AFS

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3.6 / 10 after 48 Reviews Based on overall, support & value average ratings
Program website: http://www.afsusa.org

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Full disclosure, I have been a volunteer for AFS on and off for over 30 years. I was an exchange student myself with the program in the 1980's and I had a wonderful experience. I was in contact with my host family until they passed a few years ago. Until this year, I would have highly recommended the program. I can't any longer.

Three years ago, I hosted a wonderful German girl when I lived in Florida. We are still in touch today. I consider her my bonus "daughter." The next year, I was a liaison for another German student and her host family. That also went well.

However, I moved out of Florida to a different state and have had the worst experience with this AFS chapter in my new location. I've never seen so much incompetence and inability to help myself, or the student.

My student's liaison is a wonderful man, but his hands have been tied by others in the chapter. Many volunteers are elderly and have been involved with AFS for 40+ years, which on paper should be good, but their inability to move with the times has hurt the organization.

I was very excited to host again and picked a student from a Scandinavian country. She and I spoke frequently via social media prior to her coming. I set down expectations and rules and she agreed to them. I remodeled her room, bought new furniture all with her approval as I wanted her to feel welcome. There was a snafu with her visa, so she arrived a little late. After arriving, we went on a family vacation, which had been pre-planned. She was ungrateful the entire time, speaking to her boyfriend on social media nearly 24/7 and refusing to engage with anyone. I contacted her liaison and we spoke to her. I figured getting him involved early on would help with the adjustment. It did not. She made the minimum effort to follow his advice, and my house rules.

While she did well at school, made some friends, her attitude in the home was not good. She was put on a behavioral contract a MONTH after her arrival. I had hoped this would help. For like a month it seemed to work and she broke up with the boyfriend, then the non-compliance began again. (Eating in her room, staying out after curfew, bad attitude, not helping with chores, etc.) Typical teenage stuff. Her liaison and I seemingly spoke on a weekly basis. He had hosted a student from that country and it had not gone well either. So, I felt he was on my side and listening to me. However, AFS support staff were not.

Unknown to me, my student had asked to be moved after she manipulated a field trip to another city with other AFSers. Her main complaint was my town was "too small" and everyone in it was a basically a "hick." She wanted to be in a bigger city around other exchange students. (Even though there was a German girl in her high school from another exchange program). She knew she was coming to a small Mid-Western town, but she couldn't adjust. Her constant usage of social media did not help as she felt jealous of other students in bigger cities who got to hang out with each other. She was obsessed with being online, even during eating dinner, she'd be on her phone.

During this trip, she spoke to the president and vice-president of the chapter, but I was never given an update on the situation and how they were dealing with her obvious unhappiness. I felt left out of the loop. This had NEVER happened to me in Florida as that state's president is very transparent.

Then, my student got Covid and refused to comply with standard quarantine stuff in the home, exposing us to catching it. (We didn't, but that's because we were vigilant, not her). Despite multiple talks about why this was important, she did not listen. After much consideration, we decided she was not a good fit for our family and also asked she be moved. Perhaps another family would be better? Normally in those situations, the student is moved to a temporary family while a new family is found.

After she was moved out, we found out she had been lying about us on social media for months. Stating that we never fed her, complaining about us not leaving the house to go anywhere. I guess those trips out-of-state slipped her mind? And generally being an ungrateful "drama queen" about everything.

Normally, I would have chalked this up to a privileged, spoiled child and moved on. However, it was AFS's response that has now put us off ever hosting again. They thought it was no big deal if she said we "starved" her. Or if we got investigated by CPS. Finally, support staff was able to get her to admit she had lied about that and she wrote an apology letter. But this was only after we threatened legal action.

Later, we found out our student had an eating disorder. It was in her medical file but not shown to us until AFTER she arrived. There were also mental health issues but again, we were never told. I had never seen such a lack of vetting by AFS in all my years of volunteering. This was a student who never should have been approved to come in the first place.

