Each year, AFS volunteers connect with schools that are new to hosting exchange students.
Ideally, volunteers in the local area would have had a chance to begin building a relationship with a school by listening to their needs and offering AFS services to support them before asking them to host a student. However, if there is a fully-screened family that is ready to host a student and this is the first contact with the school, it will be important to both offer to assist AND ask about hosting at the same time which can be a tricky balance. Do your best to ensure that the school doesn’t feel like we are just coming to them to ask for them to host our students as we both need and want that relationship to be viewed as mutually-beneficial and not just as a transaction where the school agrees to host our student.
Try some of these tips when contacting schools for the first time about hosting an AFS exchange student:
- Before connecting with a new school, try to find and read-through any policies the school and school district have on exchange students. You can often find these by Googling the name of the school district and the phrase “exchange student policy.” Sometimes the decision makers aren’t familiar with the policies or have forgotten about their official policy. This can sometimes work in your favor! For more in-depth training on how to research school policies, you can read this article with an accompanying webinar, “Research before You Write (or Call)”.
- When connecting with schools about accepting an AFS exchange student, a good practice is to call the high school main office first to ask who the correct contact person might be in reviewing the acceptance of exchange students. Always send a thank you note and follow-up email that includes the school and district leadership (principal and superintendent) if the main contact is a different individual.
- Ask “what are the steps to enroll this student?” or “what are your school district’s policies on accepting exchange students?” This approach will help establish that AFS is mindful that policies vary from district to district, and it could also help to ensure that an AFS student will be accepted enrolled if the district policies are supportive of exchange students.
- If you are asking the school to accept a Sponsored Programs student (CBYX, FLEX, or YES), consider sharing this letter with school administrators. This letter was provided by the US Department of State and provides some context about Sponsored Programs students.
- Try to include all the decision makers from the beginning of the conversation, such as the superintendent, the principal, school counselor, etc.
- Know your facts! Create a packet of AFS Information for Schools in your initial email request that describes what an AFS exchange program is, the support that we provide to students and host families, and the differences between J-1 cultural exchange visas and F-1 international student visas. This is especially important for schools/districts new to AFS.
- If the school says “no” to accepting an AFS exchange student, but the school policies support the acceptance of exchange students, consider asking the host family to contact the school decision maker. Host families are often the key to turning a “no” answer to a “yes” answer, especially if the family is fully screened and hooked on a student. The family's status as residents and tax payers is important; having an exchange student is no different from having a child of their own attending the school.
- Note right away that the AFS students are on J1 visas, and there is no direct cost to the district to host them. The school doesn't need a designated school official/officer. A document describing the difference between F1 foreign students and J1 exchange students can be found in the Build Relationships with High Schools Article.
- Note if there is an AFS partner school nearby and mention the positive impact that AFS has had on that school community. “We have had X number of students in the neighboring high school______; feel free to reach out to Principal “So-and-So” there to have them share their experience with AFS exchange students.”
- If you get an initial “no” answer, it is okay to ask why they have said "no." Sometimes getting to the root of the issue can help to overcome it for the current school year or future school years. For example, the school may not be familiar with the high level of support that AFS provides or the high level of screening that both students and host families undergo.
- If you ultimately get a “no” answer for the current year, continue conversations with the individuals that you have spoken to regarding your placement acceptance requests. Building relationships with schools can take time, and this is a perfect opportunity to share lesson plans, resources for educators, and study abroad scholarships for their students with their school community. Once a relationship has been established, the school may consider future acceptance requests.
You may also want to review the article on Building Relationships with High Schools.