Sunday, May 23, 2021

Looking for Home

I know you are probably reading a lot of stories these days about how the world is “coming back to life” as the pandemic recedes. I’m sharing this particular story because it hadn’t even occurred to me and I think it’s important.

The local AFS area team is still looking for host families for foreign exchange students for the 2021-22 academic year. As you might imagine, those programs were largely put on hold last year because of COVID. According to the AFS website there are eight students still awaiting placement in our area. I’ve learned a lot about AFS from Christina McGarvey, hosting coordinator and area team chair for the Baltimore area team.

AFS USA a nonprofit organization that's part of the international nonprofit AFS Intercultural Program.  AFS is over 100 years old.  American Field Service (AFS) started out as American who volunteered as ambulance drivers during World War I.  After the experiences of World War I and World War II, seventy years ago the volunteers decided the way to avoid these horrible wars is by promoting understanding between people from different cultures and that they would do this through high school exchange students.  Since then AFS has expanded to offer exchange opportunities for AFS students to go on exchange to 45 countries and AFS USA hosts students from 90 countries.  AFS is mainly a volunteer organization with over 50,000 volunteers worldwide.

Wow. I had no idea that AFS had its roots in hoping to prevent wars by promoting cultural understanding. I honestly thought it was all about students who loved to travel and excelled in foreign languages. (!!!) Learning this made me curious, so I asked a friend who participated in a foreign exhange program when he was younger to describe what the experience meant to him.

Living with a host family in another country, learning a different language and new customs, made me realize the importance of seeing and respecting the perspective of everyone - not just people who look like me and live like me.

Talking with him made me realize how foreign exchange programs like AFS are planting seeds for the future. All of the experiences in the “here and now” that open up new worlds for young people will bear fruit long after they have come back home. And they very well could help make our world a better place. (Definitely better-informed and more open-minded.)

The program depends upon host families to provide a safe and supportive home base for these students. In 2019 the Baltimore Sun did a story about being an exchange student at Christmastime: 

An American Christmas: Foreign exchange students in Baltimore encounter ‘strange and amazing’ customs - - Jonathan M. Pitts

Take a moment to read this article and think whether you can see yourself as someone who can provide that kind of a home base for an international student.  If you are interested in hosting you can send an email to or request more information at to learn more. The deadline for Howard County Schools is right on the horizon - - June 1st - - so you don’t have much time to mull this over. 

Perhaps you were considering it pre-pandemic but larger concerns put it out of your mind. If I have managed to put it back into your mind I will consider that a win. 

Have any of my readers hosted AFS students? I’d love to hear about your experiences. 

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