FAQ about being an exchange student:
What is the purpose of the secondary student exchange program?
The purpose of this program is to foster mutual understanding between the United States and other countries. Under the program, exchange students study at an accredited public or private high school and live with an American Host Family. In rare cases, an exchange student could also reside in a boarding school.
How do I qualify to be an exchange student?
According to the rules of the U.S. Department of State, you should:
- Be a secondary school student in your own country;
- Not have completed more than 11 years of education(including elementary school, middle school and high school) excluding kindergarten; OR not be more than 18.5 years old as of the program start date;
- Be mature and have an outgoing personality and scholastic aptitude;
- Not have participated in this program before;
- Have never attended an American school in F-1 or J-1 visa status.
How do I apply to be an exchange student?
Forte usually recruits our exchange students through authorized partners in other countries and regions. Currently we have partners in Germany, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Brazil and Mexico. In an effort to diversify our student population, we are trying to identify accredited organizations in more countries and areas.
If you live in one of the countries or regions mentioned above, please contact us to obtain our partner information. Then you should contact the partner agency and submit your application to them. You should complete our application package, which includes:
- Our application form;
- An official transcript for the past two school years from your school(s);
- A personal essay;
- Medical records;
- Two recommendations: one from your English teacher and the other from your math teacher;
- Photos that demonstrate your personal and family life;
- Signatures from you and your parents on the application agreements.
I have allergies. Can I apply?
If you are allergic to dogs, cats or other pets, you should understand that the vast majority of our Host Families have pets. Pollen is also everywhere in America, even in big cities, so if you are allergic to pollen that can be a problem. Host Families usually hesitate to host students with allergies because it would be a liability to them. In order to make your stay in the United States better for everyone, you should ensure that your allergies are mild enough that they do not affect your everyday life and you have the medication to control them.
If your allergy is serious, life-threatening, or cannot be controlled by medication, we strongly recommend that you wait until your symptoms have mitigated.
Where will I be placed? Can I choose where I go?
Basically, you can be placed anywhere in the United States except Alaska and Hawaii. However, you should be aware that few students are placed in big cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, or Miami. People in big cities have a faster pace of life, more pressure, and smaller houses so they are much less inclined to host an exchange student.
Unfortunately, you cannot choose where you go. While we take state preferences in account when finding you a host family, we cannot guarantee that you will be placed in your first choice state.
What type of family should I expect? Do I have a choice?
The majority of our Host Families are middle-class families.
Unfortunately you don’t have a choice of Host Family. We go through a series of procedures to screen and select all our Host Families, as required by United States law, so you can rest assured that they are trustworthy, loving, and caring families. If you find the family is not a good match, we will work to find you a new family but only after you have given the first family a try.
I have a relative in America. Can I live with him/her?
Unfortunately, no. The Department of State regulations state that a secondary school exchange student cannot live with a relative.
My parents have an American friend who is able to host me. Is that okay?
If this friend is not your relative, yes, he/she can host you. You should provide us with his/her contact information and he/she will undergo the same screening procedures as all other Host Families.
How do I obtain a United States visa?
After you are admitted into our program and have paid all the program fees, we will issue you a DS-2019 Form which facilitates a U.S. visa. After receiving this form, you should schedule a visa appointment with a U.S. embassy close to your area and pay the SEVIS fee.
Who is going to pay the SEVIS fee? Where and how?
You should pay the SEVIS fee. To expedite the process, you should pay the SEVIS fee online. Please visit http://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/
Who is going to insure me?
Forte provides comprehensive health and accident insurance for our exchange students. We will send the insurance card and brochure to your host family but your home country partner should also have a copy of it. You can always ask your agency for the information before you leave. If you have any questions about the insurance issue, please call our office at 888.866.6869.
Please note that some of our partners buy their own insurance for students. Please ask your agency before you leave whether they provide insurance or you will use Forte’s insurance.
What should I bring to the United States?
Most places in the United States have four seasons and at least a mild winter. You will be able to wash clothes while in the U.S. so you do not need to bring enough to last you for your whole visit. You should bring enough clothes for about two or three weeks. They should be clothes that are appropriate for school and time with your Host Family in your community. Because you will be here for more than one season, it is a good idea to bring clothes that you can wear as layers, such as T-shirts, long sleeve shirts, and sweaters. Contact your Host Family and research your city or town before packing to help you get a sense of the weather.
In addition to clothing, you should be sure to bring any medication or special items you may need such as an inhaler or a retainer. If you take medication regularly, be sure to discuss how you will receive this medication while you are in the U.S. as there are often restrictions on the amount of medication you are allowed to bring into the U.S. You may also want to bring some toiletries to last you a few days. You can buy anything you will need while in the United States but you may want enough of a few toiletry items to last you for your first few days such as a toothbrush and shampoo.
What would be the general expectations of me within my Host Family?
The expectations vary from family to family. However, we think the following things are extremely important to keep in mind:
- Mix with them! You should eat with them, talk with them, watch TV with them, participate in all family activities and do everything else just like their own kids. You are a family member, NOT a guest. For example, do NOT walk into your own room whenever you get home and never come out. It is fine to have some alone time but be sure to make an effort to spend time with your family.
- Follow their rules. Most families will explain to you what their rules are, in regard to your responsibilities at home, study time, bed time, chores, laundry, curfew, etc. You should make sure that you understand the rules. If you have questions, ask immediately. The rules are there to help you and the Host Family. No one will ask you to do anything unreasonable or unfair.
