The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program is an innovative high school exchange program funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. This public diplomacy initiative builds bridges of international understanding, especially between Americans and people in countries with significant Muslim populations.
The YES Program evolved out of a generalized recognition that public diplomacy efforts had been neglected in many countries around the world for many years and that the effects of this came into stark focus in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001.
AFS took a lead in rallying the exchange community and the Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau of the U.S. Department of State to approach Congress with a coherent plan for support of meaningful opportunities for youth exchange as a key component of renewed commitment to building bridges between citizens of the U.S. and countries around the world, particularly those with large Muslim populations.
Currently AFS-USA works in partnership with like-minded high school exchange organizations in the US to arrange homestays and support host families and students throughout the exchange:
By August 2003, the first class of 53 YES students from Egypt, Turkey, and Indonesia arrived, followed in January 2004 by 20 Malaysian YES students. The ranks of YES students has increased each year, and in the 2012-13 year the AFS-USA consortium hosted almost 300 YES students.
YES students reflect a wide range of socioeconomic, cultural, and religious affiliations within their countries, including people with disabilities. YES participants are selected through an open, merit-based selection process in each country.
YES scholars are selected based on a variety of indicators, including an evaluation of their personal qualities, such as adaptability, leadership potential, and motivation for an intercultural experience. Recruiting organizations attempt to reach a wide audience within each country, embracing all of the ethnic, geographic, and socioeconomic diversity within the target countries.