My family and I are deeply saddened that we will probably never host again. We love our German girl, I loved my host family and because of my years of volunteering I could have said this was just a bad fit. But now knowing that this student had serious mental health issues and AFS allowed her to come anyway...I cannot recommend them any longer.

Be very careful using this organization. Ask for all pertinent information regarding your student is you decide to host. If I as a LONG-TERM volunteer wasn't told everything, expect you will not be either.

Program:
Location:
Posted: January 2, 2022
Overall:
3
Support:
2
Value:
3
Age:
50

Where do I begin?

As so many have written, I believe that the structure that AFS is currently running on is the core issue of the whole entire program.

Firstly, come two weeks before the students were to arrive we got a frantic email asking for host families for 4 students who didn't have families and also didn't have visa. (That should have been my first clue). We signed up, due to a family member of ours going on exchange when they were in high school, and went through the process.

There was delay after delay with our host student, mostly due to AFS's inadequate planning and back-boning their whole entire operation on volunteers. Three weeks delayed our host student arrived.

We had no support with how to navigate putting our students into classes, we had no support with how book lists and school supplies worked. I ended up having to shell out the over 800.00 to buy everything -- luckily we got that paid back. I also had to question and demand that AFS pay for school fees as they started to 'pick and choose' which required fees they were going to pay.

Beyond that, the year was a complete joke. They had absolutely no travel policy that was clear, transparent and in my opinion safe for the students. They want to know everywhere that the students are going to be staying 4 weeks in advance, but have no online system for booking travel and no outline chain of command. In our intake packet, which again needs to be greatly overhauled, I had absolutely, no idea to contact for what. In fact, when I spoke to someone at the corporate office, they said that the volunteers were the ones to approve travel first. So, parents are paying upwards of 20k aud to send their kids overseas and volunteers are approving of and managing the travel of minors under AFS care. Does not seem safe. I voiced my concerns, and honestly nothing changed.

This was on top of students then having to pay an additional 2250.00 for a 10 day Aussie outback trip which was planned during the last 4 weeks of term before exams. Now most students don't need marks for their schooling, but some do. They almost couldn't run it this year, because they couldn't get the numbers.

The two camps that were provided by AFS were so lack-luster. They actually did nothing, have no cultural excursions (beyond going to the zoo), did not incorporate anything Indigenous in their camps and left our student in such a filthy camp in November that none of the students showered for two days. I again fed back places that AFS could spend money on to take students on Australian and/or cultural exchanges. Again, these camps are run by volunteers and not overseen by corporate for the most part.

At the end of the program, I asked about 'returning home' support that they give to students, as nothing had been sent to me and/or my student and/or her natural family. I actually got something from corporate -- but I wouldn't have had I not asked. I was told that they covered stuff at the November camp (2 months before my student left) but it wasn't true. In the email, the volunteer leader admitted that although they had a PowerPoint created they didn't actually follow it on the weekend. The information they did follow had nothing to do with 're-entry'.

As a provider of educational study abroad programs, I would NOT recommend them at all. Luckily we did not have any issues with our student -- but I know so many students who had ongoing issues with their host families. There was no ongoing support for the students except random phone calls from AFS volunteers that the students didn't really know. I also got 1 phone call from someone who I had never met before. It's so horribly ran.

Beyond all of this, it cost us a fortune. We knew that this was the case, but had we not done the things that we did with our student she would have had a long and boring 10 months as AFS pretty much does nothing with the students excpet two camps in 10 months.

My biggest concern for AFS is the legal loopholes and gaps that they are opening themselves up to. It won't be long until something tragic happens and/or they can't find host families anymore.

