Every year, teenagers around the world apply to spend a year or semester in the U.S. Currently AFS-USA accepts over 2000 students annually from 90 countries. This includes students who receive full scholarships through the U.S. Government-Sponsored programs, Youth Exchange and Study (YES), Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX), and Congress-Bundestag (CB). The vast majority of our students arrive in August and September for our (NH) year and semester programs. A small group of students arrive in January for a (SH) second-semester exchange. To learn more about our specific programs, click here to be connected to the Hosting Programs Overview.
Teenagers worldwide apply for AFS participation in their home countries. Accepted and approved applications are sent to AFS-USA for additional review by our Hosting Operations staff in NY. If these students meet the requirements of AFS-USA, short bios describing the students are written, and these bios as well as the students’ full applications are made available to all Hosting Volunteers as they work to match students with interested host families. Refer to the Place Hosted Students section to learn more. And please note that the application process for our YES students is a little different and more rigorous. All students come with medical insurance and spending money and are required to attend school while in the U.S.
Each AFS Team is asked to identify families for a specific number of NH (fall-arriving) students based on the Team’s history and potential. This is called the Team’s Hosting Goal. There are several volunteer roles that help a team meet its annual hosting goal, though every volunteer, regardless of role, is asked to help spread the word about the opportunity to host AFS exchange students as a way to further our mission.
Host Family Finding
AFS Volunteers and Staff work year-round to promote the opportunity to host AFS Exchange Students and to build school and community relationships. Since identifying host families for exchange students is a critical part of meeting the AFS Mission, every volunteer is asked to promote the idea of hosting in their personal and professional networks, on social media, and in any other way they can in their community. Word-of-mouth is often the most effective strategy for identifying host families. Refer to the Promote AFS section to learn more. In addition, it is important for volunteers to be aware of the guidelines that AFS-USA must adhere to when promoting AFS and recruiting host families. Click here to learn more.
Host Families come in many shapes and sizes including retirees, single adults, same-sex couples, and families with young children or no children. Host Families sign up to host for a year, a semester or short term, and host families are needed year-round for students. Host families are asked to provide meals, a bed for the student (can be in a room shared with a same-gender sibling), transportation to and from school, and to include the student in family activities and provide the same care, support and comfort they provide to all family members.
As part of the required screening process, interested host families must complete a Host Family Application, References and Background Checks and meet with an AFS Host Family Interviewer in their home. The Host Family Interviewer helps answers questions about the AFS experience and also assesses if the family is suitable for hosting.
Hosting Volunteers work with families to match them with a student and secure approval from a local high school. Before the students arrive, host families also complete an Online Host Family Orientation, and are invited by local volunteers to attend a local, in-person orientation as well.
AFS students arrive into one of seven gateway cities in the U.S. – New York, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Minneapolis. They are met at the airport by AFS Staff and Volunteers before being transported to their designated Team of volunteers. Local volunteers must orient the students within a week of their arrival with an Arrival Orientation.
Please note that the arrival of YES students is a little bit different with more arrival dates, and with students typically flying into Washington D.C. for YES-specific orientation before traveling to their host communities.
While Students are in the U.S.
Each AFS student and Host Family are assigned a volunteer liaison who checks in with them every month to help identify and resolve any issues. Students also attend orientations throughout the year to help with adjustment. Often, host families are invited to parts of the orientation too as a chance to receive extra support. Liaisons or other designated volunteers also check in regularly with all local schools to be sure they are having a positive experiences hosting our AFS students.
In addition, volunteers often plan fun, educational or cultural activities for AFS students and families to further enjoy the hosting experience. And Sponsored Programs students are required to participate in extra programs that are typically facilitated by the Sponsored Programs Cluster Coordinator.
AFS Volunteers and Staff work to identify families to be on hand should a student need a safe place to stay due to a host family emergency, vacation or other issue. Volunteers also work to identify new families for students whose families agree only to short-term hosting (e.g. Welcome Family) or where the student-host family match is not a good one.
At the end of June (sometimes earlier for YES students), it is time for our AFS students to return home. They gather at End-of-Stay Orientation sites around the country before traveling to their Gateway cities (such as New York, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., or Minneapolis) for departure. Bus Chaperones and Airport Volunteers help to make this a smooth process despite the fact that many of our students are sad to be ending their wonderful experience in the U.S. We hope that the impact they have made in their host families and host communities will help encourage other people to host and continue to develop intercultural understanding in the years to come.