Read This Recently Published Opinion Editorial Piece by Tara Hofmann

Read This Recently Published Opinion Editorial Piece by Tara Hofmann

A variety of US news outlets have recently published (or will soon publish) an opinion editorial piece authored by Tara Hofmann, AFS-USA President and CEO. Each article has been tailored to the region(s) served by the individual news publications with an aim toward making the case for the value of student exchange and the increasingly important role it plays in our current national (and global) discourse.

Below are links to the most recent instances of the op-ed’s publication. (For best results, we recommend using your browser’s “incognito” tab function since some of these sites limit access to a certain number of views unless you are a paid subscriber.)
Chicago Sun Times
Albuquerque Journal
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The Buffalo News

If you are unable to access the articles, here is the text of the Chicago Sun Times article: 

Chicago needs more host families for international exchange students.

Plenty of high schools want to accommodate international exchange students. We just need more host families, of all backgrounds, to accommodate them.

As the president and CEO of a nonprofit organization that is a leader in international high school student exchange in the United States, I have seen first-hand the lifelong impact people experience when students from other countries spend a year with an American host family, becoming a member of a community while studying in high school.

I’ve worked in the field of high school student exchange for well over 35 years, and I am still inspired daily by the transformations that occur — not only in the lives of exchange students, but in the people who host them.
The exact phrase I hear nearly every time — whether the exchange is new or happened years ago — is “This changed my life.”Most of us experienced loneliness and isolation during the pandemic, when we were unable to travel and unable to gather with those we know and love. As we heal from the pandemic’s impact on travel and fellowship with friends and family, we also need opportunities to come together for dialogue and shared experiences that can bridge divides that were formed during our isolation.

We are experiencing unrest nationally, but also globally, with the war in Ukraine and economic woes in countries such as Germany, Greece, South Africa, and Singapore.

In many ways, calming divisiveness is part of AFS-USA’s heritage. AFS, originally known as American Field Service, was created to combat the conflict and nationalism that fueled the world wars. We see the same need today to foster understanding among cultures and of being more inclusive — meeting other people that you would not meet under normal circumstances.

Talk with anyone who has studied abroad, and you will hear the story about a life transformed. Even more remarkable, meet a person who has hosted a student from another country and culture, and learn how the simple act of opening one’s home is life-changing — and makes a difference.

Here in Illinois, home to some of the greatest icons representing the Midwest — the Bean, Navy Pier, Willis “Sears” Tower, deep dish pizza, Chicago dogs, the Air and Water show, the friendly people — there are schools that want to accommodate international exchange students. We just need a lot more people, of all backgrounds, who are willing to host them.

Recently I spoke with two host families. One host mother shared with me how the experience allowed her children to learn about different cultures and perspectives. She told me a heart-warming story about a student from Liberia who joyfully won an inflatable baseball bat at a neighborhood carnival. This small moment showed the host mother the importance of even the little things for the student, and how valuable these experiences can be. Another host parent talked about the time her family went apple picking with their international student from Nigeria.

These everyday, simple activities that many of us take for granted in our own lives become indelible lifelong memories.

AFS-USA has been working alongside the U.S. Department of State for most of AFS’s 75-year history of conducting international student exchange. We’ve been proud to work to bring German and Japanese students to the U.S. within a short time of the end of World War II. Post-9/11, we were among a small group of like-minded organizations working with the Department of State to broaden exchange between the U.S. and countries with significant Muslim population, to foster the dialogue, shared family relationships, and experiences that would build mutual understanding and enduring ties.

Host families represent American diversity, and this enriches and strengthens the experience of our students. Anyone can get involved and should.

In the end, exchanges create global citizens who go out into the world to make it a better place for us all.

Right now is the perfect time to get off the sidelines. Why deny yourself, and an international student, a once-in-a-lifetime experience?

Tara Hofmann is president and CEO of AFS-USA. For more information on AFS-USA, to welcome or host an exchange student in your community, or to volunteer with AFS-USA, visit