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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While I recommend AFS, I do so with reservations, as I would for any study abroad program. Did the year I spent in Germany in 1981-82 change my life? Absolutely, and I would never trade the experience despite all the problems I experienced, some of which were of my own making.

First: If you go for an entire year, do not expect to be treated the way foreign exchange students are treated here in the US. At my high school in California, foreign exchange students were put on the homecoming court, encouraged to try out for sports teams, allowed to go through graduation, and generally were given as many opportunities to experience being a teenager in America. When we took in a foreign exchange student for the summer when I was young, we took them on vacation to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, San Francisco, and the California coast. We took them to Disneyland and Hollywood, San Diego and (only because they wanted to see it) Death Valley. In Germany in 1981, the school could care less that I was there and many of the students saw me as a stereotypical American - as if I represented Ronald Reagan himself (Germans saw Reagan's rhetoric as dangerous). Even my German parents were anti-American to a large extent. No matter how hard I tried to immerse myself into German culture and the language, I was rarely accepted as a young 17 year-old that just wanted to learn about a new culture and improve my German. Of course, American and British troops ran war exercises nearby running tanks through the streets, and American nuclear missiles dotted the countryside, so looking back you can understand what made many Germans upset. As a young America, I was clueless to all of this. The breaking point came one night when my German parents found out I was a Christian Scientist and then proceeded to trash my religion and my parents for raising me to believe in it (they were Lutheran, but didn't go to church, not unlike many Germans). To their credit, the local AFS people found another family that were much more caring and understanding as their own daughter was in the US with AFS in Ohio, getting all the experiences that expected when I went to Germany. While this was an awful experience, I learned to expect that people often see the worst in you, often based only on your nationality. I know this applies to Americans as well, I had just never experienced it as a child as my parents had raised me to be accepting and open to everyone. Still, I must say that at that time Germans were mistrustful of Americans and foreigners in general. They were much more willing to send their students to the US (over 250) than they were to take in Americans and other foreigners (only 80). This may be very different today.

Second: Rememeber, it's a study abroad program. You live with a family and go to school for a year in a completely different school and social setting. I say this because a few students that had to go home during the year failed to see this point. They expected the kind of freedom that most American teenagers get in the US, including choosing your own classes or being allowed to go out at night with friends; this was not how things worked in Germany. If you want to party in Europe, go on a vacation.
Like many students, I had graduated from high school so taking a full slate of classes was a shock because my German was not very good when I first arrived. I asked the school if I could take an intermediate German class instead of Latin, but the school and my parents said no. I found out later it was because the program was mainly for Turkish immigrants, and my German parents openly hated the Turks (my second

Third: It is expensive, so be aware of what you are spending your money on. AFS isn't perfect, but some of the negative comments suggest that parents or their children expect everyone to bend to their idea of what the experience should be. AFS cannot guarantee the perfect experience. In hindsight I probably would have had a much better experience going abroad in college when I had a few more years of life-experience and the ability to travel on my own or with friends on holidays. I was not mature enough to understand this at the time. And if you sign a contract, read the fine print!

In short, I would only recommend you to do a foreign exchange program if you are mature for your age (I was not), almost fluent in the language (I only had 2 years of German, not enough), and have not led a sheltered life. If not, wait until college.

Program:
Location:
Posted: October 30, 2014
Overall:
7
Support:
5
Value:
6
By: dpeirce
Age:
50

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: September 1, 2014
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
10
Age:
42

We have hosted three students from three different countries, via AFS. Our first student was amazing and our local volunteers in Colorado were also great. I had no issues and no worries. Our second student was also amazing, but our AFS local volunteers in Washington were not very helpful when it came time to transport the AFS students to required AFS activities. This is when I realized that AFS doesn't have any paid staff members to support the AFS students or the AFS host families. Our third AFS student was also great, but she arrived late in September, during a time when AFS pleads with you to host. (we had not planned on hosting this year) This is when I realized that AFS takes families' money from all of the world even through they DON'T have host families arranged. One email we received in September stated that they still had 80 students to place in our region. This makes me very sad for the traveling students and the students' families. AFS told us that if they don't find host families, the AFS students don't get to come to the U.S. and they don't get their deposit money back. This makes me very uncomfortable. Knowing how much money is paid by the sending family, I am wondering where all of that money goes. (I have not yet met an AFS person who is paid).

The one positive piece of AFS is that all three students we hosted were wonderful and we still keep in contact with them today.

We have decided to only host through YFU now, because 1) the YFU staff in my town are full time, local people and 2) there are no long-distance required events I am expected to transport to and 3) we receive a monthly stipend (it's small, but it's nice to receive some kind of thank-you reimbursement).

Program:
Location:
Posted: August 18, 2014
Overall:
3
Support:
2
Value:
2
Age:
41

