When former AFS Ambulance Drivers first decided to start exchange programs 75 years ago, they were inspired by their experiences of running a humanitarian operation in the two World Wars. It was clear to them that the only way to prevent future conflicts is by bringing people together across differences: connecting lives and sharing cultures in order to create a more just and peaceful world.

Edgar Bracho considers his AFS exchange program one of the best years of his life, because of his host sisters in Adelaide, Australia

AFS exchange programs provide a transformative learning experience for both the young students who travel abroad and the host families who welcome them. As Art Howe, AFS World War II volunteer, president, and life trustee, wrote in 1971: “The programs of AFS are also designed to promote learning by the host families, who—quite as much as the students—will be awakened to fresh perspectives on their internal and external relationships.”

An AFS brochure retrieved from the AFS Archives, speaks of the importance of families for AFS programs, describing them as “a two-way program of seeing and showing. In this way, young citizens of the world learn to appreciate and to respect the similarities and differences of people who, though they live in different countries, have dreams and efforts similarly directed toward the goal of a peaceful and useful life.”

In the past 75 years, hundreds of thousands of families have hosted AFSers around the world. Many of them have hosted multiple exchange students. In 2022 alone, more than 6,600 families hosted AFS exchange students in more than 50 countries. For different generations and family members, this experience provided opportunities to learn and grow in numerous ways, allowing them to share their way of life, learn about other cultures, create lifelong bonds, and open up a new world of possibilities for themselves and their children.

Jean-Michel Fontaine was hosted by the Chambers family in California, USA in 1989 (photo above). As true fans of the movie “Back to the Future” they reunited 30 years later, on Christmas in 2019 (photo below). This time, Jean-Michel was accompanied by his wife and two children, and he met the new members of his host family: spouses and children of his host siblings.

All of this happens through a carefully designed program for families, with a facilitated learning journey and goals for families to develop their self-awareness, grow their communication skills and empathy, making them ultimately more interculturally competent and prepared to act as global citizens. AFS volunteers and staff work to carefully support each family who participates in our programs, taking them on a transformative journey. This is equally true today, as it was more than 50 years ago, when Art Howe, President of AFS at the time, wrote in the “Our Little World” magazine:

“Compassion must be deepened and self-awareness enlarged. For a large proportion of AFS students and their host families this has been achieved sharing the routines of daily living, through their discovery of joy instead of conflict in their differences, through their gaining new perspectives as they dropped old prejudices, through their establishing bonds of love that persisted across space and time, and through their becoming aware of their common humanity in an increasingly interdependent world.”

AFS host families often talk about love—the new, unbreakable bonds created between them and their hosted students. These bonds last way beyond an AFS program, as our newly formed global families keep visiting one another in major life moments, continuing to re-energize and enrich their lives. See some of the photos shared by our community that illustrate these timeless bonds.

Esther Porres Gutierrez visited her host mom 53 year after her AFS exchange program, on her host mom’s 100th birthday

AFS host families set a practical example of how to live in our interconnected world. With their open minds, their welcoming of differences, their eagerness to share their own culture and their desire to be enriched by meeting somebody new, host families show their communities how to see nuances, how to see individuals behind nations and how to become stronger instead of divided by what makes us different. Host families live the values of active global citizens, as role models for their communities and the world.

This is one of our host parents, Jaime Batz from the USA, described their hosting experiences:

“The experience with our exchange son from Italy was truly so much more than we ever imagined. Both us and him discovered new interests and strengths we had that we were never aware of. We also learned about global issues and perspectives that we never would have gained without having this hosting experience. We have remained in contact with our exchange son and his family and hope to go visit them next summer in Italy!”—

Saskia Kaya was hosted by the Grola family in Brazil in 2004 (photo above). When she was getting married in Turkey in 2019, the entire Grola family came to the wedding (photo below).

AFS takes great pride in all individual activities, group orientations and connections between host families that our volunteers and staff provide worldwide. They ensure our hosting program is a very inclusive opportunity which reflects the diversity of communities where we are present in all their richness. Since 2016, AFS has been presenting our most outstanding families with an award—The Peggy and Art Howe Award in honor of their commitment to the AFS mission and education to diversity and inclusion. 13 families from all over the world have received this recognition so far. Meet the 2022 Peggy and Art Howe Award winners from Canada, Costa Rica and Thailand here: afs.org/volunteer/awards/#afs-nav-peggy-and-art-howe-award.

Find out more about the AFS hosting program on our website (afs.org/host-an-afser) or contact our office in the country where you live.

Download the AFS Janus magazine

Marga Johnstone, Chapter President of John Muir H.S. and host parent six times.

Calling on AFS Host Families around the world: Tell us about your AFS experience!
Take part in the first-ever AFS Global Host Families Survey, and share your hosting experience with the world!
What was it like to host an AFS exchange student? What does it mean to you to be an AFS host family? How has hosting an AFSer impacted your family?
Your insights will help us learn more about host families like yours and make it possible to improve the experience for future AFS host families worldwide. Take the survey at afs.org/host.