We've hosted a number of international exchange students over the past twenty years. To date our friends have come from Japan, Mexico, Spain, France, and South Korea.

While some students have proved challenging, overall the stays have been quite successful. I chalk this up to our openness. Hosting an exchange student is full of opportunities:

1. You learn to communicate outside of your comfort zone. Our first exchange student arrived from Japan. Prior to welcoming her we were concerned about communication. We were told her she spoke English well. It turned out that her English was poor at best. Our Japanese was non-existent. We figured it out together. By the time Emiko left, we could communicate pretty well using a combination of English, Japanese, and body gestures.

2. You learn about cultural differences, first-hand, without the expense of traveling. Food is an easy way to share culture; all of our exchange students have created at least one meal for us, a family favorite of theirs. Five years later any cereal eaten within our home is with a chocolate milk concoction introduced by our two French "daughters."

3. You grow globally. You gain exposure to the world. Kids need to know, as we should, that our world is much bigger than the communities, states, and great nation we live in. Having an exchange student underscores the expanse of the world, and makes it real and less frightening.

4. You learn that people are more alike than they are different. Culturally we, and our children, are conditioned to focus on differences — language, culture, politics, religion, race and ethnicity, perspective, etc. — and see them as roadblocks to getting along.

5. You develop understanding. Hosting enables you to focus on and embrace differences, the first steps to building understanding and compassion for one another.

6. You get to share your culture. We often don't realize how rich and diverse our own culture is until we share it with someone whose culture is different.

7. You get to understand your culture. We've had ample opportunities to view our culture though different lenses, understanding how it is perceived by other cultures.

8. Learn a new language, or improve what you know of it. We've learned a smattering of Korean and Japanese words and phrases. Our kids have been able to improve their Spanish and French diction and grammar.

9. Cultivate meaningful and life-long relationships. Rarely a week goes by when we don't talk about or aren't reminded of one or more of our exchange students. The bonds we've created still exist, and for that we are enriched and grateful.

10. You become more comfortable with flexibility, while realigning the important things. Having someone live in your home for an extended time requires flexibility, openness. You may find you need to ease up on schedules or expectations, while still adhering to the important family rules.

11. You can use "misunderstandings" and cultural differences as teachable moments. We've had exchange students that have pushed the envelope, from lying to not bathing. We've used these issues as moments to teach all of the kids within the home about expectations, whether they concern safety, health, or courtesy.

12. Your kids have someone to visit in another country. My kids have traveled as exchange students to other countries. Their experiences have been very rewarding and full of personal growth.

13. It's fun! We've found it a joy to have students in our home and look forward to hosting more. We relish experiencing culture and expanding our horizons.