The AFS Liaison
The AFS Liaison (aka Community College Cluster Coordinator) is your first point of contact. Liaisons are local volunteers who are dedicated to supporting you. By serving as a sounding board and a personal resource, your Liaison will help guide you through the cultural learning and adjustment that you will experience. Your Liaison will be someone that can offer support from an objective perspective without conflict of interest.
Once a Liaison has been assigned, an email containing his or her name and contact information will be sent to both the host family and the participant.
Liaison Support and Their Responsibility for Monthly Contacts
Liaisons are expected to touch base with the participant and the host family on a monthly basis. Monthly check-ins allow time to explore positive and negative aspects of your respective experiences. They provide the opportunity to speak frankly with someone outside the home who understands AFS and the unique challenges encountered during this experience.
Some of these contacts will be in person, and some may be via email, or chats on social networking platforms like Facebook.
The AFS liaison is also responsible for completing monthly documentation based on input from both the participant and the host family. The monthly contact includes questions like:
- How is the relationship between the family and the participant?
- How is the participant doing with classes?
- How is the participant doing reaching out to make friends?
- How has the participant connected in the community?
- Is the participant considering any independent travel; and if so, have the plans been reviewed and approved by the host family?
- Is the participant aware of any plans for visits from natural family and/or friends from back home? If so, have these plans been approved by the host family?
- Is the participant planning to drive, and if so, have they completed all required documentation to do so legally? Make sure to check in the Guidelines section of this Guide for the driving waiver form.
- How does the participant interact with the host family?
- How does the participant show appreciation to the host family?
- What concerns, if any, does the host family have with the participant adjustment?
Making Effective Use of the Liaison’s Assistance
Cultivate and Maintain the Relationship.
This relationship enables you to process the experience of the program every step of the way.
Contact Your Liaison.
You do not need to wait for your Liaison to contact you. You should feel free to contact your Liaison if you are having a problem, or even if you aren’t!
Even seemingly small issues can grow if left unaddressed. Your Liaison is there to offer advice from a person outside the family with extensive experience and knowledge of AFS. Mediation by a neutral third party often helps each side to better understand the other’s point of view by offering more objective observations and suggestions.
Chain of Communication to AFS Partner offices and sending Families
Even though AFS Community College students are of legal age in the USA, in some other countries the legal age of adulthood can be different. And in many cases, the participant’s natural parents/guardians have signed the AFS Participation Agreement (instead of the participant him/herself). Especially under these conditions, it’s important for AFS USA to keep the AFS Partner office informed if there are ongoing challenges. They, in turn, will keep the participant's parents/guardians informed as well. In order for them to understand and accept decisions made by AFS-USA, the staff must report ahead of time how problems have developed and what efforts are being made to solve them.
Required Liaison Contact
Host Families need to contact the AFS Liaison (or, in the event that the Liaison is not available, AFS staff or another volunteer) in a timely manner for the following reasons:
- If serious issues arise with the participant, including but not limited to: serious illness, injury, or hospitalization; arrest or detention by authorities; violation of local, state or national laws (including under age alcoholic consumption and illegal drug use); potentially harmful or uncooperative behaviors.
- If the participant has had unexcused absences from college, is failing classes, or is having other academic problems.
- If you feel that contact from the sending family (via phone, Skype, or email) interferes with the participant’s adaptation process.
- In the event of any and all changes in the status of the host family, including but not limited to: changes in address, finances, employment, divorce, loss of a family member, criminal arrests, or if anyone over 14 years of age moves into the home.
Participants need to contact the AFS Liaison (or, in the event that the Liaison is not available, AFS staff or another volunteer) in a timely manner for the following reasons:
- If they are planning independent travel – which needs to be reviewed and approved by host family and liaison.
- If they are planning to drive – which needs waiver forms processed.
- If there are concerns with adaptation to the host family rules and expectations.
- If they have medical needs and need assistance from other than the host family.
Contacting AFS in Case of Emergency
An emergency might be a car accident, broken bones, serious illness, and/or any situation in which the police are involved; or any time you feel there is important information which must be communicated immediately.
In case of emergency, call 1-800-AFS-INFO (800-237-4636) and press 9.
If you call outside of business hours, you will be connected to the AFS answering service, which will take down your name, phone number, and the nature of the emergency. This information will then be conveyed to the AFS Duty Officer. The Duty Officer should return your call within fifteen minutes.
If you don’t hear back from the Duty Officer within fifteen minutes, you should call the answering service back and let them know. They will either contact the Duty Officer again or contact the back-up Duty Officer.
The Duty Officer system is available every week night and twenty-four hours a day on the weekends and on holidays. AFS Duty Officers are AFS staff members trained to deal with emergencies at any time.
If an AFS participant is arrested or detained by the police at any time, AFS should be contacted immediately via the AFS Liaison (or other AFS volunteer or staff if your Liaison is unavailable).
If the arrest or detainment occurs after business hours and you cannot contact your AFS Liaison or other volunteer, please contact the Duty Officer immediately by calling 1-800-AFS-INFO (800-237-4636) and dialing 9. A local volunteer, in cooperation with AFS staff, will provide assistance to the participant and his or her natural parents/guardians to obtain legal representation as soon as possible.
It is the policy of AFS-USA that participants never be questioned by authorities without legal representation present due to potential language and cultural barriers. Should police or local authorities contact you or your participant and ask to question the participant regarding a legal matter, please let the authorities know that you need to contact AFS-USA in order to arrange for legal representation for the participant first.
Ending the AFS Program, Interruptions in the AFS Program
On occasion, participants will need to interrupt, or even end their program early. In the cases where the student chooses to remain in the USA, off program, the participant is solely responsible for confirming the parameters of their visa with the College that they are attending. AFS USA does not hold their visa and cannot be held responsible for compliance with their visa requirements.
Here are some definitions that AFS USA uses regarding ending the program.
Program Termination: This is when the participant is released from the program involuntarily. Because the students are on visas administered by the college, the participant on the college program may choose to stay in the USA under their own financial, legal and medical auspices. If the participant chooses to return home, they should arrange their return transportation with the AFS office in their home country.
Program Release: This is when the participant chooses to end the program for their own reasons. Many times, this is because they wish to return home (e.g. tests for university admission, family death or illness, etc.). The Program Release is also used when the student decides to stay longer in the USA. The participant should communicate directly with the AFS office in their home country to arrange the return flight.
Emergency Travel Home: Sometimes students return home for family emergencies, and then come back to continue their program. The AFS Liaison can assist in arranging this with the AFS USA office.