USA

AFS

I am writing this post as a volunteer host family. We are going thru this experience at the moment and I would like to share some things that I have learned. It has not been easy, but we are learning from this experience.

First of all, I would recommend reading about AFS, getting to know your chapter coordinators and doing your research before you accept having a foreign exchange student in your home. Ask a lot of questions about the student and if possible try to see if she/he will be a good match for your family. It can be a very frustrating situation if you get the wrong person. I know that this can be challenging because AFS does not provide a lot of information and in our case, our student did not reply to our e-mails prior to coming to our house nor he did ask any questions about our family and expectations. In our case, we selected this particular student for his interests, but we have not seen much of that so wondering how much of the students' bios is really accurate.

AFS's best interest is to place a student in any family because this is money for the company. They really do not care about the family. As long as you have a nice house and live in a nice area, I learned that this program is expensive. Still cheaper for students, though, because they would have to pay more money if they paid for food or housing. So in some ways, these students get a good deal also.

Second, as a host family talk about expectations you want to have with the foreign exchange student. Having a stranger at home can add stress and frustration plus adding cultural differences even more. Communicate to the student in the beginning what your expectations are in terms of household activities, family relationships, finances, vacations, behaviors in your house. This will reduce headaches. I think that AFS does not do a good job communicating this to the students. You need to set the tone of this experience, will you let the student call you mom, dad, by your name...etc. This is a process and do not expect that this stranger will adapt to your family right away. If you decide to be called mom or dad, make sure that you treat them as such; otherwise, there will be some issues of resentment if there is a difference in treatment between the student and your own children. So it is very important that you decide what you want to do and how you want this person to be included in your family.

AFS tries hard to incorporate the students as part of your family since day one, but this is unrealistic because you do not know this person. It is a process that develops with time as the relationship progresses. Of course, AFS wants that you fall in love with this person and treat them as your own. But, this is a process that develops over time. AFS is unrealistic. This company has a good mission and goals, but unrealistic from day 1.

Finances is a very important topic to discuss. Our student was expecting that we were paying for everything. He thought we were paying for an expensive music instrument for her school. When we told him that his natural family had to pay for it, he did not want to buy the instrument until he checked with them. But, he did not think that way when he thought we were paying for it. Sometimes, he would forget his money when he asked to buy personal supplies and we had to pay so it was awkward at times. So to keep a healthy relationship and avoid resentments, communicate to your student and set expectations. Advice them and offer some suggestions about how they can budget themselves and what they need to pay for. Some of these kids are too young and had never dealt with money issues so they come to you expecting that you will take care of them. But, it is important that you set some boundaries in the beginning to avoid frustrations and resentments.

In our case, our student who never took the time to ask questions or answer our emails prior to his visit, came with very high expectations. He thought he would make a lot of American friends right away and that he would go on trips every weekend. Kind of like a tour travel agency. We provide food, housing, restaurant outings, movie outings, free transportation, we decided to bring her along with our family on vacations all paid by us and yet feel like it has not been enough. (By, the way, you are not required to bring students on vacation with you. This was a personal choice we made). He has also found out that it has not been so easy to make friends in High School right away as he thought. Of course, if depends on the student's personality and cultural adjustment. But, you may need to help with this also by introducing to other people and providing experiences that could lead to more friendships.

I think that some of these students forget that we are volunteers and that we do not get paid for anything. On the contrary, we have paid out of our own pocket for a lot of things. They forget that we are families who have to work also and have responsibilities to pay bills to keep a house. In our experience, I think that some of these students have no idea about the amount of work and money involved to host them in our homes. But, as I said, we are volunteers and we did it because we wanted to help.

This AFS experience has some nice things like exchanging some cultural information and learning about different cultures, which is nice. But, overall it is more work than what you think. It is a big responsibility and you are left on your own. You will also be a counselor at times, you may have to deal with temper tantrums like in our case with our student (as any other teenager), cultural differences, misunderstandings...etc

Yes, AFS provides some mandatory student events and they are required to call you to check on the student every month. But, that is pretty much it. They do not care about anything else. If your family is having some difficulties, this is your problem not theirs.

If you are really interested in hosting a student, do your research before hand. Having the right person in your house can make a huge difference. It could turn into a positive experience for the whole family or a nightmare where you get stuck with this strange person for a year and you will just hope that it is over soon as in some of the posts I have read.

For foreign exchange students, I would recommend the same, do your research and ask a lot of questions before you decide to live with a family. If you do not ask questions, you may come with very high expectations to find out that this experience is not what you thought it would be and there will be disappointment on both sides. So read, investigate, research about the culture and adjust your expectations if you decide to go to a family.

Overall, we are not very impressed by this AFS company. We will not be hosting any other students in our home. I think that once is enough for us. Good Luck to you all!

