Host Families for International Program Students

 “The International Program was one of the things that most attracted us to St. Stephen’s when looking at schools for our children,” said Mary Beth Jester, parent to two St. Stephen’s graduates. “We really loved that the school offers a highly global and diverse campus, so becoming a host family to international students seemed like a great fit for us. We’ve made some really strong connections with students by being a host family.”
St. Stephen’s started its host family program more than two decades ago. Overseen by the school’s International Program staff, the program pairs international and American expat students with local host families who provide a familial touch to students while they are far from home.
“Host families really provide that personal touch to students that they miss being away from home,” said Sarah Todd, International Program director. “Host parents give the students a birthday card or a bag of candy at Halloween. Others attend sporting events or school plays the kids are involved in. For some of our international students, their connection with the host family is one of the most important relationships they have during their time at St. Stephen’s.”
Jester believes the host family program helps build a strong sense of community between international students and day student families. “It gets the local families involved in the boarding program, and it gives our international students a home-like atmosphere when they are away from their parents,” she said. “I like to stop by campus every now and then to visit our international students — just touch base to see how they are doing. I think it helps them feel more settled.”
A common misconception about the program is that host families are expected to house international students when school is closed. “Having students to our home is not a requirement of the program, but we’re a family that likes to open our door to others,” Jester said of hosting international students during short breaks. “Typically, we host two kids a year so they have someone to hang out with when they stay with us.”
“One of the beauties of the program is that the school doesn’t dictate how to interact with the students,” explained Heatherly Ayres, mother to four Spartan alumnae and parent liaison to the International Program for the past seven years. “Being a host family provides a wonderful opportunity to learn the nuances of other cultures. When you sign up, you never know in what direction the experience will go. It depends on the student you’re paired with.
“Good communication goes a long way,” Ayres added. “The more you talk with the students and get to know them, the better you’ll become at integrating them into your family activities. You really can build your own unique experiences, depending on the student you’re matched with. For example, several of the international students loved to cook, so we let them use our kitchen to prepare meals with the Chinese Culture Club.”
For Ayres, the program brought far more to her own family than she ever expected. “My kids gained a greater understanding of others and became more compassionate,” she said.
Jester agreed the program can have a big impact on students and families alike. “For a while, one of our sons played on the same sports team as the international student we hosted,” she said. “I think it added an extra level of comradery for them. At the end of the day, despite cultural differences, they really are just teenagers.”
Address: 6500 St. Stephen's Dr., Austin, TX 78746
Phone: (512) 327-1213