The Winter Cycle

Happy holidays and wishes for a joyful new year from your AFS Participant Support Staff. We hope you and your hosted student are well. This is the second part of a quarterly series to guide you and your student through the stages of the exchange experience.

Host Family Handbook

At this point, you should have a copy of AFS-USA’s “Host Family Handbook.” If you do not have one, please download it here (PDF). As stated in “A Self-Directed Guide” handbook section:

"By using this handbook throughout the experience, you and your family will be better able to:

  • Develop realistic expectations about hosting an AFS participant
  • Integrate the AFS participant into your family so that he or she becomes a fully-functioning member of the family
  • Help the AFS participant adjust to our culture and learn our language
  • Deal most effectively with the challenges which will arise during the year
  • Support the AFS participant as she or he learns and grows throughout the experience
  • Support AFS in upholding our standards, policies and procedures.

The handbook provides you and your family with practical information on how to help your AFS participant adjust as well as information on rules and procedures related to participant travel, medical concerns, school registration, and miscellaneous expenses. It will also give you suggestions on how to cope with the cultural differences that will arise between your family and your AFS son or daughter."

We encourage you to become familiar with the handbook’s contents and refer to it when necessary.

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Culture Shock

At this stage, reviewing the “cross-cultural adjustment cycle” may be helpful in understanding changes of behavior in your host son or daughter. He or she may be experiencing “culture shock” and may have feelings of frustration, anxiety, exhaustion, and may even have lower resistance to illness. The “Adjusting to a New Culture” section of the handbook provides more information on these challenges and gives specific steps you can take to help your host student avoid the more serious impacts of culture shock.

Remember that the AFS orientations are scheduled with this “adjustment cycle” in mind and are designed to provide your family and student with the support, information and skills needed to experience a rewarding year. Please check with your local liaison for the specifics regarding AFS orientations in your community or if you need assistance in between meetings.

In addition to the normal adjustment issues inherent to the cross-cultural adjustment cycle, it is likely that your student will be experiencing some degree of homesickness at this time of the year. The holidays are times when people think more intensely about friends and family and this could result in feelings of sadness. Please keep this in mind as your student may need an extra dose of TLC!

You should already be in contact with your local liaison, and we remind you that this person is available to address any concerns that arise throughout the AFS year. If you do not know who your liaison is, please contact the Participant Support Team at 800-AFS-INFO.

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School Policy

Please be aware that AFS students are required to attend school and abide by all school guidelines and policies.

Every AFS student should be prepared to make an honest effort in school – even if they have already graduated in their own country. AFS expects students to do their best in school, within each individual’s abilities, taking into account the fact that they may not be fluent in the English language and that they are going through the stressful process of becoming familiar with a new culture.

Host families are asked to please contact their local liaison if they find their host son or daughter is having any problems at school or if the school expresses concerns to them.

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Balance Billing for Health Care Services

As you know, Global Medical Management, Inc. (GMMI) is the third party administrator that handles insurance claims for students on an AFS program. GMMI negotiates with medical providers to reduce their costs even after they have provided the medical service. Medical providers often agree to forgo part of their fee, but sometimes they may still send the part of the bill that was not paid to the host family. This practice is called "balance billing" and is illegal in some states. If you receive a bill for all or part of a medical expense that you thought was covered under the Participant Medical Plan, let GMMI know. Send them an email (customerservice@gmmusa.com) with the details of the claim and describe the bill you received.

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In Case of Emergency

In case of an emergency call 1-800-AFS-INFO (237-4636) and press 9.

In the event of an emergency outside of regular business hours, you will be put in touch with the AFS Duty Officer. When you press 9, you will first be connected to the AFS answering service, which will take down your name, phone number, and the nature of your emergency. This information will then be conveyed to the AFS Duty Officer. The Duty Officer should return your call within fifteen minutes. If you do not hear back from the Duty Officer within fifteen minutes, you should call the answering service back and let them know. They will either send a second page or contact the back-up Duty Officer for you. The Duty Officer system is available every weeknight and twenty-four hours on the weekend and on holidays. AFS Duty Officers are AFS staff members trained to deal with emergencies at any time.

The above information is also found in the “How Do We Contact AFS in Case of Emergency?” section of the “Host Family Handbook.”

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Table of Contents

1. Host family handbook
2. Culture Shock
3. School Policy
4. Balance Billing for Health Care Services
5. In Case of Emergency
5. The Big 3 AFS Rules



Quick Tip

The Big 3 AFS Rules
There are three things which lead to an automatic early return of an AFS student to his/her home country. They are: NO HITCHHIKING, NO DRIVING (of cars, trucks, motorcycles, motor scooters, motorized bicycles, airplanes, or any other vehicle that requires a license), and NO ILLEGAL DRUGS.