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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Statistically, it's likely that your student will have a wonderful, memorable, formative experience. There is only a small chance that it will be otherwise. AFS is equipped to handle three scenarios well. Smooth sailing is, of course, no problem. Minor issues, stemming from cultural differences and the normal issues associated with teens, can almost always be resolved by the host family and student talking the matter through. The third scenario, in which the student is severely injured, becomes seriously ill, or commits an egregious breach of the rules (driving a car, dating) ends with the student being sent home. These cover the majority of likely situations.

In this forum are reports of rare but real scenarios which AFS, because of it's fragmented structure, or because of differences between the cultures and laws of different nations, does not handle to the satisfaction of parents. Examples posted include students being robbed, raped, or suffering severe mental stress. I add placement with an abusive host family to that list. In these situations AFS tries to fit the problem into one of the three scenarios they're comfortable with. They advise the student to talk to the family, they warn the student to behave, they threaten to terminate the exchange. In all cases they assume the student is at fault.

These are inadequate and harmful responses to these sorts of problems. As these students and parents have found, they have little or no recourse. AFS does little, probably because there is little they can do. It is not a monolith with a chain of command, at least not across international lines. It is a constellation of similar, affiliated volunteer organizations.

This is not to say that nothing can be done, just that nothing is usually done because it's difficult.

This doesn't mean AFS is off the hook though. These are our children we're trusting them with. Parents rightfully expect more than deflection and stonewalling.

Program:
Location:
Posted: June 30, 2015
Overall:
5
Support:
1
Value:
5
By: AFSJAPAN
Age:
61

Sadly I did not adequately vet the organization before choosing a host service. I am sure experiences may vary but my yearlong hosting experience has been terrible. Had I been diligent I would have discovered the poor reviews of the organization here prior to hosting a foreign exchange student through them. I was eager and willing to open my home to a traveling student but as the year progressed it became clear that it would be riddles with "gotchas" in which we were put in the difficult position of creating a good hosting experience and paying out of pocket for many expenses that were to be covered by the organization due to misinformation provided to the host student (and their family) prior to arrival. In the end, I have ended up picking up the tab for many many additional things after stating quite clearly before hosting that although I would be happy to feed and house a student and even take them on vacation with us to destinations throughout the US, I could not pay for items such as "cell phone" and AFS sponsored trips. I was assured that I would only be required to pay for room and board, but this was not to be the case. When I inquired about this, ultimately the representative would say "although other families choose to provide this you are in no means required too" but at this point we had all eyes pointing to us including the student and her parents explaining that they were informed otherwise. I have, of course, reluctantly covered the additional expenses not wanting the students experience to be impacted as thy have continued to mount throughout the year. To make matters worse, as others have mentioned, AFS poorly plans expensive trips throughout the year that are not covered by the exorbitant cost paid initially by the student to the organization. In most cases, again, these expenses have fallen upon us when we were told otherwise! This leaves myself and other host families to speculate as to what exactly "after airfare" are the thousands of dollars paid by the student and their family going to? Some host parents I have spoken with in regards to this have relayed thoughts that perhaps it is the AFS office in NYC, or executive and worker salaries? I will let you be the judge only relating my experience in the hopes that it will inform others before deciding on an organization. The ratings here do not misrepresent, in my humble opinion.

Program:
Location:
Posted: April 21, 2015
Overall:
1
Support:
1
Value:
1
By: Larholl
Age:
44

My husband and I hosted a student for the first time in 1994. I saw an ad in the paper and thought I'd moonlight for the exchange program that had posted the ad. We loved our student from the very first and it was the best idea we ever had. While we had her, we found out about AFS. We happened to live in a small city where AFS was and is very active. The local volunteers and the school advisor included our student in all the AFS activities and enhanced her exchange in a way my husband and I could not. I decided to become a volunteer for AFS because I was the only rep for the other exchange program, and if I joined AFS, I was part of an organized group. We have hosted 4 other AFS students since 1995 and we are currently acting as an emergency family for a student until AFS oks a new family for him. Yes, that happens, in spite of the volunteer training, in spite of the family and student orientations, in spite of taking care to match students with families so everyone has a good experience. We volunteers do all we can to support the student, and the families, work with the schools, the other countries and the U.S. Government. As an AFS volunteer, I am required to take training every year. One part is for AFS, the other part is for The Department of State. I submit to a background check. If I am a liaison, which is a volunteer who checks with the student and family every month to be sure the exchange is working, I take training for that each year. If we host, there is a special application for that. Each country has requirements for its AFS program, so if you use AFS, get as much information as you can before you make your decision to send your child, or host. AFS and the exchange experience has changed very much over the last 20 years. Some of the changes I agree with and some I don't. In the meantime, my husband and I think that we are getting too old to host. When we hosted in 2010, he was the same age as the student's grandfather, lol. We are in the middle of moving and have other things going on, or we'd let our current student stay for the rest of his exchange. I know the family he was with, and we are getting to know him. I don't think it is anyone's fault the exchange didn't work out, sometimes the expectations are too high on both sides. I will say that AFS doesn't just let a student go to another family. Unless there is abuse, volunteers and staff work as hard as we can to keep the original exchange on track, but we hope the family and student can work it out between themselves--it is a learning experience after all. Even if we don't host him, we'll stay in touch with him the rest of his exchange and longer if it happens that way. Speaking of staying in touch, we have stayed in touch with all of the other students we hosted, except one. I stay in touch with local teens I meet, who are friends with the exchange students. I'm in touch with some of the exchange students I was a liaison for, and some of the families as well. I'm in touch with kids I mentored for the YES program, kids I met at orientations. After the first 10 years with AFS, my husband and I realized we had met people from over 50 countries. And we met so many people from our own community at the same time. Saying goodbye is hard to do, but we've come to realize that the idea of exchange is actually a door that doesn't have to shut. We've seen 3 of the students we hosted after the exchange ended. We love the Internet because it makes it easier to stay in touch. You wouldn't believe how many letters we wrote before 1998! Every exchange program has positives and negatives. AFS is the oldest and there are AFSers all over the world. I have a lot in common with many of the volunteers and staff and others, not so much. I've had hands-on experience with 2 other programs, and I'll give the rest of my volunteering years to AFS. I won't say it is easy to volunteer for AFS, but I wouldn't trade the last 20 years for anything.

