Growing up as an only child, I missed out on the many great experiences other kids were having with their brothers and sisters. That is, until we decided to start hosting exchange students. As I was growing up, my family hosted kids from France, Mexico, Poland, Spain, Czech Republic, Russia, Croatia, and more after I was out of the house!

The valuable life lessons learned from hosting an exchange student can have many great intrinsic benefits to your children that will stick with them as they navigate through life's many challenges.

Here are the ways hosting an exchange student can help your kids grow up to be more well-adjusted, competitive academically and athletically, and globally aware from a younger age than their peers.

Competition Will Push Your Kids (In a good way)

The kids that get sent on exchange programs are often very talented academically, in the arts, or athletically. While clearly you don't want to make everything about competition with your exchange student and the kids, the competition will kind of naturally happen on its own.

When your kids are young, the exchange student can often serve as a role model for your kids.

However, when they become teenagers, there will be some direct competition that will occur and if channeled correctly, it will push your kids in ways that you as a parent, teacher, or coach may not be able to.

In my eighth grade year, we hosted a student in the 12th grade from Croatia named Marin. At the time, I was one of the better tennis players for my age in the state, and I could beat every kid in town. Needless to say, I wasn't used to losing much. Marin was quite an accomplished player in Croatia and an exceptional athlete.

He was bigger, faster, older, and a much better player than I was.

Naturally, the first thing we did after Marin got to the USA was to play tennis. Long story short, Marin kicked my a** 6-0, 6-0 (the tennis equivalent of a shutout). Until that point in my life, I don't think anyone had ever beaten me so soundly. As an emotionally charged teenager and self-admitted tennis brat, I was pissed off, and my ego was crushed.

After throwing my racket several times and tossing out a few curse words, I stormed off the court without Marin. I didn't head home right away. Instead, I took a long way home to try to wrap my brain around what had just happened. I was certain that I wanted to quit tennis and I wanted Marin to go back to Croatia.

I arrived home later, still a complete emotional wreck. Lucky for me, my level-headed parents sat me down and explained to me what an incredible opportunity I had on my hands. They helped me understand that playing against someone so much better than I was would enable me to improve faster than anything else I could do.

Instead of quitting, I took their advice and continued playing Marin. I endured nine months of getting beat every single time we played, and I can't thank him enough for it.

Later in the year, Marin took second place at #3 singles in the Colorado State High School state tournament. Losing so many times to Marin that year enabled me to develop skills that I wasn't getting by always beating the kids my age in my local area.

In fact, I believe that playing him was the primary catalyst that enabled me to go on to play division one college tennis.

Embrace Diversity and Cultural Differences

Hosting an exchange student promotes diversity and cross-cultural understanding within your home, school system, and community. When you host, your horizons become broadened. For me, hosting exchange students changed my worldview, and made me more tolerant of cultural differences.

Stereotypical behavior regarding cultural differences has plagued our world for far too long. Hosting an exchange student enables you to break down stereotypes, and see the world with a greater level of understanding and compassion.

Foreign Language Acquisition

The exposure I got from our Mexican and Spanish exchange students helped me become fluent in Spanish by the time I was out of high school. While exchange students come to the USA to perfect their English, they will gladly help you learn their native language if you show interest.

Enhance Problem-Solving Skills

Hosting exchange students significantly enhanced my problem-solving skills and gave me the opportunity to find out how to effectively deal with individuals who have different cultural values and perspectives from my own.

Global Friendships Last Forever

The bond between a host family and an exchange student can be unyielding. Many times lifetime friendships are developed. With the advancements made in social media and mobile, global communication is easier than ever.

Additionally, when you have hosted as many exchange students as my family, you will have lots of options for free lodging throughout the world when you travel!

Yes, Marin and I are still friends after all these years, and if he is reading this: I want a rematch!