COVID-19 Sending FAQs for Volunteers

COVID-19 Sending FAQs for Volunteers

Frequently Asked Questions Concerning AFS-USA Sending Programs

Please find below a list of frequently asked questions to aid you in your work as a sending volunteer. Quite a few adjustments have been made to how we provide AFS experiences to U.S. students and this information may help you in setting expectations and answering the questions of your applicants and their parents/guardians.

NOTE: New questions/responses will be posted as they become available. Please bookmark this page and refer to it regularly.

Sending Staff

Let’s start with providing an update on the staffing to support sending recruitment and placement. Prior to the pandemic and its impact on our financial well-being, we had fifteen or more staff focused exclusively on sending recruitment for core/flagship programs. This number included the Study Abroad Specialists, the Study Abroad Field Specialists, the Scholarships/ Faces of America team, and the Visas & Compliance team.

Today, this department consists of only two people – Caitlin Schneider and Justin DeAndrade. As you can imagine, the nature of their work has changed significantly; not only have they had to take on and learn new processes, but they’ve also had to sort out alternative ways to provide information to applicants, parents, and to you, in a manner that consumes far less time than a phone call but efficiently provides the answers that are being sought. As you can imagine, it has been a challenging time and you’ve no doubt felt the resulting lack of regular updates.

While Caitlin and Justin are working hard to provide good service and advice to everyone, they rely on your help more than ever, whether it’s helping answer a parent/guardian’s questions, motivating students to complete their applications, or, of extreme importance, conducting student interviews, your role in the sending process is central to helping us ensure that our programs will be able to rebound.

What are some of the specific tasks with which AFS-USA sending volunteers can assist?

I can’t stress enough the importance of conducting (or appointing someone to conduct) the student interviews which, as you probably know, can all be done over Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc. Completing these in a timely manner helps to speed the process along significantly.

Until now, most of the students, parents, and guardians are accustomed to having had a significant camaraderie with a Study Abroad Specialist. Last month, that familiar voice of guidance and reassurance was no longer available which, as we can all understand, created a concern around AFS’ stability and, in turn, our capacity to care for our students during their program.

You can help us by stepping in and becoming that guiding and reassuring voice so that they remain committed to having an AFS experience. While you can’t be expected to have all of the nitty-gritty information on all of the countries, programs, and processes (as was generally the case with the staff dedicated to sending), your voice of assurance and direct communication with Justin and Caitlin will help to retrieve the answers/info and provide it to them through direct human engagement – an important component of the process and much of which we’ve lost.

What about the programs? Are they even expected to take place?

The good news is that despite all the uncertainties around international travel, most applicants (and their parents) have indicated that they want to take a “wait and see” approach since the future remains so unpredictable. In other words, they still want to have their AFS experience!

The challenge for the AFS global network is largely related to the roadblocks and regulatory actions being taken by governments, airlines, etc. Families are still eager to host and students still want to travel and, in response, we (the global network of AFS organizations) have not given up!

Of course, the situation varies from country to country. As is the case here in the US, many AFS partners have had to re-evaluate the number of participants that they are able to host on Fall 2020 programs. Some AFS partners made the decision to cancel their Fall 2020 programs while others had to reduce the number of participants they can host. Over the past several weeks Caitlin and Justin have been working closely with our AFS partners and sending families to finalize which participants are able to have an AFS experience this year. For participants that were unfortunately not able to secure a spot for this Fall, they were given the option to rollover to a 2021 program or to withdraw their application and receive a full refund. We are happy that many participants and their families are still eager to have an AFS experience and have made the decision to participate in a program next year.

Regardless of the realities of hosting countries, and how willing and eager students are to go on the program, we must place their health and safety at the center of any decisions we make. To gauge a country’s suitability to send and/or host students, AFS International has provided the AFS network with a series of indicators which each partner is to use to evaluate their ability to host incoming exchange participants and send outgoing study abroad participants.

These indicators include: 

•    Government restrictions on entry to the country
•    Government restrictions on travel within the country (trains, buses, etc.)
•    International travel
•    Restrictions on facilities and supplies (shops, restaurants, sports, and cultural activities, etc.)
•    Availability of schools and willingness to accept exchange students at this time
•    Hospitals and government preparedness status

Before deciding whether a program can run, these indicators will be assessed in detail. Of course, this will be a continuing evaluation as we hope to see changes in guidelines and restrictions in the coming months. In addition to these international guidelines, AFS-USA will also need to respond to certain indicators to ensure that we are able to provide applicants with an opportunity to study abroad.

These indicators include:

•    Travel restrictions from the US government
•    Ability to obtain visas
•    Accessibility of international travel

This process will also determine each program’s viability 30 days prior to an applicant’s scheduled departure. If a program does not meet the necessary criteria (or circumstances change) within the 30 days prior to departure, the scheduled departure will be changed to a later date.

As of this time, the network has proposed a series of staggered arrivals in each host country in anticipation of necessary delays.

What is the Status of U.S. Department of State Programs CBYX, YES Abroad, and NSLI-Y year programs?

The Department of State notified us that the students for these programs will not travel abroad until January 2021. ECA has asked that Sponsored Programs staff along with our AFS partners overseas prepare to deliver virtual programming during the fall in advance of January departures. Staff will continue to provide updates about programming once we confirm the virtual curriculum.

What about visas?

