Host Family Voices: Amy Johnson-Smith

February 02, 2017

Amy Johnson-Smith was a teacher for years at CSS before she became a host-mother. Her first international student, Ricky R. ‘15, in 2013, was a no-brainer for her family. Ricky needed a place to live, and she was already commuting to the school and attending events. The benefits of hosting international students were already very concrete in her mind. “My children grew up visiting my sister’s home and seeing their international ‘cousins’. That’s really what they thought they were. I think it teaches tolerance, acceptance, and global awareness at a young age to have international students in their lives.”

This comfort with host “cousins” led to Amy’s acceptance of both Ricky and Victor W. ‘17 into her home in Fall 2014. The boys enjoyed a year of busy daily life and family gatherings with Amy and her son Connor. Upon Ricky’s and Connor’s high school graduation, Victor opted to stay in Amy’s home, even when they ended up moving to a much smaller house.

Now living in a two-bedroom, one bath home, she still finds that there are no problems with living with a host student. Amy speaks practically about the ticket to success. “Family with small spaces can absolutely host. You just need to be clear during the vetting process so that there are no surprises and clear when the student arrives. Set expectations about helping with chores, using the shared spaces, quiet times, and the mood of the house.”

These days, Amy and Victor, enjoy sharing culture over meals. Most of the time Victor enjoys his quiet work space in his room during the school week. He helps with household chores and dishes. “It really depends on the student, of course, but most exchange students are excited for the “exchange” part of international study. My students have been very excited about holiday traditions and participating in the family dynamic.”

However, Amy says families shouldn’t worry about packing the schedule every weekend. “There are all sorts of students with all sorts of activity levels, but host families shouldn’t feel the need to be a tour guide. However, hosts should be ready to be a full CSS parent. If your student wants to participate in extracurricular activities, it’s important to accommodate them and help them have a full CSS experience. This means attending games and celebrations.”

It is clear that the combination of CSS and home life experience is a powerful launching pad for international students. Victor is the 2016-2017 student body president and has recently been accepted by Northwestern University.

Has your family thought about embarking on a host family adventure? CSS is always seeking hosts for our bright and talented international students. Please contact Nicole Goyette, Director of Student Programs, at ngoyette@css.org.