Program: Study Abroad
Location: USA
Posted: Nov 20, 2016
Overall:
1
Support:
1
Value:
1

Comments

Excellent insight. Thank you for taking the time to write this. We, as a family, are still reeling from our experience as a host family last year. One thing I would add to your review is better screening for exchange students. We received a very entitled and spoiled student, who had constant contact with her family. Our first liaison quit and she suggested a mental health specialist to continue on with our student. AFS did not replace the liaison for 5 months and we were on our own. There was no appreciation for the THOUSANDS of dollars we spent to remodel a bedroom for her, take her on countless trips, birthday and Christmas presents, cell phone and other amenities she enjoyed. We are not a rich family and this was a huge sacrifice on our part - both monetarily and emotionally. We were glad to do it until it sunk in that AFS, our student and her family were just using us as a free travel service, along with free room and board. Even with her attitude, there were good times and we did grow to love her. Little did we know that we would be stabbed in the back for the last two months, as she was removed from our home after the lying and manipulation went too far. She manipulated the situation to her benefit, so she could move in with her best friend (another exchange student) and get her own way for the last two months. No rules, no boundaries...basically a free for all. God forbid that we ever ask her exactly where she was going or try and explain to her that, "no, you cannot get into a car with boys we don't know and not know where you're going." AFS bowed to her and her family. I'm assuming because of the horrendous cost that AFS charges to the families to send them here. Who makes the money if they are "non-profit"? My children were devastated by the experience. My hope one day, is that our student and her family realized what they did to us. AFS could care less. If I could, I would like them shut down. Their policies are also out of date. If their students have access to their families 24/7 with today's technology - why even come for the cultural experience? Our student said she couldn't balance the two cultures. She wasn't supposed to, she was supposed to acclimate to ours. She also couldn't handle being told "no" and not getting her own way. I cannot tell you how disgusted we are with the whole experience.
Great review! I agree whole heartedly with everything that you said. We had exactly the same experience with their female students!

AFS

Due to the high cost of participation, this program 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 this is the program for you. Be forewarned, you'll be lucky to get so much as a "thank you" for anything and everything that you do know matter how much it costs you!

Program: Study Abroad
Location: USA
Posted: Oct 11, 2016
Overall:
1
Support:
6
Value:
1

Comments

A Broader View Volunteers Corp

I started my time in La Serena after having been in Chile for five weeks (four in Santiago and one in the Lakes Region). It was very exciting to see another facet of Chilean culture – particularly the striking red and white architecture. I was nervous to start work at Colegio, specifically with the language barrier, but this proved to not be an issue. The children were very outgoing and excited to talk to me, which put me at ease. Luckily, I was also able to go on tours of both Pisco Elqui and Isla Damas during my one weekend in La Serena. All in all, it was a fantastic experience that helped me see Chile from a point of view distinct from that of a tourist.

Program: Volunteer Abroad
Location: USA
Posted: Oct 5, 2016
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
10

Forum Nexus

Forum-Nexus became a family to me. That is the easiest way to put what this program meant to me. I grew so much through this program, it made me come out of my comfort zone and made me more social. I was a Student Assistant for the program, which allowed me to become friends with all the students pretty quickly. I came into this program myself, I was nervous at first but after landing in Barcelona and meeting the staff for the first time made me more relaxed. The staff was so friendly and meeting everyone for the first time made me realize that a lot of people were in the same situation as I am. Everyone had the same intentions as I had and that was to travel and just able to experience new things. Overall, I loved this program traveling with this group was so much fun and I learned a lot from all the cities we have visited. I would love to be able to do it again.

Program: Study Abroad
Location: USA
Posted: Oct 2, 2016
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
10

AFS

The pros of being a host family are the incredible students. We were sent a very long list of possible students, including summaries and introductions written by the students themselves. We were allowed to choose students who would be a good fit for our family based on their interests, personality, etc. so in that sense, our experience has been wonderful.

The difficulty for us is the very tedious, redundant, unnecessary amount of contact we're required to have with the volunteers. I'm in favor of strict background checks as well as regular contact, and getting the international students together for activities. All that is great. However, the volunteers and liaisons tend to make every "mandatory" activity three times as long as it needs to be, with no real purpose. Every part of training seems to be repeated 3-4 times and if you are a busy family trying to juggle bio kids, an international kid, school, and bringing your student to cultural and tourist attractions, it's easy to get frustrated by the endless, repetitive, lengthy contacts from the various volunteers.

If you're perhaps a part time or stay at home/homeschool family, or looking for a social outlet in addition to hosting, this would be a good fit. If you're a student, I'd look carefully at the family and make sure it's a fit for you as far as you can tell, ahead of time. You're allowed and encouraged to have contact before you arrive, so that's a good time to ensure it will be the experience you hope for. It's also really expensive and they expect students to pay for additional items once they're here, so check into what program will give you the most for your $.

