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Monday, November 14, 2005

Exchange Programs - American Field Service (AFS)

Fancy living as a local in a foreign country? Just google "exchange programmes", and within an approximation of 0.08 seconds, a list of about 3 million organisations providing such programmes appears en masse on your screen. Just a few famed international organisations amongst the many in Malaysia which cater to students interested in exchange programmes are Rotary International, Lions International and the American Field Service. Amongst its peer organisations, the American Field Service, is popular amongst Malaysians, evident in the number of Malaysian youths becoming a part of the AFS family which is exponentially growing from year to year. So why the AFS? As its website quotes, it's 50 years old, and is the oldest high school student exchange organisation, it's only organisation to have been awarded the United Nations Testimonial Citation for services to youth and has the greatest diversity of programme lengths and destinations in the market.

The American Field Service(AFS), which started out as an ambulance service by an American soldier was founded in 1914 to transport wounded French soldiers to hospitals. Being a non-profit, non-governmental and entirely voluntary organisation, it aims to promote international peace and understanding amongst today's generation through intercultural learning opportunities. It is primarily due to A. Piatt Andrew's selfless initiation that students from all over the world now have the opportunity to participate in various intercultural programmes, ranging from short-term programmes, lasting approximately 3 months, to long-term "gap year" programmes, in which students have the opportunity to localise themselves in a foreign country for a year. The types of programmes vary from country to country. AntarabudayaMalaysia or ABM(as AFS is known in Malaysia), offers the Intensive, Semester and Year programmes for students up to 18 years of age. Although AFS in general also caters to young adults above 18, unfortunately, as far as I know, ABM does not as yet have such programmes available, despite a newly initiated "Educator's" programme being available in Malaysia hosting foreigners interested in environmental, educational work, and community service.

The Intensive Programme lasts usually 8 weeks, and students in Form3 to Form5 are eligible, whilst as the duration for the Semester programme is 6 months, and the Year programme, a year, only Form5 students are eligible to apply. The list of countries available for application is extensive and largely depends on the type of programme you are interested in. For example, the Intensive programme the new additions to long-standing Spain, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and France are China, Finland, South Africa and Turkey. As for the Year programme, one may have the option of choosing from the US, Argentina, Hungary, Australia, Germany, Japan, or New Zealand.

The cost of an exchange programme, I must admit is rather exorbitant, with an Intensive programme costing RM10,000 and a Year programme, RM20,000. The sum basically covers return flight and departure tax, international insurance, pre-departure camp and post return camp in Malaysia, arrival camp, delayed orientation, end of stay camp and other activities in host country, any travel cost incurred from airport to host-family from hosting place to any camp sites, 24 hour emergency support while in host country, medical insurance, enrollment at hosting school, screening of host families, and administrative and international communication costs. Please, however bear in mind that I'm writing from knowledge of fees from 4 years ago, so please do check out for increment in fees. As for those keen on participating, but cannot afford the imposing costs, worry not, scholarships are aplenty, like the Mercator Foundation Scholarship, Yayasan ABM, and Yayasan Sime Darby, and Youth Exchange and Study Programme just to name a few.

After submitting your applications, you will be called for an interview depending on the area you live in. The interview session is not at all intimidating, as is widely misconceived. As the AFS prefers bold, enthusiastic, outgoing and versatile students who possess good communication and social skills, you will be put through a series of
fun games requiring maximum interaction. Like an assessment, if you like. You will meet a lot of people of your age who are also like you, keen on learning about a foreign culture. This is not to say that you will not have to go through an interview for selection purposes, however. The questions posed are quite simple really, ie, why you want to participate in the programme, how you will promote Malaysia to your foreign friends..etc At their very meanest, the interviewers may put you in a difficult hypothetical situation, of which you will be asked how to handle. I don't suggest stressing yourself out for the interview as at the end of the day, you'll find that you've had more fun than worry or anxiety at the session. Also, don't bother preparing notes for your interview to regurgitate your answers from to avoid sounding totally superficial and mechanical, although it would be wise to take a think about why you are interested in the programme.

A word of advice, though, assuming you have been successful in your interview, you are no necessarily guaranteed a place in the country of your choice This is because AFS has to perform rigorous screening and selection processes for maximum compatibility of host families to ensure a pleasant learning experience for both the student and the host family.

Good luck! Be sure to visit www.afs.org.my for more details on the particular programme you are most interested in.

By Jollivet Ng

Jollivet Ng, an 18 year old A-levels student in Kolej Yayasan UEM(KYUEM), Lembah Beringin, is an AFS returnee of Spain 2001/2002. A former student of SMK(P) Sri Aman, Jollivet is a self professed globe trotter, and enjoys crossing borders and boundaries to learn about cultures and languages foreign to her tame senses. She is optimistic about another exchange programme in the near future.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

To whom it may concerned,

Thanks very much for sharing your experience and developing such website for youngsters and even adults to view. I hope that there will be more useful information that can be shared to viewers here.

8:34 PM

Blogger ikanbilis said...

oh cool! an AFS article! i'm a returnee of Egypt(first batch!)05/06 IP program

3:02 AM


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