Whether you are looking into becoming an exchange student or just wondering who the heck is shipping me across the world for a year, it’s easy to get lost in the countless student exchange programs that are out there. Trust me, I did too. With just one google search you can find dozens of different programs boasting different program lengths, destinations, and focuses.
As I was looking into study abroad programs, I kept seeing the same couple of names coming up over and over again; AFS, CIEE, YES, Rotary, etc. After looking into all of the options and talking to people who have done this before, I decided that AFS was the best option for me. When it came to academics and the massive volunteer network that AFS has, it was a perfect fit for the experience I wanted to have.
AFS is a nonprofit organization that has been committed to exchanging students around the world for over 70 years. They currently offer programs in over 50 countries worldwide, whether you want to travel for as short as two weeks or as long as a year. All of their staff are volunteers, and many of them are AFS Returnees themselves. Their mission statement captures exactly what I love the most about AFS; “AFS-USA works toward a more just and peaceful world by providing international and intercultural learning experiences to individuals, families, schools, and communities through a global volunteer partnership”.
In my opinion, one of the coolest things about AFS is their surprising history. AFS stands for the American Field Service, which was a volunteer ambulance service during both WWI and WWII. They aided thousands of wounded soldiers, regardless of which side they were fighting for. It is with this idea of promoting a cultural understanding that they established AFS Intercultural Programs.
Especially in this day and age, with so much hate and misunderstanding passing between people of different cultures, I think it is more important than ever to cross cultural borders. By traveling to a new country and immersing yourself with new groups of people, there are countless things to learn, whether it be a new dish from your host mom or an entirely new language. While some of these lessons might be tiny in comparison to the weight of an entire culture, these little experiences are the ones that count the most. By telling small stories and recounting memories, you can slowly completely change the mindsets of those around you.
If you are looking into exchange programs, don’t skip over AFS. Throughout the whole application and pre-departure experience, they have been incredibly informative and friendly. I’ve already met some amazing people through the program and I can’t wait for the countless more people and experiences I’m sure to encounter in the coming year.