Program:
Location:
Posted: February 3, 2020
Overall:
1
Support:
1
Value:
1
Age:
42

I very much like AFS program in Iowa, US. It was a great experience. The staff were very professional and the orientation was great. I got to meet students from different parts of the world. My experience with hostfamily was great in general. There were problems, but just consider how different it was to live in a country you’ve never been before and stay with a family you’ve never met. It was hard, but both my hostfamily and my local AFS liaison tried to overcome the problems. I especially loved my high school. All the teachers there were great and they loved to talk to an exchange students, so were the students. I still have connections with a lot of my American friends, and other AFS friends around the world. I DID see some students having problems with hostfamily and something else, and one of them was my friend. She ended up going back home early…I was really sad. But it’s a special case though….we had maybe 50 students(I’m not sure the exact number as I did not meet all of the students in my area), and she was the only one. All the students who stayed were happy I promise. We used to complain a lot when we got together during some orientations, cultural shock, host family issues…etc. but now it’s been a year since I went back to my home country. And I look back to the experience, it really changed my life in a more positive way. I could have been more mature to solve some problems I had that year, and have a greater year. But there is NO WAY to blame AFS for my personal issues. I would recommend AFS to anyone who wants to go to the United States, and Germany (my friend had a great year, too) But for other locations, I have no right to comment.

Program:
Location:
Posted: December 16, 2019
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
10
By: donna123
Age:

We are currently hosting for our third year. The first year we used different agency but found that it did not meet our needs. For example we traveled 2 hours to go to an orientation only to get there and find that the date changed and no one told us.

So after much research we choose to try AFS - WOW! We love it.

Each year we attend a mandatory Host Family Orientation. I would say that yes we feel that we went once - why do we have to do it each year. Then we think it is a great way for AFS to get to know us better and we can help those who are hosting for the first time and you never know you might hear something that will benefit you and your family.

AFS does require the students to attend a few mandatory meetings. No it is not always convenient, but we feel it is in the best interest of the students. It gives them time to talk with fellow students are experiencing the same things that they are.

There are certain Federal Regulations that agencies are suppose to adhere to, here is a link: http://www.csfes.org/NPR_Story.html

I admired AFS and their vast number of volunteers for helping students have the best experience possible. Is it perfect? Of course not, but it does seem that they have the best interest of the student in mind.

Some agencies get paid for each student they place and bonuses for the amount of time the student stays, etc. That was our last agency.

Our belief is that if they people our volunteers then they are doing it because they are wanting to help others and there is no financial motivation involved.

We have had 6 wonderful students from Scandinavian and European countries and consider all of them to be our children. We will go to visit all of them next year and look forward to being a part of their lives always.

It is my belief that all agencies have their flaws. AFS does have flaws, but I would and do recommend it to anyone who is interested in hosting.

There is a Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students. This is one of the resources I used to choose the agency that was a good fit for my family.
http://www.csfes.org/home.html

Program:
Location:
Posted: December 13, 2019
Overall:
10
Support:
9
Value:
10
By: ajsummers
Age:
54

