Read our Q&A with Mary Hallman, Host Family Engagement Manager at EF High School Exchange Year.
As Host Family Engagement Manager, what’s your typical day like?
Every day is different and dynamic here, but I usually start my day with a quick meeting with my team where we each go over our goals and tasks for the day. We share challenges, offer help to one another and decide on new projects to tackle together. Our projects focus on how to better prepare, engage and appreciate our host families – so I spend the rest of my day preparing content to share, researching new engagement strategies or doing outreach to our coordinators and families.
What do you like most about working at EF High School Exchange Year?
What’s not to love?! So many things come to mind – changing students’ lives, creating global families, helping people find resolution after a challenge. But honestly, my favorite thing about working here is having incredible coworkers. We all know each other really well and they’ve become my strongest support system. EF hires very positive, hard-working, truly wonderful people who are committed to driving the company’s mission forward. And it just so happens that these employees also make really great friends. I look forward to seeing them and working with them every single day.
Tell us more about our host families!
Our host families are the best of the best! They open up their home and their hearts to complete strangers from the other side of the world – just so they can have the opportunity of creating a global family. People host for all sorts of reasons, but all of our families want to share the American culture with an excited, deserving exchange student. These families hope to have a positive impact on a student while also creating a life-long relationship. Our families are so diverse – there’s no right or wrong family profile for hosting. Families with young kids want to expose their children to another culture at a young age. Those with teenagers hope the exchange student will bond with their own kids. And our empty-nester or single member homes host in order to build a larger family and add more zest into their daily life. Overall, our families are selfless, caring, generous, loving and welcoming.
Our students seem to feel “at home” in the US. What do you do to make sure both parties get off to a great start?
Preparation and proper expectation setting are key to making sure the exchange year gets off to a good start. This year, our team created brand new material for our coordinators to use during in-person meetings with host families before students arrive. We also held weekly webchats for our host family community where they could learn about setting household rules, budgeting, insurance and their student’s particular culture. Our biggest objective this past season was launching a new Host Family Guidebook to help families through every step of the hosting process. That was mailed to each family individually so they could read through it on their own whenever needed.
There will always be a bump in the road. How does the engagement team support our host families?
Our new Host Family Guidebook provides tips and direction on how to handle common concerns like homesickness, fitting in, communication differences and academic struggles. We also hold regular webchats and Facebook live sessions throughout the year to address issues that might come up and provide a platform for host families to ask their questions directly to our staff. Our goal is to make the resources here at EF more available to host families so they feel more connected to and supported by our program.
A guilty pleasure: Almond croissant
A language you’d like to learn: I’d like to perfect my Spanish
A life quote: “Be the designer of your own world” - James Clear, author of Atomic Habits
A superpower you’d love to have: Teleportation