Host a foreign exchange student from Austria
Until you have been inside an Austrian coffee house it’s hard to imagine just how charming they are, and just how quickly you'll devour an apple strudel and order another. But Austria has more to offer than just strudel and schnitzel.
By understanding more about our Austrian exchange students’ lives back home, it will help you gain insight into their culture and background and prepare you for a successful hosting experience. Let’s start by learning about what’s typical in Austrian communication, home life, education and food, as described by our program participants.
Austrian students have a high level of responsibility when it comes to homework and studying. Tests are less frequent and rarely have multiple choice options. Students have the same classmates in most classes, and most of the subjects cannot be chosen but are obligatory. Extracurricular activities, such as sports and chess clubs, are not organized by the school but instead by parents and community groups. Parents feel that time outside of school should not be completely structured with extracurricular activities. Many Austrians believe that free time to play encourages children to develop important values like respect and empathy. Unlike some other countries in Europe, many Austrian exchange students do not have to repeat the school year back home after returning from exchange. Austrian students participating in a full academic school year abroad will not repeat the corresponding school year back home. Half year Austrian students must attend class in the US for a minimum of five months and one day to eliminate repeating the semester when they return home. All Austrian students are required to bring home transcripts from their school in the US.
Tip From EF: Austrian students may not be aware of options that are available to them in American schools such as electives, classes of varying difficulty and extracurricular activities. Encourage your student to sit down with a counselor or registrar prior to the start of school to help them understand options and expectations in class. Talk with your student about the importance of tests and homework as the impact that they have on their grades may be unexpected.
Austrian communication is direct, and many students have a difficult time understanding hints or passive requests. They can be very direct, but do not intend to be mean. Using swear words casually in Austria is common. Austrian humor may be sarcastic. They may be reserved initially and are not accustomed to small talk.
Tip From EF: Make sure you have open and honest conversations about expectations in the home. Discuss appropriate language and expectations around using please and thank you. Share expectations clearly and directly with your student to ensure that they are understood. To help your student become open to small talk, ask your student about their culture and family traditions.
How are you?
While regional dishes vary, potatoes, noodles, dumplings, sauces, vegetables and pastries are traditional in Austria. Healthier diets with vegetables and organic food are becoming popular. Austrians buy groceries often and prefer fresh foods for cooking. Pork, beef and chicken are popular in Austria. Due to their proximity to Italy, Austrians also love Italian food. The legal drinking age for beer and wine in Austria is 16, though they must wait until 18 to drink spirits.
Tip From EF: Invite your student to go to the grocery store with you! While shopping, encourage your student to share what they prefer to eat and discuss what new foods they are willing to try. Schedule a few meals together as a family each week to help the student feel welcomed and at home.
Austrian teenagers tend to be more independent than their American counterparts. Austrian teens typically do not have curfew or need to check-in regularly with parents. In many Austrian families both parents work, therefore it is common for children to go to and from school by themselves starting at the age of six. Austrian students are not used to asking for rides as most ride their bike or take public transportation. Most Austrians enjoy the outdoors and spend a lot of time being active and participating in sports. Day trips with the family are quite common in Austria. Many students spend their weekends with family on day trips to nearby parks, nature reserves or museums
Tip From EF: Sit down with your student at the beginning of the year and go over all rules, schedules and expectations; write them down. Be sure to include simple things such as how to use the washer and dryer, how to get around town, the importance of checking in and their curfew. Be sure to include conversations on travel expectations and opportunities.
Die Hügel sind lebendig mit dem Klang der Musik!
The hills are alive with the sound of music!
Bitte geben Sie mir ein Wiener Schnitzel.
Please pass the wienerschnitzel.
Hosting advice from our Austrian exchange students
“I wish my host family knew that I’d like to know the rules right away.”
Tip From EF: It is helpful to be clear and direct with household rules and expectations early on. If there are any misunderstandings or issues that come up, communicate with your student and IEC to ensure everyone is on the same page. Additionally, Austrian students may not understand suggestive communication. Instead of saying “your room is looking a little messy today,” it will be easier for them to understand “please clean your room.” It is helpful to review and reiterate the rules occasionally.
“I wish my host family knew that I’ve never played after-school sports or activities before because my school in Austria doesn’t have them.”
Tip From EF: The commitment level of an after-school activity may be new to your student. Discuss those commitments prior to their participation, but also express how it is a great opportunity to meet new people. Help your student by encouraging them to try new things and teaching them best practices for time management.
“I wish my host family knew that many Austrian students are very direct when we speak, it is a part of our culture.”
Tip From EF: Austrian students may have a very straightforward communication style. In America, this may be too direct or demanding, and it’s likely your student doesn’t realize how they are coming off. Help your student understand cultural differences, which include learning how to phrase things differently to avoid miscommunication.