This article includes the following sections:
- Your role as an AFS Volunteer
- Learn about the Family
- Find Students
- Send Student Profiles
- Make the Match
AFS volunteers are really Student Exchange Advisors. To help facilitate student placements, they get to know families by asking about their lifestyle and what they hope to get out of hosting. This allows them to talk to families about students who would be a good fit for them.
Some families think they know what kind of student they want to host – a female, Spanish-speaking student who dances, for example. Or they latch onto two sentences about a student that they read online. And other families really don’t know who might be a good fit. Thus, if we ask such a family “What kind of student would you like to host?” the family may simply guess based on countries of interest or whatever comes to mind.
However, our AFS volunteers know from experience that the best matches are not based on interests, gender, or country of origin but rather on things like common goals for the exchange and how independent or family-oriented the student and family are. Unfortunately, families with a pre-conceived notion of who they would like to host may choose a student who is not a good fit if left to their own devices. Thankfully they have AFS volunteers to help guide them!
To get started, get to know the family.
Learn about the Family
Some initial questions to begin getting to know an interested host family include:
- What has made you interested in hosting an AFS student?
- What do you hope to get out of the exchange experience?
- Tell me about your family. What do you value? How do you see an exchange student fitting into your lifestyle?
If the family has already started the host family application, their answers can give you more insights into their lifestyle. Learn how to find the application in the View Host Family Applications article.
All of this information can be used to better understand the characteristics, priorities, and parenting style of the family. For example, do they focus on individual pursuits or family time or a balance of both? Are they organized or messy? Structured or informal? Religious? Sports-oriented? Education-focused? Strict or permissive?
In addition, students' interests can change over time, so it is often best to try to match students and families not on interests alone but on other lifestyle traits as well. For example, does the host family like quiet evenings at home together? If so, a more family-oriented student would be a better fit than an independent one. Does the family like things clean and orderly? If so, a student also used to the same type of home environment might do better than the student who self-reveals that his bedroom is a mess most of the time.
If a family comes to you with a preconceived idea of who they should host, but their best choice is NOT the student they think they want, use your AFS experience to guide them in making the best choice.
Here are some scenarios to consider that might require re-direction:
- The family has two teenage daughters and wants to host a girl. There aren’t any girls left to place as it is near the end of the hosting season. Explain that a boy would reduce the “third wheel” scenario and give the girls a brother.
- The family sees a student online who plays tennis and loves Harry Potter, just like their daughter. But in those two sentences they don’t’ learn the student is allergic to the family’s pets, and they aren’t sure they want to host anyone who isn’t as perfect. Ask the family to describe their goals for the hosting experience and how they perceive their family. Find 1 to 3 other students who seem to fit the values of the family (independent, education-focused, health-oriented, etc.) and remind them they can meet their exchange goals even if the student’s main hobbies aren’t tennis and Harry Potter.
- The family says they got a good feeling about a student after reading the bio and know this is the only student for them. However, the student has since been placed elsewhere. Explain that the good feeling means they are great candidates for a successful hosting experience. Share that the bios are a short and incomplete summary of what’s in the student application. Engage in the “tell me about your family” conversation and re-direct to another student.
Allowing families to choose students based on matching hobbies or “good feelings” about a bio can lead to disappointment and support problems. We can do better.
Help families understand the nature of the hosting experience and their own expectations. Be truthful and genuine.
Sometimes the re-direction may end up being: “Yes, I know your family asked to host a Swedish girl but I have a Thai boy who is funny and smart, and he really needs a home. I think your family sounds amazing and open to something unexpected. Do you think you could try?”
For a practice exercise in matching students and families, visit In-Person Hosting Training: Matching Families to Students.
And please note that a student can never be placed with a relative, no matter how distant the relationship.
Use the guides in the Finding Students section to identify students to show the family. Start by looking at any students Area Team Available in your team and then move onto students Nationally or Regionally Available. And use the tips under Learn About Students to use the student's application to help determine which students might be a good fit for a family.
If the family can only accommodate a student of a specific gender, that will be your first sort of available students. Since typically it is easier to place girls than boys, if the family does not express a gender preference better balance may be achieved by working for a male placement. Allergies are an important consideration too. Some of our students have pet allergies and nearly 80% of AFS host families have pets. If you are working with a family without pets, please focus on showing them students with allergies.
While it is nice to accommodate a host family's interests whenever possible, we also need to make sure that every student gets a family. For example, consider showing a Thai student to a family who has asked for a European if you think the Thai student might fit better with the family dynamics.
Send Student Profiles
To send a potential family information about students that might be a good match for them, you can start by sending student bios to pique their interest or even student Get to Knows to learn more about specific students. You can learn more about these features in the Share Student Information with Host Families section. As a best practice, do not send more than two students at one time. Too many options can overwhelm families or encourage them to focus on minutia that probably won't matter in the long run.
You can also use the information you learned about the family to say "we have two students who I think would be a great fit for your family. Student A is very family oriented like your family and is eager to truly share her culture, which is something you indicated you wanted out of this exchange. And student B might not be what you were picturing for your family, but I think he would do very well in your family because…. (you both value family time or you seem like an adventurous family open to something different)”
If a family is seriously considering a student or two you can request to Place a Student on Hold.
Please also review what information can and cannot be shared with unscreened families by visiting the Share Student Information with Host Families section.
Make the Match
Once a student is picked out and is determined eligible to place, a Placed without Papers request is entered. Visit Placing a Student with a Family to learn more.