AFS is an exchange organisation, one of the biggest volunteer based not-for-profit exchange organisations in the world. It was founded by those who had volunteered as ambulance drivers in the two World Wars; afterwards, they wanted to prevent war by intercultural understanding, and so launched AFS. AFS currently operates in around 50 countries, mostly sending high school students on exchange for programmes of two, six or eleven months, but also sending adults on volunteering exchanges or teaching exchanges.
How have I been involved?
In 2005 I spent a year in Costa Rica doing a high school exchange. I can honestly say this was the single most life-changing experience I have ever had! I am still in contact with my awesome host family and friends. Ever since, I have been volunteering for AFS by finding host families for students coming to NZ, supporting the students and their families throughout their time here, and doing general admin and event-planning. I also worked at the office for a bit, where I met Hauke, and my parents hosted Karina from Costa Rica for a year, and Sylvain from France for two months.
|Two students I found families for in Wellington, Alberto (Costa Rica) and Edit (Sweden)|
Too much to list! Going on exchange gave me independence, confidence and a new outlook on life and the world. Being a host sister gave me the chance to reflect on family and my role within it. Being a volunteer has taught me problem-solving and communication skills. Throughout it all I have made friends with amazing people from around the world and have learnt so much about them and their countries, and watched them grow as a person throughout their year. No student returns home the same person as they were when they arrived, and it is great to be a part of that change as a member of their host family or as a volunteer. I am currently in Europe visiting a lot of the students that I have supported throughout their exchange, or who have stayed at my house temporarily, and it is fantastic to meet their families and see where they come from.
How can you get involved?
If you're still at high school, you could go on a school-based exchange. If you're finished with high school, or a teacher, you could go on a volunteering or teaching exchange.
You could host. AFS's host families come in all shapes and sizes; with or without other children, single or a couple, same-sex or not, aged 25 or aged 75. All you need is a spare bed and a desire to share your culture and country with someone as you learn about theirs. There is more information about hosting here, and the profiles of students currently looking for host families in NZ here.
If you can't host long term, you could host students for a couple of nights at a time who live somewhere else but want to visit your area, we call this the AFS billeting system, or you could become an 'aunt/uncle' to a student in your area as a liason family.
Or, you could volunteer, giving as much time each month as you feel comfortable, or simply go to the AFS events in your area to meet other people.
The AFS NZ website is here.
The AFS International website is here.
Or flick me an email for more information.