Written by Cathy Robinson


Ten years ago, I started high school. Along with the first homecoming dance and first honors class came my first experience with AFS international exchange students. I had never met anyone from Japan, or Colombia, or Finland before – yet, here they were, playing alongside me on the school soccer team or sitting beside me in history class. This school year, my family made the decision to host an AFS student of our own for the very first time. My sister Gaia, from Sardinia, Italy, has integrated seamlessly into our family, and we couldn’t love her more. My perspective as an older host sister who doesn’t live at home is somewhat unique, so I’d like to share a few reasons why being an older host sister is the best.

5 reasons why being an older host sister is the best

1. You can take your AFS sibling on a trip

As a Christmas present to Gaia and my two other sisters, I treated them to a Sisters Weekend in Chicago. The four of us had an awesome time in the Windy City, and it was Gaia’s first time outside of Missouri, where we live. Since I’m 25, a parent wasn’t required to supervise the trip, and we had three full days of “sisters-only” bonding.

2. You look up to them, even though they’re younger

It is amazing to me that AFS students, at such a young age, are able to leave their everyday life behind and immerse themselves in a new culture for an entire year. I want to be like Gaia. It makes me think: If she is brave enough to do something like this, what things am I perhaps capable of doing?

3. They like you more than your biological siblings like you

I’m only partially joking. But I do think Gaia is more interested in my opinion and my advice as a host sister than my other teenage sister is. Maybe it’s because she hasn’t gotten sick of me yet?

4. You gain not only another sibling, but a lifelong friend

Gaia – like many AFS students, I imagine – is very mature, so I feel like I’m talking to someone my own age. We’re able to go out for coffee, or sit on the couch, and talk for hours about travel and language-learning and life.

5. You have the time and resources to visit them in the future

Even though Gaia will return to Italy at the end of June (we don’t like to think about that), I know I will be the first one to visit her in Sardinia – and soon! Since I’m out of college and part of the workforce, I’m going to use some vacation days and head to Italy ASAP. I can’t wait!

If you would like to discover what it’s like to become a host sibling or parent of an AFS exchange student, take the first step and meet the students coming to your area next fall!


Cathy Robinson is a Kansas City-based freelance writer, traveling tech consultant, and postcard enthusiast. Visit her website, The Girl Who Goes, for tips on traveling independently and intentionally, and for more thoughts on how AFS has impacted her life.