Foreign Exchange Students and Religion

An article in the Springfield, IL State Journal-Register ran recently in which the lives of several local foreign exchange students were discussed.

One girl from Sweden mentioned how weird it is attending church every Sunday, as apparently church attendance isn’t a big deal in Sweden.

That’s all well and good, but what I’m concerned about is whether or not this girl is going to church with her host family because she wants to, or because they’re making her. Since I can’t ask the lass directly, I’ll instead ask a broader question of the SDMB:

Are the host families of foreign exchange students expected to respect the religion (or lack thereof) of the students? If Mrs. HeyHomie and I hosted, say, a culturally Christian Norwegian who hasn’t seen the inside of a church since his cousin’s wedding five years ago, would he come to America expecting to have to go to church with us? IOW, do the contracts of these students specify that, if their host family regularly attends church (or synagogue or Temple or whatever), he/she must do so too? Or would we, as the host family, be expected to let him have the choice of whether to go or not? {{Let me interject at his point that, in the unlikely event that Mrs. HeyHomie and I ever do host an exchange student we would leave that choice up to him/her.}}


The host parents are not supposed to force their exchange student to take part in any religious event that the student does not want to be a part of. It is part of the agreement when a family takes an exchange student. I know personally of a situation where a Buddhist exchange student was being forced to go to 3 hour long evangelical church services every Sunday by her host family. This forced church attendance and other problems with the host family caused her to go run away from home and eventual she went back to Brazil before finishing the school year. It was a very sad situation.

I was a foreign exchange student. I’m not sure these types of topics are covered as part of a formal/ legal “contract” but this is how the agency I used (Educational Foundation, known as EF) seemed to handle it.

They asked both parties, student and family, what their religion was and whether they had strong feelings about it one way or another. So the host family in this case would have had the opportunity to say up front “we do expect an exchange student to go to church with us, we need someone who’s OK with that.”

A good, experienced agency will have lots of experience with these “big picture” questions about matching students with families. The details can also get mucky, and again a good agency will help both parties work through it, or change assignments if it’s really unworkable.

My program (Rotary International) did not require you to go with your family to religous services. It was however encouraged in order to give you a better idea of the way people live their lives.

My first host family were 7th Day Adventists (I’m atheist). I went to church with them once but couldn’t handle it after that. In fact, all of their friends and co-workers were also from that church.