My year abroad in Belgium through AFS was full of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Full disclosure, I went abroad at 16, a mere junior in high school, 10 years ago. With these 10 years of hindsight, I can give the full report, and how it has affected me all these years later. The AFS program, while set up to help each student succeed, failed on a few accounts. I was explicitly told that the host families were not paid to host the participants. The host family in which I was placed was unable to provide adequate food and the family was extremely hostile towards me and Americans in general. I understand this is not within the control of the program necessarily, but when I complained and asked to be switched, I was unable. The country is divided into districts where you are not able to move freely. There was not another host family in my district, and so I was out of luck. My host family was informed (without my consent) that I was unhappy and that made the situation even worse. I feel that AFS put me into a potentially dangerous situation with regard to my host family.
On the other hand, I loved the other people that participated in the program. I was able to learn a great deal about myself. It was a year that was truly full of growth and learning. The experience itself, while difficult at times (especially with my host family) was ultimately transformative. It enabled me to become a stronger person and trust myself. I would highly recommend study abroad as a teen, but I would be wary of the difficulty that could arise with the structure AFS uses to place their students.