Thursday, July 22, 2010

About AFS & Why We’re Hosting


We decided to host through AFS since I (Susan) am a 4 time AFS host sister and my own sister went abroad for the summer with AFS.  In 1990, my family hosted our first AFS student, Yuko, from Japan for the summer.  She was followed in 1992 by Cornelia from Germany, 1995 by Sofia from Sweden, and 1996 by Francisco from Ecuador.  In 1993, my sister lived with a family in Spain.  I am still in touch with Francisco, whom we call Franc, and he has been back to visit us several times.  I have dreams of going to Ecuador sometime to see him and his country!  I do searches for Cornelia and Yuko every few months but have yet to find them.  It would be amazing to re-connect after all this time.

AFS is an excellent organization to host students through.  There are certainly many other exchange organizations.  What I know about AFS is that there is excellent local support when issues arise (as they do even in the best placements), they have an extremely dedicated volunteer corps, and a history of service.

The history of AFS as copied from their Host Family Handbook:

AFS was founded in 1915 as the American Field Service Ambulance Corps and later reactivated in World War II. Having witnessed both the devastation and brutality of those wars, Stephen Galatti, the Director General of the American Field Service Ambulance Corps during World War II, challenged his comrades to focus their post-war efforts on peace-building. His vision was to educate a new generation of enlightened world leaders. By bringing high school students from countries formerly at war to the United States to live with families, study in secondary schools, learn about the American tradition of volunteerism, and develop a sense of community, his hope was that we could prevent future wars.

The AFS exchanges were a radical idea at that time. Stephen Galatti actually wanted to bring German high school students to live in U.S. communities that had lost young men fighting Hitler’s forces during the war. Yet in this tremendous
risk was a compelling vision that eventually took root and grew, both in the United States and around the world. Within a few years, returning AFS participants eager to share the new found insights from their AFS program began organizing volunteer committees in their own countries modeled after the AFS chapters in the US. Soon they were able to reciprocate the hospitality they had received.

From 1947 until the early 1970s AFS exchanges were bilateral--between the United States and as many as 80 other countries. Then, mirroring the move towards the unification of Europe and the globalization of trade, AFS volunteers in Europe launched exchanges among the countries of that continent and, shortly thereafter, exchanges with other regions of the world. Multinational exchanges soon flourished and currently make up the majority of total annual AFS

Today, more than 13,000 participants are exchanged every year from more than 50 different nations around the world. AFS offers more programs than any other organization in a range of countries that truly reflects our global mission. We at AFS are proud of our heritage and mission, and believe that we, and now you, are contributing to world peace, one AFS Participant, one family, one friend at a time.

For more information, please visit

Michael and I have wanted to be a host family for a long time.  In 2002, when we lived up in Massachusetts, we had the opportunity to host a girl from Japan for a two week stay.  Unfortunately, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan broke out, and consequently the Japanese officials canceled the trip.  After that, we moved to DC and just felt we haven’t had time to devote to a student with each of us working up north and commuting upwards of 50 or 60 miles per day.  Now that I am a stay-at-home mom, we decided that we had time to devote to the needs of a teenager and zipping around to school functions.  We want to devote ourselves 100% to the experience of having an active teen and participating in school functions.  We don’t have a lot of experience with teens, and so our AFS volunteer suggested that teens in Thailand are very respectful to their elders and might be a good way for us to ease into parenting a teen.

We have already passed our first hurdle.  Penny was not sure what to call us.  Because we are so much younger than her natural parents, she did not feel comfortable calling us Mom and Dad.  We were both fine with that—being Mom and Dad in our 30’s to a 17-year-old, while logistically possible, would probably feel a little strange.  We all agreed that she’ll call us by the nicknames that our friends have established for Michael and that he has established for me:  The Chief and Cookies.  All of our emails, even from Penny’s mom, are now address to The Chief and Cookies.  It is so sweet! 

Our preparations for hosting Penny are more or less complete.  I have gone over to the school and registered her there.  When she gets here, we will go back and help her select her classes.  Hopefully we will be able to tour the school and help her to get her bearings before she has to go on her first day and feel overwhelmed by all the students and activity.  I went to the same school for 13 years, being from a very small town, and can’t even imagine going to a new high school in the US, much less in a whole different country, so I hope that we can ease her transition a bit with a tour.

We switched two rooms in our house—our basement room was formerly a guest room, and is now Michael’s office.  His upstairs office is now Penny’s room.  Not only will she now feel more like one of the family instead of being “banished” to the basement, but the basement room did not have a closet, and the upstairs room does.  We felt a closet was most important for our student to have!

We were very fortunate to have friends help us move everything, build some new furniture for Penny (she needed a desk and shelf), and install a corkboard for her.  We have invested in an extra set of bed linens and lighter blanket for her.

We are also very lucky to have the support of our friends and family as we start this new adventure.  Everyone is excited and curious to meet Penny.  One of her main concerns is that she will have a hard time making friends.  We are lucky that the young lady who babysits Leah and cuts our grass has already emailed Penny and they have started a nice correspondence.  Because our daughter Leah is so young, I am active in the toddler set, not the teenager set. 

The next step will be to attend Host Family Orientation on August 1 in Oakton, Virginia.  The orientation will be held at the same place as where we will pick Penny up two weeks later.  We have to decide on making a sign or some other type of greeting for our first meeting with Penny.  Anyone with ideas, please feel free to drop me an email at s u s a n k (a t) m k o s i o r (d o t) c o m Her favorite colors are purple and orange, if that helps!

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