AFS-USA

Program Reviews

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✈️ Just an
7/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Last august, I left Europe and went for my first time ever to Latin-America. I was going on exchange to Argentina. I had a great familie in a lovely town, made friends for life at school and had my first relationship.

My big problems with AFS started with the start of my relationship. Before that, they already refused to pay for my school (although my contract said they had to pay) and refused to help another exchange student who was in a very difficult situation with her host family. They tried to keep it quiet for their own image and only helped when the situation in the host student's family became untenable. This later happened with several exchange students. I got really lucky with my family and had no problems at all with them. Until then it was not so bad for me.

But then I got into a relationship... Less than 1 week later we were suddenly (and in a very rude manner) convened for an emergency meeting to talk about 'all the problems we caused'. The volunteers even got angry if we didn't respond to their messages immediately, while sometimes I just had school! But, back about the meeting, one of the volunteers started telling us that we were making their lives difficult by causing problems all around. He said we shouldn't bother them with all our problems. Because apparently we don't pay thousands of euros for that?!? We only asked them for help with our problems because we could not solve them ourselves. In addition, they had simply accepted host families without thoroughly screening them, leaving several exchange students with problems with their host families. A little later the volunteer said something that made me very angry. We COULDN'T have any relationships. He said they could decide this and that these were national AFS rules. Obviously this was a lie. No exchange organization can prohibit its participants from having relationships. Obviously, I didn't quit my relationship.

One of the exchange students told a few friends at school about the problems with AFS, she was having a hard time, and as is often the case in a small provincial town, such things soon went around. Her contact person from AFS got angry with her, and the volunteers tried to force her to change school. When this failed and she was in a second (bad) host family, the AFS volunteers tried to force her to talk to a doctor about her 'mental problems'. We soon realized that they wanted to try to have her declared crazy so that they could send her back. Fortunately, she contacted the AFS office of her own country and intervened. She could stay but would eventually flee herself for the AFS volunteers. But that's her story.

Okay, now back to what they did to me. Let me briefly sum it up: they lied to my parents about my relationship, they tried to contact my friend, probably with the aim of setting him up against me and lying to both of us. After all, they had already done this that year with 2 other exchange students who had a relationship together. They manipulated, lied and deceived friends, families of several guest students!

The volunteers of my AFS committee were the biggest problem of my exchange. Quite funny when you consider that they were there to solve our problems. I have long hesitated to mention names and places. I wanted to write this story to warn people. You can be lucky but also have bad luck with your AFS volunteers. I have decided at least to state clearly who did nothing wrong. My own contact person was a very nice person who helped me learn Spanish and was always available. Whether she always helped equally well is another matter, but she always did her best. Except when I inquired about the AFS rules in Argentina regarding travel, that was a mistake that she will hopefully not make again. This has ensured that during my exchange I have not seen anything of beautiful Argentina. I want to tell everyone: enjoy your exchange and if you are unlucky with your AFS volunteers, just keep them out of your life as much as possible. That is the best thing you can do to protect you, your wonderful exchange, your friends and possibly boyfriend / girlfriend. Good luck and have fun! 😀🌎

What would you improve about this program?
Start screening volunteers and guest families in Argentina (better)!
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Kendra
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

My semester in Panama in high school started my love for languages and the world. It set me on the path to living in many other countries and studying cultures and languages in college. I learned the power of hospitality and tolerance and gained a second family and group of friends. AFS is so unique because it's a volunteer run organization and that means that the support staff and host families truly care. I miss Panama so much!

Chandler
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

My year in Argentina truly was life changing. I made life long friends and another family (host family). I still use my Spanish quite regularly. I ended up studying global studies with a focus on Latin America and a dual degree with Spanish in college (if that tells you anything about impact my exchange year had). Even though it’s been 6 years I think about my study abroad year almost daily. I would encourage anyone that has the means and ability to study abroad with AFS. I also ended up study abroad in college for a semester in Madrid because study abroad ended up being such an important thing to me. If you study abroad it will leave with lifelong memories and skills, you will have a global understanding. I even wrote a blog when I was abroad http://chandlerinargentina.blogspot.com/?m=1

What would you improve about this program?
Honestly there is not much AFS Argentina could do to improve. I do however think my host city chapter AFS Formosa could improve.
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Camille
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

It's quite interesting to see the world from another's point of view. When I went abroad to Costa Rica, the Rio Olympics were ongoing and preparation for Presidential election was commencing. I learned what others thought of American politics-many mixed opinions (as is life in general). In addition to the culture (tica time, gallo pinto, big families), I learned quite a bit about myself. I found that I enjoyed spending time with people, merely just talking. I learned that I loved hugs because even if I didn't know all the nuances of the words "I love you" in Spanish, hugs could convey so much more. I learned that my definition of family could be greatly expanded to not only those who cared for me in my home country, but those who I truly allow to come into my life and who embrace me into their own.

What would you improve about this program?
Students should be allowed to know in advance any AFS activities that will occur (time, place, etc.). It allows students (particularly planners like me) to anticipate future events and plan accordingly for them.
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Mellanie
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

My experience studying abroad in Paraguay had been a wonderful experience because I wasn't only learning and studying Spanish but I was able to be involved in the culture and life of the residents. I had a family and they will forever be my second family. I keep in contact with them every now and then I would update them on what is going on in my life and they do the same. I have also made many friends and they are great and also live abroad. While studying my professors where very helpful and divided the time from learning Spanish and learning the history of Paraguay. The other participants, my friends and myself had a chance to see historic sites or just natural sites while studying. I engaged more with the people and discovered how I can be challenged and have fun with my experience. You also get to do things with your family and have personal, meaningful relationships with the people you meet.