Program: Study Abroad
Location: USA
Posted: Aug 10, 2016
Overall:
3
Support:
2
Value:
4

AFS

I am writing as a HOST MOM!
We're nearing the end of our year, and I am appalled at the way AFS treats its volunteers, students and host families.

For all of the money that you pay for a program like this, I am shocked at how little the organization actually provides in the way of support.

Over and over again I have watched AFS dump on its volunteers, while neglecting the concerns of the students, host families and birth families.

My host student was placed with me after leaving an ABUSIVE host family. AFS IGNORED the situation until it had escalated so badly that even the school and other concerned parents got involved. We all acted quickly, but AFS doesn't work on weekends, so it took an extra 2 weeks to get the student moved to my home.

AFS does very little to actively provide support for its students when there are problems. Its staff members say things like, "We're trying...", when I know firsthand that nothing has been done (since I work closely with the school). They are slow to respond to calls and emails.

I've been dealing with AFS since January, and I am making sure to let everyone know what they are getting into, if they do business with this organization.

The only reason I didn't give a 1-star for overall or value is that I am guessing that when everything goes right, this might be a good program for some people. But in the event there IS a problem of any kind, don't expect any help or support. You won't get any from anyone with afs.org in their email address. (You might from the overworked volunteers). The people who are paid are too busy selling and marketing the program to actually pay attention to the needs of the participants.

Program: Study Abroad
Location: USA
Posted: May 25, 2016
Overall:
4
Support:
1
Value:
4

AFS

We are hosting a German student in Ohio through the AFS program. We have found the program to be a hugely enjoyable experience. Our student has become a part of our family and I will consider him a son of mine for life.

The application was straight forward. The interview was prompt and the printed materials were very helpful. We have no problem providing room and board and even pay for other fees on occasion. We took our student to Florida and New York City. He's been a great student at our local high school and played on the soccer team.

The only thing that hasn't happened on a regular basis is the monthly check-ins. Fortunately, we all get along great and we have not had any issues to manage.

I also wonder why the program is so expensive. They have so many volunteers and outside of the flight and visa....where is all of the money going?

I definitely recommend AFS as a vehicle to experience time abroad as a student.

Program: Study Abroad
Location: USA
Posted: Mar 29, 2016
Overall:
9
Support:
9
Value:
9

AIFS - American Institute For Foreign Study

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: USA
Posted: Mar 23, 2016
Overall:
2
Support:
1
Value:
2

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.

AFS

We have a exchange student from Norway that we hosted. For seven months and this child lied on her bio. She said she likes to draw take photography and so forth. We had her for seven months and it was the most difficult months of our lives. This girl doesn't talk she's always on her telephone and she just stayed in her room the whole time. Missing out on the culture that she came to United States for. It was frustrating and a difficult time for us as a family. It was like having a ghost in my house. This experience was very difficult for my family. We spent so much money on making her feel welcome and experiencing the city life of our state. This experience with this exchange student was more of a frustrating experience. We couldn't wait for her to leave and go back to her family. She doesn't do anything that we asked her to do such as clean her room or help out in the house. She basically just used us as her boarding house. AFS was no help to us we had liaison that doesn't help and basically we are dealing with a problem that is very frustrating and affecting our lives. I will never do an exchange program again specially with AFS. AFS basically just used us as a driver and a boarding house for the students who are ungrateful and unappreciative. I am not happy with a AFS because they could've told us that we will be driving long driving this students to their orientations and to their field trip's. AFS is disorganized and unsupportive. Before you do an exchange program better do your research first. And truly learn your student that will be living with you before you accept such responsibilities. This is a lesson learned for us. we were hoping for a great experience but we got the worst experience of our lives. This will be our last volunteer hosting a student United States. We will never host again because we are not appreciative by the students or AFS.

Program: Study Abroad
Location: USA
Posted: Feb 22, 2016
Overall:
1
Support:
1
Value:
1

Comments

A Broader View Volunteers Corp

This volunteer trip to Guatemala did certainly opened my eyes to the fact that I am so lucky to have been born into a financially comfortable and healthy family – other people are not so lucky. Because of this I want to continue giving back! This was my second time in Xela with Abroaderview and I have fallen even more in love with this city. From the culture to the friendly people, I will certainly miss it. Our host family kept us very comfortable. I was always warm enough, fed and rested. It was great that they only spoke Spanish because it really helped me improve my own. I will forever be amazed by the warmth and hospitality of these wonderful people. I came here to help them, but they really ended up helping me to be a better person!

Program:
Location: USA
Posted: Jan 18, 2016
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
10

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