Host a foreign exchange student from Germany
There's so much more to Germany than Octoberfest, cars and pretzels! By understanding more about our German 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 German communication, home life, education and food, as described by our program participants.
In Germany, most school days begin at 8 am and end between 1 and 3 pm. Extracurricular activities, such as sports and 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. Germans believe that free time to play with minimal adult intervention encourages children to develop important values like respect and empathy. German students assume a high level of responsibility when it comes to homework and studying. Tests are less frequent and rarely have multiple-choice options. It is important to know that most German students will have to repeat their school year when they return home. The students do not receive any academic credit for their exchange year courses. As a result, students may want to take more elective classes for their exchange year.
Tip From EF: German 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 school beginning to help understand options and expectations in class. Talk with your student about the importance of homework and tests as the impact that they have on their grades may be unexpected.
Germans are very direct in their speaking as it’s considered a sign of respect. They say what they mean and do not value fillers within conversations. Eye contact is valued in Germany, and a lack of eye contact can be interpreted as a sign of weakness or dishonesty. Formal speech, such as using “Mr.” and “Mrs.”, is preferred, unless speaking to children or close friends. German students may have a difficult time understanding hints or passive requests, as well as sarcasm. In Germany, the use of swear words in everyday conversations is commonly accepted.
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. Students respect when their host families correct them in the moment. Share expectations clearly and directly with your student to ensure that they are understood.
Wie geht es dir?
How are you?
While regional dishes vary, potatoes, noodles, dumplings, sauces, vegetables and pastries are common in Germany. Germans buy groceries often and prefer fresh foods for cooking. Leaving food on the plate after a meal is considered wasteful in Germany. The legal drinking age for drinking beer in Germany is 16, though they must wait until 18 to drink spirits. Most Germans prefer beer, wine (served primarily with dinner) or mineral water with their meals; they rarely drink tap water and are unaccustomed to the taste.
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.
German teenagers tend to be more independent than their American counterparts. German students typically do not have a curfew or need to check-in regularly with their parents. They are also not familiar with asking for rides, as many students ride their bikes or take public transportation. In many German families both parents work, therefore it is common for children to go to and from school by themselves starting at the age of six or seven. Large families are uncommon in Germany. The average family in Germany has only one or two children. Germans are generally very punctual.
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, getting around town, the importance of checking in with you and their curfew.
Ich freue mich so darauf, meinen deutschen Austauschschüler zu treffen!
I am so excited to meet my German exchange student!
Lass uns nach Berlin reisen!
Let’s go to Berlin!
Hosting advice from our German 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, German 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 Germany 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 I really wished I could have gotten my driver’s license.”
Tip From EF: Many German students will ask about getting their driver’s license because it is much cheaper to complete driver’s education and cheaper to get their license in the United States. However, whether the student can get their driver’s license varies from state to state. This decision is also the host family’s decision and should be discussed upon the student arriving. EF does not guarantee the student a driver’s license on their exchange year.