What would you improve about this program?
This program can improve with the help of other AFSers that are in the country.
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McKenna
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I would strongly suggest that participants are given more freedom. I wasn’t allowed to go nearly anywhere until February of my exchange which did not leave much time to truly explore my surroundings. But what I did explore I absolutely love. I wasn’t able to see much more than the city where I lived and two other regions and in a country like India it should really be facilitated for students to see more for a complete understanding of Indian culture because there are so many.

What would you improve about this program?
The staff of AFS India should be more helpful
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Jennifer
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I absolutely loved my time abroad in Finland! It was the most amazing and educational experience of my entire life and I grew so much even though it was a relatively short 5 week trip. I made lasting friendships with my entire host family and the other students who traveled with me to Finland.
While I was located primarily in Helsinki, students may end up living in cities all over Finland depending on where their host family lives. Students will likely have the opportunity to visit a summer cottage, if their family owns one, as well! Either way everyone will end up with a unique and life changing experience.
I would absolutely encourage anyone considering this trip to just go for it, and to try as many new things as possible while abroad!

What would you improve about this program?
The trip itself was absolutely amazing, including the day-long seminars in New York and Helsinki. Some of the preparatory seminars that are mandatory before one even gets to New York are a little bit tedious as they do not provide new information that is not also covered in the New York seminar. However I understand why this choice was made, as it is important to be sure that the students are well educated about cultural differences and safety procedures.
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Hannah
7/10
Yes, I recommend this program

In the Summer of 2017 I packed up a very small bag and headed to New York for my initial student orientation at Long Island University. The orientation was very relaxed and helped to introduce me to my fellow travelers.

We then proceeded to fly across the globe to Delhi, India, where we were greeted by AFS staff and taken to a nearby resort. Our living quarters were quite luxurious and the orientation beyond thorough.

When the program in my host city began, I was without much support from staff or volunteers. This was not the case for most people, and most students had a wonderful AFS family in their host cities. Despite my independence, I managed to create my own network of friends- both foreign and Indian.

AFS India was a smaller entity than many of their other country's operations, so they were visibly limited as to involvement. Despite their size, however, they made sure that we as students were always safe and secure. There was never a moment that I felt lost in the system or in danger.

If I could do the program over again, I would be more vocal to the few volunteers that were with me in my host city regarding the challenges that I was facing, and if anyone is considering embarking on a similar journey, I encourage them to do the same.

India as a location is phenomenal. The people are incredibly diverse and unbelievably welcoming. However, unless you look like an Indian, you will always be noticed, practically wherever you go. It was a difficult adjustment for me, but I soon came to terms with the innocent curiosity that the people had for foreigners.

The food is rumored to be spicy and hard to digest. At first, I agreed with this rumor whole-heartedly. However, after a mere week I came to enjoy it. Compared to American food, it has little diversity, which is also an adjustment. High carb consumption and low calorie intake are also difficult diet factors that I had to adjust to. The taste is great, but it can leave you feeling malnourished to an extent. Be prepared to bring protein powders, and know that Amazon India is a great resource for resupply.

All in all, I saw things that changed my perspective on humanity itself, all the while making relationships that I know will go on for a lifetime.

At the end of my program, we had what felt like two end-stay orientations, the first in Delhi where we spent time reflecting on the past year, and the second visiting the Taj Mahal. Both experiences went smoothly and I regard the memory as a whole as the most fascinating experience of my life thus far, and the beginning of a life-long desire to experience more colorful cultures.

What would you improve about this program?
The cities such as my own, where volunteer counts are low, need to be raised. Host families should be more thoroughly prepped as to the challenges that come with hosting a foreign student. AFS should establish a What-To-Bring list that is inclusive of alumni's suggestions. More freedom should be granted to the students who are placed in more ocntorlling chapters, and a greater support base for struggling students should be established. For example, AFS should be quick to identify problems within the host family regarding the student, and help BOTH parties come up with approproate reactions. Finally, the trip to the Taj Mahal was far too short. All students attending agreed that they woul dhave gladly left much earlier in the morning for the opportunity to be there at sunrise and the ability to stay for longer.
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Angel
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Hello, my name is Angel Reyes and I was part of the 2016-17 Study Abroad program in Japan and may I say it was absolutely amazing! First off, everything was so carefully planned out and the staff was so nice and caring. All the time I was with them I always felt secure and happy as if I was at home, it was only until I had settled in my japanese parents’ house that it actually hit me that I was in Japan(yes I call them my parents)! Everything was so cool and amazing but there was some things that were kind of off. For example, there would be these reunions with all the AFS people and students and they were cool and all but the activities that were held there were not good. It was kind of boring but it was fun to see everyone! That is actually about it everything else was perfect! If you do read this I want to ask this favor, can you communicate with Mana Hashimoto and the people from San Antonio, Marc Patsnier are the best, nicest, awesomest people ever! Without them, my experience in Japan wouldn’t have happened or been as awesome as it was! Thank you so much!

What would you improve about this program?
Is it possible to make the reunions while abroad a more interactive thing with many different cool activities? Thank you!!
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Glenn
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

This abroad experience in high school was formative in my growth as a teenager. I now work in international exchanges, because of the overwhelmingly positive experience I had on my semester abroad with AFS. Intercultural experience is so important - I learned so much as an exchange student, and while it wasn't all easy by any stretch of the imagination, through the challenges of going abroad I grew as a person.