Your Impact: The Power of the Host Family Relationship

Students share stories about host families

Some say that it takes just one person to open your eyes to a new perspective. For some students, that one person is an SYA teacher. For others it is a host family member. For the luckiest of SYA students, it’s both. 

Dating back to SYA’s first year in 1964, the host family component has been an integral part of SYA’s DNA. Thousands of host family members and over 8,500 alumni have forever been changed, highlighting the transformative power of exposing students to new perspectives through the host family experience. 

As countless alumni will attest, their host family provided much more than meals, a place to do homework and a bed; they provided a home — a supportive and immersive environment beyond the walls of “school.” Alums recall conversations with their host family members at the dinner table about an upcoming election, a favorite television show or even a controversial viewpoint. These conversations opened their minds and helped them come to understand that there is more than one way of living in the world. 

For host families, the experience is just as enriching and mutually beneficial. Host families delight in sharing their daily lives, traditions, customs and local favorites with their new family member. And in turn, they get to learn about their student’s daily lives, traditions and customs, too. Alums often fondly remember cooking their host family a Thanksgiving dinner or sharing a secret family recipe.  

Some families have hosted students for decades, like the Le Fevres in Rennes. At the 50th anniversary of SYA France, there was a group of people surrounding an elderly couple. In Madame Le Fevre’s hand, printed in the finest of cursive, was a list of 25 students they had hosted over the years, many of whom were standing next to her that day. We recently learned that Mme. Le Fevre wanted to give back by providing a warm and nurturing home for American students because during WWII American soldiers came to her aid. She kept all the letters written to her over the years by her SYA “children.”  

The SYA family tree grows as relatives become host parents, including former host siblings who have continued their family legacies. One such story is that of Maddy Butcher FR’82 ES’08P FR’10P ES’13P whose French host brother became her son Beau’s (FR’10) host father. “Every once in a while, you roll a Yahtzee! And what a thrill to hit the jackpot,” she wrote in a 2010 article. “That’s how I feel about School Year Abroad and the tremendous gift of family and friendship that this year was passed on to a second generation of my host family and to my son.”  

There are decades of alumni stories filled with attending weddings and funerals, flying across the ocean to meet their host grandchildren and hosting extended family members’ visits both here and abroad. This is the norm, not the exception. 

In surveys conducted over the last several years, alumni credit their host families as one of the most valued – and critical – parts of their study abroad experience. An anonymous alumni submission through the recent NEASC survey included: 

Somehow there was space made for me to integrate the different way of life that my host family
introduced me to in a way that changed my world view forever to be much more open,
curious about difference, more egalitarian and culturally humble.

It’s a powerful relationship. And one that is possible because of the impact you make through your annual support of the SYA Fund

We invite you to read along as Mimi, Reagan and Natalie share stories and insights about their host family experiences this year. And if you are inspired by their reflections, please make a gift to support this year’s host families. Thank YOU for your partnership! 


Celebrating the sweetest 16

Mimi writes about celebrating the sweetest 16th in France with her host family. 

Celebrating 17 in Viterbo

Reagan's math homework is interrupted with a warm embrace and special birthday breakfast.

Exploring Saint-Malo with host grandmother

Natalie explores Saint-Malo with her host grandmother. Though nervous about using proper grammar, confidence is building.