The experience of participating in an exchange program can bring with it natural challenges, as participants and host family members navigate new interpersonal and intercultural differences, and participants are far away from the familiarity of home and learn to adapt to new environments. Years of experience show that there are several steps that participants, families, and volunteers can take early on in the exchange year that can help reduce the chances of challenges resulting in negative effects for those involved, and that can help maximize the learning potential of the exchange experience for all involved. These steps are strongly recommended and include:
Attending Orientations: Orientations are critical opportunities for participants and families to gather with the local AFS community, review important and relevant information pertaining to the program, reflect on shared and individual experiences, and propel their intercultural skill building. Support volunteers are welcome and encouraged to attend orientations or review the orientation material, so that they can help their participant or host family recall what is covered during the orientations during moments throughout the year when it might be helpful.
Completing the AFS Questionnaires: AFS-USA strongly encourages all host families to sit down with their students in the early days of the program to complete the Participant and Host Family Questionnaire and the Cultural Exploration Questionnaire and to revisit them a few weeks later after additional questions may have arisen. These activities are crucial tools to help students and host families establish common understandings as the year begins and discuss openly their customs and cultures in ways that can help avoid misunderstandings later on in the year.
Conducting Required Contacts and Visits: By establishing contact with your participant and host family regularly, not only are you fulfilling a critical compliance requirement of the program, but you are helping to build a strong foundation for communication and trust between you and your participant and host family. Through regular monthly contacts with students and hosts, liaisons can identify and address smaller concerns before they become more complex and potentially more difficult to manage. Establishing effective communication and trust early on can be important to the success of the exchange experience, and so we highly encourage liaisons to reach out as early as possible in the year to their students and host families. [Click here for more information on contacts and visits requirements]
Reviewing AFS Welcome Materials and Information: Just as AFS-USA volunteers have been provided the resources on this MyAFS Help & Learning for Volunteers platform, host families and students have also been provided important materials that we encourage them to review and revisit throughout the year:
- Host families have been provided important information on the Help & Learning for Host Families Platform
- Students have been provided with the Welcome to the USA Handbook, the Safety Tips for the USA Handbook, and pre-arrival Welcome Videos
No single student, host parent, or volunteer is expected to memorize all of this material! Rather, AFS hopes and expects students and host parents and volunteers to review information prior to the program start and then keep these important resources close by throughout the year, so that they can be revisited. Consider these as resources, to have handy and available for use at any time during the program. The Help & Learning platforms for both volunteers and Host Families are mobile friendly, and participant materials are also mobile accessible via this QR code handout.