We are concerned about the visa process. Even with the later departure date, we expect delays in being able to provide the most up-to-date information and requirements for visa applications. Likewise, we expect delays in the processing of visa applications by the consulates and embassies. Despite this, we are motivated by the recent reopening of many consulates and embassies and we will continue to work with applicants in determining what steps we can take and when. Please direct students who have specific visa/travel document questions to Caitlin and/or Justin.

What about orientations?

Given the lower number of outbound participants, the uncertainties surrounding departure dates as described above, and the need to hold only virtual AFS events, AFS-USA will be holding a series of virtual PDOs (Pre-Departure Orientations) beginning the week of July 27. The PDO webinars will focus on the intercultural learning aspects of the student preparation. Staff will be working with members of the Orientation Advisory Group to plan and implement these virtual PDOs and they will share related details with volunteers and outbound participants and their parents in mid-July. In addition, beginning the week of July 20, Caitlin and Justin will be offering Pre-Program Prep Webinars covering topics such as the AFS Support Chain of Communication, Cultural Adjustment, AFS program policies, etc. Gateway orientations will not take place in the NH20 cycle, instead, participants will receive detailed written information regarding their flight itinerary and travel safety protocols on a rolling basis prior to departure.

When will Students Depart on Program?

For the NH20 cycle, the entire network has flexible arrival dates based on the criteria listed above. The biggest challenge will be for those students who will need to receive visas prior to departing. Other students will travel as tourists with visa documents to apply for a resident visa upon arrival. AFS Partners work within a “Master Travel Plan’ structure so we can easily see when students travel. Given the challenges with COVID-19, AFS partners can have multiple arrival dates with additional dates being negotiated partner to partner. At this time, we are developing a way to provide volunteers with a chart of preliminary planned departure/return dates.

Communicating International Flight Information to Students

With the challenges of the visa process, AFS-USA will not purchase an international ticket until a student has received their visa and/or there is notice that US citizens are permitted to enter the country. Therefore, international flight details may not be received by students until a week prior to departure.

We will continue with our travel notification process that will be emailed to students and their families. Students will also be able to view their flights on their dashboard. We will also email the international e-ticket receipt to students and their families prior to departure. This email will include any travel/country specific details they will need. As volunteers, you can continue to view the international travel/travel notification in a student’s travel tab.

If you have questions regarding international travel for students, please contact us at

Medical Coverage:

The AFS Medical Plan will continue to respond solely to immediate illness and/or injury, anything considered routine or preventative will NOT fall under the Travel Medical Plan and will be the responsibility of the student and their parents/guardians.

Some topics to consider when speaking with students:

1. Who covers the cost of COVID-19 tests required prior to departure from the home country? The student’s parents/guardians are responsible for the COVID-19 testing costs. The AFS Medical Plan responds to participants who get injured or sick while they are on program.

2. Who covers the costs of COVID-19 tests required by the hosting country upon arrival? The student’s parents/guardians. This is in line with common practice, i.e. if a participant arrives in the host country and needs a vaccination to enter school, the participant pays for that.

3. If during the program a participant goes to the doctor and requires tests to determine if the participant has COVID-19, who covers those costs? The AFS Medical Plan covers costs related to diagnosis and treatment of illness. From that perspective as an insurer, this is not categorized as specifically related to COVID-19, but, rather, it is categorized as an illness. If a doctor orders a test, then it is a covered expense. If a school requires an additional test for a new period, then the sending family would pay.

How can I review the status of my team’s study abroad students?

Our change to Salesforce has unfortunately coincided with the many other changes that we have listed above. This NH20 cycle is the first full cycle that students completed their applications in Salesforce. One area that has been a challenge is the integration between Salesforce and Global Link. Over the past year the Study Abroad Team has worked closely with AFS-International to make improvements and this process is ongoing.

To easily identify students in your area team that are confirmed to participate on a Fall 2020 program we created a filter in Global Link:

1. On the Service Case Screen, select ‘Load Pre-defined filters’
2. Check ‘Show all pre-defined filters’
3. Search ‘Fall’ and Load the “Fall 2020 Sending Students” filter.

4. Add your area team name and click Search.
To view the overall application pipeline in your area team, please use the search fields indicated below (in yellow) within a Service Case search in GL:
Be sure that the Service Type is set to Participant, Service Status is set to Open, and that you’ve entered the Program Code and Area Team, and that the Salesforce Stage is set to Confirmed, Purchase, Onboarding, and Participation.

  • Confirmation: Applicant is working on their full AFS application and is not yet confirmed to go on program. This is also the stage that applicants need their sending interview.

  • Purchase: Applicant has been accepted and is confirmed to participate on an AFS Program.
  • Onboarding: Applicant is in the final stage and is preparing for their departure.
  • Participation: Applicant is officially on program!

We know that the Sending Widget is missed, and we had hoped to relaunch a new and improved version of it. Unfortunately, this project has been put on hold for the time being but once the capacity is available, the Sending Widget implementation will be a priority. You can still identify which of our two Study Abroad staff are linked to your team on the AFS Staff Contacts section in MyAFS, so feel free to reach out to either Justin or Caitlin as listed on that page.

With all of these considerations and challenges, it goes without saying that flexibility and patience are essential. We hope this information is helpful to you and thank you for your help and support.

With warm regards,

Melvin Harmon
Chief Officer of Marketing, Customer Experience, and Strategic Advancement