After having been with us for 6 months, during which our student (a girl from Denmark) hadn't complained about anything, she left for a new host family with only overnight notice. AFS made no attempt to communicate with us in advance, and neither did the student or her parents (whom we vaguely know). I am not blaming the latter on AFS. So what was wrong? Why did she want to move to a new host family? Well, to this day no one in this family really knows. After having done numerous kind things for her to make her feel welcome and part of our family – attending and cheering for her at sports meets around the state and the rest of New England, sponsoring her AT&T program, letting her invite friends over just like our own children do, taking her on several sightseeing/shopping tours of New York City, one of them including a private, catered circumnavigation of Manhattan and Liberty Island, bringing her to our ski home for skiing, buying her friend (another AFS student) a ski pass and inviting her to our ski home, too (by the way, the friend was a very well-behaved and less spoiled young lady), buying birthday and Christmas presents for her, baking her chosen cake for her birthday, making her an advent calendar, making her favorite Danish food (we are of Danish origin, too) and even making additional batches of her favorite food which were frozen for her to eat when she would like, baking her maternal grandmothers favorite cookies for Christmas, so she could feel at home, putting up her paternal grandmother’s picture in our kitchen (the grandmother passed away while she was here) so she could cherish her memory – she suddenly decided, that we weren’t a good fit for her (at least that’s what she told AFS – or that’s what they told us). The truth was one of her teammates from her sports team at school had offered to host her, and that family having this girl her own age, she just found a better deal. It is quite easy to figure that one out and she felt so bad about it that she didn’t dare to tell the truth neither to AFS, to us nor to her own parents. Her dad said he wasn’t sure what had happened, either, when he called us after she had moved out. He claimed to have been told by his daughter to not tell us anything prior to her move, and AFS confirmed they had not said anything because the girl had told them not to. Of course she demanded that, because she knew that if she said something to us, we would have had a conversation about it (we don’t sweep things in under the rug) and it would have been revealed that she simply wanted to move to a new family.
Let me be clear. I couldn’t care less that she went to a new family. Our family didn’t sign up as a host family for our own personal sake. We have already had a very successful experience with an exchange student before (through Rotary, which has an excellent and far cheaper program (for the student) than AFS). We opened our home to your AFS student as a favor to her parents and to her (and to support AFS, I guess, in addition the $20,000 it costs an AFS student to enter the program) but there was nothing in it for us other than costs and inconveniences. Since we are both already from Denmark it wasn’t as is we would learn a new culture. So if she wanted a new family fine by me. But I want to be treated with respect, especially by AFS who take great advantage of their host families given that a year of food, electricity, water, restaurants, etc., easily run over $10,000. The VERY LEAST AFS could have done was to man up and treat our family with respect and INFORM US in advance, once they saw a problem arising. But AFS choose not to, because the truth is that in our case they would have had a problem if we had demanded that she move out right away. Of course, we would never had done that, but had we done so, AFS would have had a problem, because the liaison didn’t have the proper paper work in place to be able to have our exchange student sleep over (background check not in order), and there were no other approved families in our town, so our student would have had to move to a different town and switch schools. Instead, until the background check for the new family was in place, it was simply more convenient for AFS to keep quiet. Alternatively, the AFS liaison in our area lives 10 miles away from the school so she would have had to drive her to school every day and pick her up again. The AFS liaison in our area is a woman who herself was an exchange student 50 years ago, but other than that has no merits qualifying her to handle situations with decency, and as it turns out, several other families in our area have had similar experiences with her and with AFS: Namely, that all you are to them is a bed and breakfast, a wallet that they can use until they no longer deem you necessary, at which time AFS will trash you as they see fit.
It appears that “with the relative high cost of participation in the AFS program, it accepts upper middle income students from abroad” who bring with them spoiled, ungrateful, "prima donna" attitudes of entitlement. If you want to be "used" as a free hotel or "B&B" without any gratitude or appreciation, then by all means sign up as an AFS family. If you perform to the student’s every whim, you may have a great experience, but if not, be forewarned you'll be lucky to get so much as a "thank you" for all your efforts. AFS is a disgrace.

Program:
Location:
Posted: June 11, 2019
Overall:
1
Support:
1
Value:
1
Age:
49

Comments

Almost and identical experience, even down to the student being removed a month before her time was up. Manipulated the situation to her advantage to move in with another exchange student, in a home that was more lax with rules. Believe me...we were not strict, just wanted to know where she was going. Spoiled, ungrateful, prima donna? That and beyond. Our first liaison quit because of her behavior and then we were on our own. The second liaison? They pulled in a mental health specialist because of her manipulation and lies. We spent thousands of dollars on trips, amenities and gifts. Remodeled a room especially for her. Support from AFS?? Hell, no. They make too much money off the fee to step in and God forbid, rock the boat, with a family that is paying a fortune to send their entitled, spoiled brat to the US. Stay away from this program. It's been almost 4 years since our experience and it's one that my family will never forget. It took an emotional toll on all my children as well.

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