The following is a list of common responses from students or, more likely, their parents, who have concerns about going abroad. Not everyone is ready to say “sign us up” the first time they hear about AFS programs abroad, and that's ok! Always acknowledge their concerns and then have the conversation about what might be an objection versus a legitimate barrier. Even if the student doesn't choose to go abroad, your care and concern in working with them might inspire them to support AFS in other ways - or to go abroad in the future!
Below are some common objections and possible responses:
It costs too much!
Students who really want to go will find a way to go by working, saving, fundraising, and applying for scholarships. We truly believe that every student who wants to study abroad can make it happen, and we have tools to help them.
In addition, ask parents to consider what it would cost them to have their son/daughter at HOME for the same time period of time.
- Consider use of the car, gas, and insurance for the car, food, entertainment, cable TV and Internet usage, clothes, school and social activities such as dances, sports costs, book/activity fees, etc.
- Consider other activities that teens typically do - either in the summer or for enrichment - and an AFS experience begins to look like a much better cost option.
- Leadership Camp for 2 weeks=$3000
- Camps for sports or skills, such as Band, Volleyball, soccer = $800/week
- “Trips” for Spring Break = $1000/week
Also note that approximately 40 percent of the students who go on AFS programs receive some type of financial assistance from AFS-USA.
We are saving money for college.
- The actual ratio of AFS costs to college costs continues to shrink. College costs are going up much faster than AFS costs so AFS becomes an increasingly better investment.
- An AFS experience sets a student up as someone who is already capable of doing the independent work required in college. It gives them an extra boost in getting accepted into almost any college and positions them to achieve at a much higher level.
- The AFS experience also provides an advantage in obtaining college scholarships. In fact, some schools give scholarships specifically to AFS students as they recognize the quality of the program and its selection process, as well as the skills and maturity levels students have obtained through the program.
- An AFS language experience provides skills necessary to test out of language classes and often to obtain credit for those languages. Some students have received as much as 18 hours language credit—almost enough to provide a minor in language and certainly a financial savings when compared to the cost of credits.
- The REAL benefit, however, is that an AFS experience creates a more flexible and developed individual who knows their mind better and is less likely to waste college money with ineffective study habits and/or indecision in career directions. They will be able to set a course, determine goals and accomplish them without multiple changes of curriculum or poor grades.
I’ll study abroad when I’m in college.
Both college and high-school exchanges are immensely important, and we love to see people do both - but there are differences.
The core of most AFS high school programs is a homestay with a volunteer host family whose primary motivation is to establish a deep friendship with someone from another culture. From the inside of a host family, AFS students have the rare opportunity to experience another culture from a perspective not typically available to adult visitors. As students get to college-age and beyond, it is more difficult to for both students and host families to establish such a close bond. That is why during a typical study-abroad experience in college, students spend most of their time with other students in an academic context.
Likewise, if you're relatively new to the language of your host country, you may need months of immersion before you're comfortable studying in it. You can learn about yourself, your host country, and make friends during this time, but academically, your first priority will be to learn the language rather than the subject material. Why take time away from your college academics to study language, when you can take care of that before starting college? During an AFS experience in high school or during a Gap Year, you can better prepare yourself to take international, college-level classes in their original language. Some other points:
- Less than 2% of students actually DO study abroad in college, regardless of intentions.
- Usually those who do go abroad for school often do so for a much shorter period of time—a couple of weeks for an interim course or because it’s much more difficult to fit it into the curriculum. College study abroad can interfere with courses and schedules.
- Most—not all but most—of the placements for college study abroad are in dormitories and/or English-speaking living situations and classes are taught in English with English-speaking classmates. The “international living” is little more than the location of the college classes. Most AFS programs are FAMILY placements with an immersion in the culture and a strong impetus to learn the language. Students are supervised and supported throughout the stay, often with enrichment activities provided.
- As a parent, which situation is safer? A supervised, carefully selected and supported placement with requirements in place for success or an unsupervised, totally independent placement?
My son/daughter doesn't need to study abroad because they go to a diverse high school and we have traveled to Mexico.
- Teens growing up today are ten times more likely to live in another culture in their lifetime than people 100 years ago (1900) were to leave the area in which they were born. How prepared are our young people going to be to face these challenges? Travel and high school diversity don't always give teens enough opportunity to truly learn about different cultures in an intimate way.
- International companies make products and provide services all over the U.S.
- The internet and satellite communication systems have opened international events to us instantaneously.
- Our teens are not living in the same environment in which we grew up. Therefore, we need to be certain that we are not using outdated measurements to determine what they will need.
- Teenagers respond positively to the opportunity to make a difference in the world by being ambassadors. They recognize how important putting an American face into Saudi Arabia might be, for example—and they see the long range impact. That idealism is why AFS chooses to work with teenagers in the first place.
- It is VERY rare to meet a returnee, even those who had a “difficult” experience, who doesn’t think AFS changed their lives and was definitely worthwhile.