Program:
Location:
Posted: January 27, 2015
Overall:
8
Support:
10
Value:
8
By: Marthe94
Age:
62

Well, I think AFS is a good organization. We have received good support as a US host family. The orientations and follow up group meetings were a bit disorganized, but still helpful.

AFS totally needs to revamp their standards on hand held devices. Either the kids agree that they will not bring one or that they will give it up immediately when the arrive to the host family. Then it can be given only when the host family sees appropriate. These kids are coming with these pacifiers and failing to integrate with the host families. Taking no interest in our children is not acceptable. Taking them or trying to restrict their use is like dealing with a crack baby or heroine withdrawal. Seriously. This has been a real and serious issue for us.

We picked a kid from a city in a country we are intimately familiar with. The city was not as large as some from his home country. What we were hoping for was that we would be giving a kid a real opportunity. A kid who maybe didn't have the opportunities that some have from the 10 million large city. We had lived there and were very familiar with his culture and speak the language decently. We have similar interests that we had hoped would be a nice bridge and connection. No way. I am pretty sure this child is not interested in us and is only here for the hotel that we provide. Yes, we have assigned chores. Yes there are limits. All are an issue. My view is that I will probably never open my home again to an over privileged kid with only a sense of entitlement. He has very little curiosity, asks no question, gives little to no feed back. He avoids even simple things if they are going to involve research or work. (Like filling out a library card). He seems to not appreciate anything we have done for or with him. There is no motivation to be self motivating even when encouraged to. There is always some issue, something we are not allowing that will be held against us.

I think exchange programs are no largely relevant in this day and age. Prove me wrong kids. Prove me wrong. I have read and talked to so many people about this issue. If you can get everything you want and only what you want on you i-phone, why would you want to be challenged to explore anything else? Too bad, but really this kid is just wasting his parents money. But of course that is to be expected. He is a child of privilege and it is being proved even after 5 months in. I had hoped for an exchange. An exchange of ideas, conversations, interests and smiles. Too bad. I wish AFS could reach out to people who really would appreciate this kind of experience. Getting less well to do families is not an options, because the costs involved.

I am not only open and love other cultures, but this has pretty much been a waste of time. Sad to say, but true.

Program:
Location:
Posted: January 21, 2015
Overall:
5
Support:
8
Value:
3
Age:
46

My daughter was supposed to study abroad in Northern Italy for her senior year and had to return early because when she told the coordinator of her region that she felt like she wasn't welcomed by her host family and that her host mom was not making her feel like part of the family, the coordinator gave her a contract to sign and said to her "you don't want to go home, do you?"hmmm. My daughter tried to make things work and followed the guidlines of the program and wenr to her volunteers when she had problems,when she couldn't take it anymore living with this host family(even wanting to go to a hotel) AFS did nothing to help my daughter but just made her more miserable.
Anything your son or daughter might say to some of the volunteers will be used against them if the want to swich host families. My daughter was doing well in school, in spite of it all ,and made wonderful friends (her only support system) and had to return home early because they took a deaf ear to her and she could not take being mistreated by her host family any longer.

Program:
Location:
Posted: January 19, 2015
Overall:
1
Support:
1
Value:
1
Age:
50

Comments

My son went abroad with AFS, and he was not given any recourse at all. I would have expected them to give him a second chance with another host family, and in fact, he had several offers at his school, but AFS declined. This program is directly responsible for causing harm to my son. The volunteers were strange, and treated him very badly. AFS USA treated me very badly. We actually paid to put him at risk for lifelong anxieties and depression. I am thoroughly disgusted with AFS. Another student did the volunteer program, and she was not given adequate support. She had no choice but to return early. Likewise, she paid for this "experience". Out of 9 caucasians that went to Malaysia that year, 4 were went home within 3 months. Out of 22 students of Asian descent that went to Malaysia, none were sent back during this time frame.

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