effort is much more important that the actual result.
  • Take your guests to the supermarket within 24 hours of their arrival and have them select foods/beverages with which they are familiar and that they will eat/drink. That way, there will always be something in the house for them to consume, even when they do not like what you prepare for any given meal.
  • Be patient when speaking; speak slowly and be sure to articulate well. Listen carefully and use hand gestures if needed. You will be surprised at how fast your guest’s English will improve just by speaking to you and living in an English-speaking environment.
  • Your guest will know you care if you earnestly try to pronounce his or her name correctly. Some adopt an American name to make it easier. Ask which name s/he prefers to use.
  • Ask about special diets. If your guest is diabetic, vegetarian, vegan, lactose intolerant, gluten intolerant, allergic to anything, etc., find out before you plan the menu. The easiest way to find out is to ask them!
  • Ask your guest what environmental factors are most comfortable for them, such as temperature, open windows, and lighting.
  • Ask your guests whether they prefer their beverages cold or at room temperature (some guests have indicated that cold beverages cause stomach aches). Of course, you can encourage them to try cold beverages even if they are not used to them.
  • Always have something to eat and drink. If you’re just getting together for a few minutes, have tea, coffee, juice, soda, etc., and some snacks. For mornings, have brunch foods. For afternoons and evenings, have desserts and savory snacks. Try to have all the ingredients and tableware that you need, so there’s no last-minute scrambling.

General Matters / Planning Activities

  • Always keep on hand a contact number of a relative in your guest’s home country (as well as the contact number of the NSCA coordinator, if there is one).
  • Consider providing your guest with a work telephone or cell phone number just in case s/he needs to contact you. This is extremely important when your guest first arrives. Norfolk will be foreign to him/her, and s/he could get lost easy. Make sure your guest always carries your address and home phone number with him/her.
  • It’s nice to have on hand a general map of the area in case your guest wants to go “exploring.” Soon after arrival, consider driving your guest around the area to point out local landmarks in case your guest gets lost. Also, if there are specific areas where you feel your guest should not go, let him/her know.
  • Some guests may have a bout with homesickness, especially if they intend to be away from home for a long period or are young and have never traveled away from home before. If you notice this, simply encourage him/her to communicate with his or her family back home. Listen to his or her concerns and be patient.
  • Encourage your guest to use e-mail if you have service in your home; otherwise, send them to the local library periodically where s/he can use a computer for free. This is a good way for him/her to keep in touch with family and friends back home. It also could lessen any homesickness s/he might experience.  If you have a computer with internet service in your home, you may want to consider setting limits on how much they use the computer. Additionally, many guests, especially students, nowadays will travel with a laptop.
  • Plan on simply fixing the usual healthy and nutritious dinner that you normally would have for your family (accounting for any food allergies you know your guest has). Most Guests already know to expect something different when they come to a new country and are very excited to try something new.  Note that a few international students do not eat pork. It is best to ask students when they arrive about their dietary preferences.
  • Try to include a few meals in a host family home or even ask your guests to prepare a meal. This is when songs get sung, pictures get shared, and guests really enjoy interacting with their hosts. A home group meal at the beginning of the visit can be a good icebreaker.
  • Ask guests about their home country and city, and don’t be afraid to discuss the differences between life in America and the country where the guest is from.
  • Consider making a list of any household rules that you would like your guest to follow and post it on the refrigerator. Consistent and open communication can help make you both feel comfortable and lessen any problems you might have.
  • If you are planning activities, plan ones that your guest and you both will enjoy. Don’t just say, “Hey, I really like…” without asking the most important question, “Do you like…?”
  • Guests accept criticism regarding their English differently. Ask them whether they would prefer that you correct their English (a surprising number really want you to). Feel free to share appropriate English colloquialisms with them.
  • Try to coordinate activities with other host families, both to assist in logistics and to allow your guests to communicate in their native language with other visiting guests. Even if you cannot coordinate activities, it is valuable to have visiting guests communicate with one another to exchange ideas regarding what experiences they have enjoyed (so that others can benefit). Additionally, if you expect your guests to pay for an activity, make sure you indicate how much it will cost before a decision is made to participate.
  • For teenage guests, just spending time with American teenagers (with adults in the house but not involved in the conversation) can be quite enjoyable. Adults may be needed initially to “break the ice.”
  • Although you should have your guests review the list of possible activities (see separate list for some ideas) and ultimately decide what they are interested in, you should feel free to fully explain those that they may not be familiar with (e.g., a baseball game, an amusement park or water park) so that they can make an informed decision.
  • Don’t be afraid to offer to have your guests (especially teens) actually try some activities, especially ones that are uniquely American (e.g., hit a softball, shoot a basketball, ride the NET bus downtown).

Final Considerations

  • Allow adequate time for your guests to shop (especially for souvenirs); although desired souvenirs often center around Americana, personal purchases often gravitate toward “big box” stores (especially Walmart and electronics stores like Best Buy).
  • Consider giving each of your guests a small gift shortly before their departure, preferably something unique to Norfolk or to America that they can take home with them.
  • Ensure you have up-to-date contact information for your guest in case you need to contact him/her to deliver or mail any items left behind.
  • Finally, the foregoing cultural guidance should not inhibit you. The most important thing you can do is to be yourself—warm, friendly, welcoming, and open. One of the goals of the program is to allow you and your guests to learn about your cultural differences. A faux pas, taken in stride, can be an occasion for humor that contributes to building lasting relationships!