- It is very sad to meet people who say, when they are too old, that they wished they’d known AFS was a possibility when they were in high school.
I'm worried about safety.
AFS is an experienced, worldwide leader in high school student exchange that has an exemplary safety record. Our primary operating value is concern for the welfare, safety, and security of our student participants. If it wasn't, our organization and its trusted reputation would not have lasted for over 70 years. AFS has a professional network of experienced staff and volunteers who provide support in each country. An AFS Situation Response Management Team is in place at all times to monitor events throughout the world and to respond in case of crisis.
Are there any things in particular you’re concerned about that I could address?
- Concern about the host family:
- Our host families are unpaid volunteers who are doing this to share their culture.
- They are screened with an extensive application, personal references, and in-home interviews, and often background checks.
- If a placement is not working out, a student should contact their volunteer liaison who will help mediate the situation, and if needed, we will work to move the student to a new family.
- Concern about political unrest or other natural disasters:
- AFS has established measures in place for any type of situation where a political situation or a natural disaster could potentially affect students.
- We have a close relationship with the U.S. Department of State, and we monitor and adhere to their guidelines and recommendations.
- There have certainly been instances when programs have been delayed or cancelled for student safety, and we have also quickly removed students during programs when situations have arisen.
- Concern about medical care/insurance:
- AFS offers comprehensive secondary medical insurance to all participants, included in tuition.
- This insurance serves to cover students if anything should happen while on their AFS program so that they get complete and immediate care. It excludes pre-existing conditions, however.
- Concern for communication with student:
- Technology has made it easier than ever to keep in touch with your student/parents while abroad. All participants will have access to the internet in some capacity, albeit not necessarily at home. Some participants may need to access the internet at school, the library, or an internet café.
It’s important to make sure, however, that the amount of communication you have doesn’t disrupt the experience of an immersion program (such as bonding with your host family, or making new friends at school) or cause too much homesickness.
I need to be in the U.S. to take the SAT.
You can take the SAT in many countries, but don’t wait until you get there to sort it out. If you must take your SAT while abroad, make this part of your planning and decision-making process. The SATs can be offered through US Embassies while abroad and they are administered by the College Board nationally and internationally. You can find out more information from you School Guidance Counselor (specifically a Booklet called "How to Register for the SAT") or at http://www.collegeboard.org or (609) 771-7600.
What about the language barrier?
The majority of our programs have no language requirement, because we know that students are able to learn a language when they’re immersed in it. Immersion is completely different than classroom learning.
- You may find at first that some of your classes are challenging, but like everything, there is a learning process and you will see improvements on a daily and weekly basis.
- Learning through immersion is a remarkable process – you’ll find yourself hearing a word in class, then going home and being able to use it right away.
- Some host countries provide language lessons during arrival orientation or via classes within your host community.
- Although there are only a couple of programs that have language requirements, we do strongly encourage you to learn as much as you can before going – whether by taking a class, studying on your own, doing online learning, or even watching movies and reading easy books in your future host language.
- AFS will help make sure you have an English-speaking contact should you have an emergency.
Why should we choose AFS over another organization?
That’s a very important question! There are many reasons to choose a program with AFS – some of the most compelling to me are:
- Our mission and history
- Our support network and volunteers
- Our program quality
I’d be happy to talk more in depth about any of those in particular.
- Our mission and history:
- Our mission is to work towards a more just and peaceful world through international education.
- We’ve been around for 70 years and have a lot of experience.
- We have sent nearly hundreds of thousands of students abroad over the years.
- Our volunteers and support network:
- AFS is a volunteer-driven organization – including our host families! Everyone is doing this to promote our mission and make sure students have a great experience.
- Our volunteers are extensively trained in intercultural awareness and help to get students on their programs, as well as provide orientations and continued support while they’re abroad.
- Our support network also includes our volunteer host families as well as our staff both here in the U.S. and abroad.
- We’re easy to reach. There is always someone on call in both the host country and at AFS-USA 24/7, every day of the year.
- While abroad, participants are assigned a liaison who speaks English and who checks in on them regularly. This person acts as the primary contact person for the participant.
- AFS participants attend multiple orientations throughout their experience, beginning with the Pre-Departure Orientation in their local community here in the U.S., the Gateway Orientation with all of the other students on the program just before leaving to go to the country, the Arrival Orientation upon entry to the country to introduce them to the local culture, a Mid-Stay Orientation with the other students hosted there, etc.Our program quality
- Our Program Quality
- We’ve been doing this for a long time, and we have more than 100 program choices in over 40 countries. Unlike many other organizations, most of our programs don’t have language requirements.
- Most of our programs are immersion based, meaning you’ll get an in-depth look at how people in another culture live, and you’ll learn more about yourself and your own culture while away.
- The feedback we get from past program participants is very positive, and many AFS Returnees go on to become active volunteers to help other exchange students.
- When talking to students: Our programs are not just for American students, but also for students from all over the world – you’ll make lifelong global connections!