The American Field Service (commonly called AFS) was founded by A. Piatt Andrew in 1914. He organized a group of American ambulance drivers to transport wounded soldiers in France during WWI. After the war the group began organizing fellowships for Americans to study at French universities. In 1936, Stephen Galatti took over the leadership of the organization after the death of A. Piatt Andrew. During WWII, the organization again worked as ambulance drivers, this time in France, Italy, North Africa, the Middle East, India, and Burma.

Following the war, Galatti and 250 of the ambulance drivers created the AFS International Scholarships to continue their tradition of international service. The group's original motto was 'Making peace, one person at a time.'

By 1964 the organization was sending Americans to, and receiving foreign students from, about 60 countries. In 1971 the first exchanges between countries other than the United States began (i.e. a Swedish student going to Argentina), and in the 1990s AFS expanded to include Community Service Programs in 52 countries.

Today AFS has programs in over fifty countries, covering most of the globe, notable exceptions being most of Africa and the Middle East. Nearly 11,000 teachers and young adults travel abroad with AFS each year, and the program boasts 325,000 alumni in its ninety year history.

AFS Mission:
"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."

Program Details
What follows are broad generalizations! Programs generally involve the student-participant traveling to the country of their choice (or assignment, if they did not get into a more popular destination, such as France or Australia) where they are placed with a host family, where they will live for the duration of their program (a year, a semester, or a summer). This hosting policy differs from another well-established exchange program, Rotary Youth Exchange, which moves its students every few months, so they have the opportunity to live in five different households. There are orientations before leaving the home country, upon arriving in the host country, at various times during their program, upon departure, and after returning home there may be a final de-briefing to clear up any reverse culture shock. During the school year, students are required to attend classes in their host country. For countries with commonly taught languages, the student may have been tested to an acceptable language level when applying; for other countries an intensive language course may be provided during the first part of the program.

AFS' three cardinal rules
1. No hitchhiking.
2. No driving.
3. Nothing illegal according to the rules of your host country.

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium Flanders, Belgium French, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela

Personal Note
For me, the original motto of 'making peace, one person at a time,' is the essence of AFS, or any intercultural exchange. It is all based on learning that they are human, just like us -- an important lesson, considering the xenophobia uncomfortably common in many countries.

That, and the fact that spending a year in a strange environment can be a strong bonding experience for those who share it. During my junior year of high school, I went with AFS to spend a year in Finland, a country I chose on the basis that I knew nothing about it, but I would surely learn if I went there. During my year and due to subsequent AFS-related activities, I have met people who were from or had lived in at least twenty-nine of the above countries. It did not occur to me, when I was applying, that there would be other exchange students, but in the city I lived in there were 11 others, and as a result one of my best friends in the world lives in Belgium. My pre-departure orientation in NYC was led by a woman who had had her year in Finland in the 1950s, and still went to visit her host family there. My grandparents hosted students in the 1960s, and my mother still exchanges Christmas cards with her Swedish host sister.

Not that all combinations work -- students do change host families, or cause trouble and get sent home, but the majority adjust to the host-culture, form life-long bonds with people they meet on the program, and return home older, wiser, and better adjusted for it.

Other exchange programs include Rotary Youth Exchange, Youth For Understanding, ASSE, and EF (English First: Foundation for Foreign Study).

"Our 90-Year History." http://www.afs.org/AFSI/content/page.php?uid=12
A whole lot of personal experience.

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