The letter to your host family is one of the most important pieces of your program abroad application. It’s the host family’s first impression of you. Exchange programs take many factors into account when matching you with a host family, but ultimately it’s up to the host family to decide whether to host you or not.
“The main reason a student’s dossier is passed over by families is unintentional negativity,” explains Rebecca Gundle, Program Coordinator for ANDEO International Homestays. A student might be trying to explain her preferences, but when she devotes equal attention to describing her dislikes, she comes across as negative or picky. A family wants to know that the student they host will be adaptable and willing to try new things. Keep your tone upbeat and positive.
Try to avoid simply reiterating what is on the form. This is a chance to talk about “why” you do what you do. It is also an opportunity to provide more details about your interests. Do you love science fiction, for example? Do you enjoy indie rock or heavy metal or hip hop? That said, avoid details like which specifc bands you like, books you read, movies you watch, or video games you play. These details are often very meaningful to the student, but not so much to the family…who might not be familiar with your favorite bands or movies.
What kind of person are you? What’s your outlook on life? How would others describe you? Your host family wants to know!
Sometimes students don’t know what to write about, so they focus on facts. “A number of families passed on a French student because all he did was describe his parents and siblings’ height, hair and eye colors in his letter,” says Ian Goff, Recruitment Coordinator for ANDEO. "When we asked him to rewrite his letter, we found a placement for him right away." Rather than highlighting physical characteristics, describe rituals or routines you do with your family. Do you all have dinner together? What do you do on weekends? What makes your family unique? Are you particularly close with any of your family members? Families will likely be especially interested in what you like to do with your own family.
Your host family is excited to host you and they want to know that you are excited about the experience too. If you are traveling on a Spanish-language program, be sure to use the word “emocionado/a” instead of “exitado/a.” “Families often find grammatical or usage errors cute,” says Gundle, “but ‘excitado’ is the wrong kind of excited. It’s pretty awkward to tell your host family that you are aroused to meet them!” Some great ways to show your enthusiasm in your letter will be to describe how you will try to integrate into your host family’s life, and whether you are eager to try new things.
Your host family is taking a leap of faith by opening their home and lives to you for a few weeks. It is a good idea to acknowledge this by saying thank you!
Have fun writing your letter!