From the President of AFS-USA Regarding COVID-19

From the President of AFS-USA Regarding COVID-19

Dear AFS-USA Volunteers,

As you know better than anyone, AFS-USA is a family affair! Many people help to prepare students before, during, and after their study abroad experience. This support includes in-person events that sometimes can include parents and extended family members. In addition to gatherings that support students such as our orientations, many students also have opportunities to go on AFS-sponsored trips and other travel during their exchange in the U.S. There are also times when AFS Exchange Students have members of their families and others from their home countries visit them while in the U.S.

The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic. Beginning immediately and until further notice, AFS-USA has made the decision that all AFS communities in the U.S. will cease holding any in-person student orientations and other events that bring students, volunteers, or host families together. We are also asking you to suspend any AFS group trips or the independent travel of hosted students and to strongly discourage any get-togethers with any family members/people from students’ home countries who may want to visit students. We are working with our partner country colleagues to discourage the visits of natural families. Furthermore, all Belo trips have been cancelled. This is being put into effect immediately and until further notice from AFS-USA. We also ask all volunteers to follow recommendations, requirements and guidelines issued by any of their state or local officials and agencies regarding group gatherings and travel.

We understand that orientations are an essential part of every student’s experience, and our staff will work with teams to transition in-person orientation content to webinars and other on-line formats. Please stay tuned for more information about resources to be provided to volunteers to facilitate their orientation events online locally or for their participants to join national webinars.

While thus far, the cases of people contracting the coronavirus has not been affecting teens like it has been affecting the lives of older people, our AFS-USA communities can contribute to the efforts to interrupt transmission by doing everything possible to practice ‘social distancing’ by avoiding gatherings, AFS-sponsored travel, group trips, and independent travel.

As we are all experiencing, the COVID-19 outbreak is both dynamic and uncertain. In every case, our decisions are informed fully by our values, our mission, our safety pledge, and the best information we have at the time.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT COVID-19: As information surrounding COVID-19 is rapidly changing, we encourage you to visit the websites of the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for more information.

If you have immediate concerns or questions, please direct them to                   

Here are talking points that you may find helpful to share with students and families:

  • As the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak continues to evolve around the globe and particularly here in the U.S., AFS has a responsibility to mitigate the impact of the virus as it relates to every person, family, school, and community.
  • As such, we have made the decision to suspend all in-person student orientations, in-person gatherings, independent travel in the U.S., as well as AFS Trips and Belo USA trips; and we strongly discourage in-person visits to students from their family members and/or acquaintances from their home countries.
  • In addition, we ask that effective immediately, teams will not meet as they have formerly done for in person orientations, including the in-person Pre-Return orientation for hosted participants and the in-person Pre-departure Orientation for outbound students, but will conduct all orientations online.
  • Staff will offer webinar-based national alternatives to these orientations, as well as offer resources to volunteers should they wish to run their own team orientations via Zoom or other video conferencing methods. Please stay tuned for more information about these orientations in the coming weeks.
  • We hope that you understand we are taking these steps for the safety of the AFS Community-at-large; and especially for those host family members, volunteers, staff and participants who may be more vulnerable to the virus, as well as to those outside of the AFS family;
  • Our core values of AFS state that we believe that everyone has the capacity to positively impact their local and global communities. Whether you’re a participant on our program, a host family who has opened their home, or an AFS Volunteer who supports them, we’ve seen firsthand how every AFSer contributes to the overall #AFSeffect and that the safety and well-being of our students, families, and volunteers, are our top priority.

These were difficult decision to make, but we hope you understand that we must do our part in placing our priorities on the health, safety, and well-being of our participants and all members of our AFS family in communities both here and abroad.Thank you for the many ways you are supporting AFS participants and their families and my very best to you and your family during these challenging times.

With warmest regards,

Tara M. Hofmann
President & CEO