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 and Learning Specialist speak with them directly. 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 and a need for adjustment;
- Having the partner office speak to the student in their native language during parts of the call to ensure the student fully understands and is able to express themselves fully;
- 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 and Learning Specialist feels that a call between the student and just the Specialist from the hosting AFS country may not be productive; or
- An opportunity to have another Participant Support and Learning Specialist of a different gender present, due to some students possibly responding better to one gender over another.
Typically, a Participant Support and Learning 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 or achieving full understanding with the participant. If the volunteers and partner office support the idea of a joint counseling call, typically the Participant Support and Learning Specialist will reach out to the student directly to arrange a time for the counseling call, but it can also be helpful for volunteers to let the student know that they should be expecting a text or email from AFS staff. Many students like to use , facetime, or zoom for counseling calls, and these video platforms are often very useful. 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. If the call happens during the student’s school day, volunteers may work with the host school staff to confirm permission for the student to take the call, and the host school staff may even help arrange a space for the call to happen.
During the joint counseling call, both AFS staff members themselves to the student and the reason for the call in more detail. Generally, the student is then encouraged to speak while staff mainly listen and ask questions to encourage the student to share more. The staff then provide guidance, which often includes a few specific points they would like the student to improve on. Oftentimes too, staff will make note of AFS expectations and Learning goals, or cultural realities in the host country, as a way of reinforcing expectations. Challenges adapting to the cultural realities of the host country may be explored with the direct help of both staff on the call. Due to the broad range of reasons for calls, every joint call will look different. If needed, the student may have more than one joint staff counseling call during their program, 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!