- Show your feelings! Your Host Family opens their home to you and they are not paid a penny. It is natural that you should show your appreciation when people do something for you. On the other hand, if you have things that you don’t understand or do not want to accept, you should also discuss it with the host family, in a friendly way, rather than keeping it to yourself. Everything will be better for both you and the Host Family if you are honest about your feelings.
What are the things that I can NOT do?
If you do any of the following things, your program will be terminated and you will be sent home immediately:
- Purchase or possess drugs--- We have zero tolerance with drugs.
- Drink alcohol--- Drinking under the age of 21 is a violation of U.S. law.
- Fail to maintain a 2.0 grade point average. This means you have less than a 'C' in all of your classes.
Can I bring my computer? Is there a restriction on computer use?
We would like to discourage you from bringing a computer or buying a computer in the United States. Using the computer too much is the number one complaint from our Host Families. Overusing the computer takes time away from interacting with your Host Family, your schoolwork, and deprives you of sleep and you don’t have as much energy for classes the next day.
If you do have a computer, we have specific rules about its use: you are only allowed to use the computer/internet for one hour a day during the week and it should be for homework only. On the weekend, you can use it more often, but it should not prevent you from communicating with your Host Family or participating in Host Family activities.
Why am I not allowed to go home during Christmas or other big holidays?
We do not allow our exchange students to go home during holidays or any other time in the middle of the program unless there is a family emergency. All of our Host Families commit to hosting an exchange student because they want the student to experience American culture and way of life. Holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas are the occasions where you can experience American values and way of life the most. These visits would also disrupt your adjustment to living in the United States and may make your stay more difficult.
My parents would like to come to the United States with me or visit me during the program. Is that okay?
Unfortunately, no. Hosting a teenager means an additional commitment of time, energy, and financial resources. Americans’ sense of hospitality requires that they should provide the best for their foreign guests, but with all these commitments, they often cannot.
Another reason we don’t allow a visit is that this often makes the student very emotional and affects his/her adjustment in the new environment. If your parents come with you to the United States, it will take much longer for you to adjust and to say goodbye to them. Often students find they are fully adjusted to life in the United States by the middle of their program. If your parents visit you at this point in your stay, it will be as if you did not adapt at all when they leave again. It can hinder the progress you have made in your cultural adjustment and will leave you feeling more homesick.
If I don’t like the Host Family, can I ask for a change until I am satisfied?
We will not move a student just because you tell us you don’t like the current family. We must try to sort out the problem. Sometimes there is a misunderstanding between you and the family. In that case, there needs to be clearer communication. If it is a case where you simply do not want to follow the family’s rules then we make it clear to you that moving will not help because you will have the same problem again. However, if we determine that the Host Family is not appropriate for you, we will move you to another family.
What subjects am I expected to take in an American school?
Different schools offer different classes, but we require all our students to take three core courses: English, History / Government, and Math. Most schools will choose the levels of the courses based on your transcripts from your home schools.
Students from some countries such as Spain and Brazil have to meet the “convalidation” requirements mandated by their educational authorities. In these cases, it is the student’s responsibility to let the school know the requirements in detail.
What grades should I achieve in the American school? What if I fail?
At a minimum, you should achieve an average of 'C' in all subjects.
If you fail, the first thing you should do is to ask your teacher and/or counselor what you can do to improve. Some teachers may allow you to retake a test or exam or make up for an uncompleted assignment. The most important thing is that you cannot allow yourself to fail a class more than once.
If you cannot meet the standards of your American school, we will issue an Academic Probation letter stating that you have to improve your grades within a certain time frame. If you still cannot achieve that, we may have to terminate your program.
Who should I turn to if I have problems or need help?
The first person you should contact is your Local Representative. You will be provided with his or her contact information upon your arrival to the United States, if not before.
Who should I contact if I have an emergency?
Depending on the severity of the situation, it is always best to contact your Local Reprsentative or Area Director right away. If you cannot reach them, you can call the office: 703-237-1688, toll free: 888-866-6869.
911: this is a national emergency response service. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call 911 from any phone immediately.
My Host Family asked me to wash dishes/mow the lawn. Should I do them?
Host Families are not allowed to use an exchange student as child labor; however, the exchange student is expected to do some household chores, such as dish-washing, laundry, or occasionally baby-sitting. Many American teenagers do this. Since you are supposed to be a member of the family, yes, you should do the chores that you are assigned.
My Host Family asked me to do my own laundry but I never did that at home. Why should I?
Many children have to help around the house and this helps to foster a sense of responsibility in the children. An exchange student should NOT treat any host family member as a servant and should do his or her own laundry if asked by the Host Family. If you've never done laundry before - just ask!
Am I allowed to date during my program?
Even if you have turned 18, or you will turn 18 during your program, you have to abide by our program rules in addition to the Host Family rules. Dating, smoking, alcohol drinking, and drug-taking are not allowed by our program rules and you have agreed to the rules by signing the terms in your application. Violating these rules will result in severe consequences.
In fact, even American kids who have turned 18 are bound by the family rules as long as they live with the parents. While you stay with a Host Family, they are your legal guardians regardless of how old you are. You must follow their rules while living with them.
Will I be sent home if I make any mistakes?
We have zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol. If you have committed either of those, yes, you would have to terminate your program and go home.
In other cases, we would issue a Behavioral Probation letter depending on the severity of the mistake, and you have to correct your mistakes within a set time. We will provide you with counseling and assistance. If you do not make any progress or have a new violation, that would be the end of your program.