Joint counseling calls are sometimes used when both the AFS sending and hosting offices feel that a student would benefit from having more than one Participant Support Specialist speak with them. Some reasons include:
- Demonstrating to the student that both AFS offices recognize that there is a concern in terms of the student’s behavior on program
- Having the partner office speak to the student in their native language during parts of the call to ensure the student fully understands
- Encouraging the student to feel comfortable opening up if a student feels that the subject matter is difficult to discuss within their host country’s cultural context (mental health, sexual harassment, etc.)
- Clarifying confusion when there is a discrepancy between what the student has shared with their natural family versus what they have shared with volunteers
- Providing a space for the student to feel that their perspective is heard by both offices
- A next step when a Participant Support Specialist feels that a call between the student and Specialist is not productive
- An opportunity to have another Participant Support Specialist of a different gender due to some students responding better to one gender over another
Joint counseling calls are arranged through either the suggestion of volunteers or Participant Support Specialists. Typically, a Participant Support Specialist may suggest a joint counseling call after volunteers have made attempts to support the student but have had limited success in bringing about change. If the volunteers and partner office support the idea of a joint counseling call, typically the Participant Support Specialist will reach out to the student directly to arrange a time for the counseling call but it can be helpful for volunteers to let the student know that they should be expecting a text or email regarding the call. Many students like to use Whatsapp (a phone messaging and calling app) for counseling calls which has an optional video function and is free. Often joint counseling calls take place outside of at least one of the AFS office’s regular business hours due to different time zones and the student’s class schedule.
During the joint counseling call, both Participant Support Specialists introduce themselves to the student and explain the reason for the call in more detail. Generally, the student is then encouraged to speak while the Participant Support Specialists mainly listen and ask questions to encourage the student to share more. The Participant Support Specialists then provide guidance which often includes a few specific points they would like the student to improve on. Due to the broad reasoning for calls, every joint call will look different. If needed, the student may have more than one joint staff counseling call though this is rare.
While for most students a joint counseling call is not needed when there are lower-level support issues, AFS-USA has found them to be very beneficial with higher-level cases or when a student struggles to express themselves, be it due to lack of language proficiency or comfort. Please keep joint counseling calls as one of your many tools in your AFS toolbox!