AIFS - American Institute For Foreign Study

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5.8 / 10 after 3 Reviews Based on overall, support & value average ratings

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I enjoyed my trip abroad immensely. I went to Berlin for four weeks during the summer of 2014. I took a class called "Land in the City, Green in the City" that explored the numerous ways that Berlin incorporated different plant life into their infrastructures. We visited roof top gardens, the forests and gardens in and around the city, buildings that had greenery growing on both the in and outsides of the walls. It was so much fun being able to explore the city in a more academic setting and then to be able to go out later and view it though a different lens.We also went on trips to Dresden, Potsdam, and to Prague. I am so happy that we did go on those excursions, because I probably wouldn't have left Berlin. I was that excited just to explore it. Our director was amazing and was always just a call away. She helped us with any medical issue, from one girl getting 18/20 of us sick with a 48 hour cold, to one of the guys getting a dry socket from flying after getting his wisdom teeth out a few days prior. They gave us meal tickets to buy food around town and in the dining hall, and our apartments were great. They were very simple, but I found it was mostly a place to sleep and to shower in, so simple worked out very nice.
10/10 would definitely do it again if I could.

Program:
Location:
Posted: April 27, 2016
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
10
Age:
22

I am a host parent who wishes to leave a review for Academic Year in America ( An AIFS Foundation program)
We have hosted 5 students in our home. The first three were true blessings to our lives and everything was smooth sailing. We did hit some road bumps with teenage drama and teenage disrespect but it was not extreme and it was corrected within the home through discussion. For the most part, our first three exchange students were mature, well behaved, and had self discipline enough to be here in the U.S. The first two came from the Flex and Yes programs and from the middle east. When we hosted these two, they come from PIE ( Which has now been shut down, last I heard) Our third, came from China. We started the process of placement and was vetted through PIE but three weeks to our students arrival date, PIE was shut down by the U.S. Government and AYA came in and picked up our student's placement and profile. This is how we came to know about Academic Year in America. It was a tough three weeks trying to get our student from China to U.S. on time. Their family had already booked a ticket but I know that AYA had to do their own vetting process. So we did it all over again. Once we did everything on our end, our students placement just sat at the headquarters in CT with no movement and no clearance to arrive. I had to call repeatedly to the HQ and talk with staff to try to figure out what the hold up was. Our student and us had been speaking for several months prior thanks to the internet and had built up a good bond. I also was able to speak to their parents. It wasn't until I finally spoke with a higher up that we got the "All okay" and our student was well on their way without having to pay to change flight ticket dates ( which would have happened if I hadn't pushed and pushed and would have been unfair to our student and their family.)
We finished out our year with AYA and our student and we all had a great time. AYA was very hands off. There were not many gatherings for the students in our area or planned activities.We spoke to our LC once a month per requirement for them to check in. And that was basically it.

Fast forward three years later. We decided that we wanted to host again. We had such a great experience with our Chinese student that we decided to host from China again. We went through the vetting process about 4 months prior to arrival. We were able to speak with our student for 4 months before they came. When they arrived, I could tell our student was in shock. We picked them up at the airport and I called out their name several times and they just stared at me. Not because their english wasn't good ( remember, we had been talking voice and text for 4 months) but because they were in complete shock. After 4 days with our family, our student gave me a 5 page letter. I had asked them to tell me how they were feeling and they requested to write it down. An hour later I read the letter. It was critical beyond belief. We were told that our lifestyle was unhealthy and how to correct it. We were also given parenting advice and how we should handle our own children. What we were doing wrong and how we could learn from the chinese method. There were expectations of what times I was to prepare meals and what types of food I should prepare. There was also an expectation that I as the parent should change my bedtime so that I am more healthy. This came from our 16 year old Female Chinese student. When asked why they felt this way or wrote these things and if they understood that they are seen as offensive, they replied... "I was upset and spoke with my father on the phone and he agreed that I should write these things to you." It felt like the parents were trying to control us and our home, from China. My husband was more offended than I was I guess. But that is because he is an expat who grew up in Asia and even in the Chinese culture, this behavior was deemed as very disrespectful.

We had a mediation with our LC and it lasted 5 hours. On our end, I didn't feel it went anywhere. I found myself taking the blame for the letter ( because well, I did ask for the students feelings). There was no real discipline for the student. But we just wanted to be done with the situation and move on. Unfortunatly the situation did not remedy itself and the student continued to manipulate and behave strangely when they didn't want to do something. I was requested to take the student to see 2 different therapists for evaluations to determine whether or not the student had a mental health issue.The first therapist chastised me for hosting a teenage exchange student when I had small children in the home only. I guess, they felt it wasn't "Fair" to the exchange student. Interestingly enough, we were very upfront about the age of our children in our home and our student even expressed in their profile and to us that they love small children. Finally, the student was placed in another family. But not until several weeks later. Our LC didn't want to take the student in to their home and did everything they could in their power to convince us to keep hosting until AYA found another placement. I kept in contact with the student through internet( trying to keep things cordial and friendly) I was shocked that our students new host family was told that our student had come from a "Welcome Family". This was not the case and this was a new family to hosting and our student had some serious adjustment issues while with us. I can see both sides of this. It is nice that the student got a fresh start. But the risk to the new host family, that is not fair. So please, keep in mind, that when an organization states that the student is coming from a welcome family, this is probably false. The student more than likely came from a family where it didn't work out for whatever reason and you should anticipate some behavioral issues just in case.