Comments

The way we began hosting is that someone at work said her child worked for an agency and was looking to get a student out of a home. The student "P" was placed in a home on Monday and this was Thursday. The man of the house kept tell P that she was suppose to be blond. They would take the phone when they left. Anyway we applied at about 4 on Thursday and she came to live with us on Friday at 6 pm. Unfortunately she only stayed a week. Whatever happened in the home prior to us was too much for her and her family and the decision was made for her to return home. So the next year we decided that we would go through the entire process and choose a student. We did. We never had a host family orientation or meeting of any kind. There were no support meetings for the students. We drove 2 hours to attend a picnic - when we got there the date had been changed and no one bothered to tell us. The girls that we had were wonderful - but they asked us where there money went because they paid a lot of money. They asked if we were paid - no we were not paid. We decided to host again, but that we would research companies and go from there. We choose AFS two years ago and are so thankful to have found them. No we do not work for AFS, but yes we volunteer because we are host parents and we are not paid - making us volunteers. The reason we decided on AFS was because most of the people were volunteers and not paid. We feel that this take the monetary incentive out of the picture and that our hope is that this makes them have the best interest of the student in mind. We in no way think that AFS is perfect, it is not for everyone. That is why there are several organizations. The reason I replied is that I wanted to share a different view point on paid staff. We did look at YFU before we choose AFS, but it was to our disgust to find out they had shared information with others. I had students and people calling asking when we were getting an exchange student - we had not agreed to host with them and had asked them to keep it confidential. Do I think YFU is a bad organization? No, I think that person did the wrong thing, but since they would have been the one that we dealt with I knew it was not a good fit for us. I hope you have a wonderful hosting experience for years to come!

These bad reviews are kind of upsetting to me and don't seem to make too much sense... Before leaving to do a year abroad in Argentina, I was considering switching programs because of the bad reviews. I am really glad I didn't. My experience here and my experience with AFS has been absolutely amazing, and it seems that everyone else I've met on the program has the same opinion. My consejero is really nice, and helps me with everything. The host family placement has been very good for everyone i've talked to. The trips planned as part of the program have been very well organized. There is a chance that AFS is different in every country, and some are better than others, but I don't know. AFS Argentina is incredible. AFS USA seems a little less so, but still fine.

Program:
Location:
Posted: August 8, 2014
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
9
Age:
17

We had our first AFS exchange student come to our family about a year ago, and last month we dropped off our daughter, for her return to Europe. Not to confuse the narrative, but the AFS exchange student we welcomed last year, and our daughter we sent off are the same person. We chose AFS because of a family experience with the AFS program many years ago in New York. We were initially a family of three that included a teenage son, and we thought it would be a good time to look into having an exchange student. We talked about maybe hosting a one semester student because it was our first time so I left my email address on the AFS website. A day later we got a call and were told our local high school was a few weeks away from closing their deadline to take new students for the coming school year. As a family, we double checked our commitment to having someone come live with us for a year, and we jumped in. AFS gave us some basic information on students not already assigned to host families. All the kids looked great on paper, so we really didn't know how to choose someone. We have a dog, so the cat lovers were eliminated. In the end, we just went with some random comment on an application that caught our eye and we took a leap of faith and chose Michelle. I guess Michelle saw our application with AFS as well and chose us as well. Or maybe she didn't have a choice? I'm not sure about that. AFS came to our home and interviewed the family and took a look at the room we had for the student. We passed, Michelle came in August, and after that was the best roller coaster, jungle safari, campfire cookout, and book read, all rolled into one. Sorry for what may be detached references, but it is very hard to describe what took place in the last year without using too much cliche. It was a great adventure and all those words used in "exchange student PR" did apply to us. Life changing, broaden your view on life, a new family member, etc.....that all happened. If the reader wants to know more about that, you just have to do it. I can't recreate the experience in words. As far as AFS, they helped us manage the school registration process, they answered all our questions pre-arrival. We were able to contact an AFS volunteer when we had questions throughout the year. Michelle had to go to urgent care during her stay and AFS handled the insurance claim. We didn't pay anything out of pocket. We were able to contact Michelle's parents during the stay via Skype. During Michelle's stay, we took a long trip and were able to ask Michelle's parents for permission and also to pay for her airfare for the vacation. We had a monthly meeting with an AFS volunteer that was not a big deal because we soon became friends with the AFS people and so it would just be a lunch or a coffee and some chat. AFS would come take Michelle out for lunch or an event from time to time. AFS seems to have a lot of experience in dealing with the issues that came up for us during the year. They were a calming and reassuring voice at times, and we all appreciated that. At some point, Michelle became so much a part of our family, that we were on auto pilot, and AFS seemed almost intrusive, but they also seem to know when they can leave you alone as well. AFS told us that we were responsible for room, board and transportation to school. They told us in the beginning that the student is legally considered a "guest" in our house and that we are not considered their "guardian" and would not be responsible for anything that they do, as far as getting into trouble. That was good to know at the start, but after awhile, we treated Michelle as our daughter, and the technicalities of the organizational relationship didn't really matter too much. We were on auto pilot and we were a family in every sense of the word. I have to end with some caveats. There is a financial aspect of taking in another family member. I think anyone considering hosting really needs to figure out if they can manage the costs without anyone feeling extra pressure from the expenses. AFS does NOT pay a stipend to the host family. They tell you this upfront. Lastly, this year was the best year we had as a family. Michelle will always be our daughter and sister. We know we will see her again soon and couldn't be happier for the life enhancing experience we have now. That said, when she left, it was pretty hard for all of us. We expected to miss her but then the reality hits you. You became a family over the year, you draw closer, and just like that, it's time to go. Then the strange part is that we are sad for her leaving and she was too, but then you realize, she's happy to be home with her family and friends. That was on big ball of undifferentiated emotion for the first few days after we said goodbye, but I don't think that's something AFS, or any other organization can prepare you for. So almost a month later, things gat back to normal. It's a new normal though. We miss our daughter, but we are happy for the year we had, and happy to know she will always be a part of our family. FYI we are taking at least one year off from hosting, My wife and son are planning to backpack through Europe next summer and they just might stumble into a little town to visit Michelle.

Program:
Location:
Posted: July 21, 2014
Overall:
9
Support:
9
Value:
9
By: jmangeles
Age:
49

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