A few weeks later a person at HQ contacted me about two possible students who needed placements. I looked over both profiles but felt that neither was a really good fit for our family. The first one was a vegetarian and a lot of our family time is spent around the dinner table. We were afraid that this would cause too much pressure or tension during meal times either by feeling that I would need to make two separate meals or feeling guilty about the student preparing their own meals. We just felt it would be a barrier. The other student seemed great on the surface, but after picking apart our chinese students profile ( after everything happened) I realized some things that I had missed that were clear red flags. So I was looking for all those red flags in the other students profile. In the parent letter, it was stated that they "don't have to discipline their child because they are such a good kid they never do anything that requires discipline." and... "They don't ask where they are going or worry when they go out because they know their child always makes good decisions." It basically was telling me to leave the child alone and let them do what they want. So I contacted HQ and told them we didn't feel either student would be a good fit. The second student with the parent letter was pushed on us through various email interactions. I was told that this was a good kid who was in a placement that just didn't work ( they couldn't use the welcome family excuse with me because they knew better at this point) For whatever reason, things didn't work out and it wasn't a good fit with the first placement and the feeling was that it was all the host families fault ( it always is). So we agreed to take the student in. We picked them up within the week from the airport. They stayed with us from october to March.

After the first month, we started seeing behavior issues. Skipping class, not waking up for the bus, pretending to be lost so that the bus driver would freak out and call me to come home and get our student as a silent protest about having to ride the bus ( I drove them to school the first few weeks to help them get acclimated) Then we noticed that they were failing almost all of their classes. We had our prepaid trip to Disney in a week and I was starting to panic because when we discussed all of these issues with our student, we were greeted with disrespect and attitude. We decided we were not going to reward our student with a trip to Disney with us. I phoned our LC but she was leaving the next day to go to Europe. She gave me a contact to a backup LC but told me to call HQ. I called HQ and would you know.. All of HQ in Conneticut was apparently ALSO going to Europe for a vacation/confrence. I phoned the backup LC and left a message with what was going on and they never even called me back. Everyone left us high and dry. We ended up having to take our student with us on the trip. It didn't ruin the trip but from a parenting perspective We were unhappy because it felt like we were rewarding bad behavior and setting ourselves up for future failure, which is exactly what happened in the end.

During the time our student was with us we took them to Disney, Chicago, Skiing, etc. Took them to a special dinner for their birthday(from their home country) which had ended up costing 200$ Plus spending about 200$ on their birthday gifts. And another $200 on Christmas. We provided the three meals and then some ( most of the time at meal time the student chose not to come out to eat and instead stay in their room and pretend to sleep so that they could talk on their cell phone with friends back at home) We bought their snacks and toiletries. When I felt that maybe our student was home sick, I looked up recipes for some of their favorite meals. One which took two days to actually cook. I had come down with an illness during this time and had a fever but had already started the cooking process. It was a surprise for them and when I finally finished it ( fever and all) I presented it to them. They ate it and told me "it tasted nothing like the real recipe and that it wasnt in fact the dish that I thought I had made. " Then they went to their room.
Our family treated them like a member of our family ( in fact, we treated them better than a member of our family).

I had reached out to our LC about the cell phone use and the avoiding behavior but was basically just told that I should let the student do what they want and its their experience and time they are wasting here and I shouldn't worry about it. Who does that benefit? It benefits AYA and the student while the host family suffers. That only made me feel like we were being even more used. Not only by the student but also by the exchange program. The main problem was the cell phone. The student was addicted to it and instead of interacting with peers here or being involved in American life, they were just going through the motions at bare minimum and then coming home and holding up in their room talking to friends back at home until 2am on most nights.

Unfortuantly, besides the cell phone problem, the student was disrespectful whenever we needed to talk about an issue. There was a huge sense of entitlement and we felt we had to remind the student repeatedly that we were in fact volunteers. We do not get paid. After a heated argument I called our LC to let them know that we were thinking to ask our student to leave. Especially after our discussion our students attitude was basically "If you don't like it, then kick me out." These students can not request a new host family when they are unhappy ( which I think they should be able too. But I anticipate that is probably a bigger headache for the exchange organizations who are getting PAID to place them) and this I'm assuming, was our students way of getting kicked out without directly asking for it. At first our LC tried to convince us to keep the student until Monday because HQ was not available and they didn't want to call the emergency line (why not?)

We ended up kicking the student out. A few days later, we went in to break down the bed that was in their room and clean the room. I was disgusted to find that when I moved the bed away from the wall, it was littered with gum stuck to it and snot smeared all over. The student literally laid in bed and picked their nose and wiped it on the wall for probably 4-5 months. It took me 45 minutes to scrub it off.

We will never host with AYA again. I'm not sure if we will even host again. It is interesting to me that PIE got shut down for their practices when we had better problem resolution with PIE than we did with AYA. Yet, AYA credits themselves as being one of the largest and best exchange programs for the U.S.

Program:
Location:
Posted: March 23, 2016
Overall:
2
Support:
1
Value:
2
By: HostMomx5
Age:
31

Comments

I wanted to add--- For future host families for any organization. Do your homework. We've learned this year the hard way that.. "Anyone who can pay, can play." That should be AYA's motto. Despite the fact that they do have a disciplinary process on record, that doesn't mean they use it fully. I watched a student in our local high school ( not an AYA student but an Exchange student) this year get caught by the police with drugs and instead of being sent home, they were moved to another host family. Clearly breaking program rules and state laws but was not disciplined according to the standard for the programs. I can only assume this is because of the high cost that these students families pay the programs to send their children here to the U.S. or to other countries and there for, the liability for sending them home when they don't behave while on exchange is great for the organizations.