The name “AFS – American Field Service” and the commitment has remained the same since the beginning. Many other things have changed and developed. AFS Intercultural Programs is the largest and oldest non-profit youth exchange organisation with 43’00 active volunteers worldwide. Up to today over 476’300 teenagers, adults and host families have participated in AFS programs. AFS offers the most destinations out of all the international exchange organisations and continuously works to add more countries to the list.

American Field Service

1914, after the outbreak of World War I, American students in Paris founded the American Field Service. The first AFSers sign up as voluntary military medics and ambulance drivers to retrieve wounded soldiers from the battle fields.

In 1917 AFS had grown to 2’500 volunteers and had helped and transported more than 500’000 wounded. The work and mission was continued during World War II, especially in Europa, Northern Africa, the Middle East, India and Burma.

AFS Ambulance drivers

“During that time we learned to discard prejudices and build understanding for different ways of living.”

Cultural exchange to promote peace

After having endured the horrors of war, some of the returned ambulance drivers decided to commit themselves to creating a more peaceful world. They were convinced that young people, who lived in a foreign country and experienced a different culture would return with a new appreciation for our diverse world and hence focus to make the world more peaceful and just and prevent future world wars.

The first youth exchange programs arose out of the belief that a worldwide intercultural exchange would have a positive effect on the world. The longing for intercultural understanding and peace spurred that idea.

In the beginning young people from the war-torn Europe travelled to the US and lived a year in an American host family. Some years later, it was also possible for American youngsters to spend some time in Europe and bit by bit the AFS program catalogue was expanded.

1950s – The exchange between the US and Switzerland begins

In 1953 AFS Switzerland was founded and added to the international network. Already in the same year the first Swiss students started their exchange year. They travelled across the Atlantic, from Rotterdam to the US, aboard the Seven Seas.

In 1955 the first 37 exchange students from the US came to Switzerland for a 2 month Summer Programm.

In 1959 eleven participants from the US spent a whole year in Switzerland.

1960s - A more peaceful world

On July 18, 1963 President John F. Kennedy held a speech in front of the White House, addressing AFS participants. During the 1960s the US presidents would often meet with participants before they travelled back home, a tradition that is upheld until today.

In 1964 Stephen Galatti, one of the founders of the American Field Service passed away. By this time AFS programs already included over 60 countries worldwide.

1966 the AFS Switzerland office is opened at Gessnerallee in Zurich.

1970s - The network grows

After 1971 the AFS programs became multinational and the exchange between all the AFS countries started.

1972 AFS initiated the “AFS Educators Program” in the Soviet Union and Poland and later expanded it to South America, Jordan and Ghana.

1980s - Independence and UNESCO Award

In 1989 AFS was honoured by UNESCO for its outstanding work towards peace and international understanding. In the same year the AFS organisations of Switzerland, Italy, Denmark and Australia became separate legal entities from AFS headquarters in the US. Today, all the other AFS organisations followed suit and they are all bound together by the “Articles of Partnership”, signed in 1990.

1990s - Volunteer work world wide

In 1996 the first AFS volunteers participated in community service programs in South Africa. They were AFS returnees, who wanted to continue their work for the AFS mission even after their exchange program. Since then, the programs for adults have continuously developed. Today the participants can decide between volunteer work, university programs and internships and a big variety of topics and areas.

2004 AFS Foundation

40 years after Stephen Galatti’s passing the AFS Foundation was founded by AFS ambulance driver and Life Trustee Ward Chamberlin Jr. and other members. The foundation was dedicated to Stephen Galatti and his life’s work. It is meant to uphold the development and quality standard of the organisation and secure it for the future.


2007 Moving to a new address

In 2007, the AFS office of AFS Switzerland moved to its current address at Kernstrasse 57 in Zurich. Selection interviews with future participants, parents’ evenings and information events are regularly held there.


2011 Intercultural learning

Between 2005 and 2006 a lot of studies were conducted to find out about the influence of an exchange year on young people. In 2011 a new intercultural learning program originated on these findings. The so-called Intercultural Link Learning Program consists of several learning phases and an assessment program. It enables staff and volunteers worldwide to better support AFS participants, host families and schools alike during their learning process.

2013 - 60 years AFS Schweiz

In 2013 AFS Switzerland celebrated its 60th anniversary and organised several events and activities to adequately commemorate it. On March 23, 2013, at the 56th General Assembly, the anniversary was rang in. After the assembly the participants had the opportunity to exchange stories with returnees and others and enjoy the rest of evening. There were several speeches during the dinner. Speakers included the American deputy ambassador and Trustee Don Mohnlal. Also attending were the cultural attaché of the American Embassy and the national directors of AFS Japan and Austria.

Another highlight were the panel discussions with participants from 1953 and recently returned participants. Throughout the year there were different celebratory events, like a vernissage about exchange during year ten of high school or the first ever aperitif for returnees, who celebrate their 5th, 10th, or 20th anniversary.

AFSer congratulate AFS Switzerland to their 60th anniversary

2014 - 2015 AFS Centennial

In 2014-2015 AFS celebrated their centennial. The highlight was a big festivity in Paris in November 2014, where over 1’200 members of the worldwide AFS community from over 57 countries came together. From the beginnings as American Field Service to the AFS Organisation it is today, the main goal has always been to enable as many participants as possible to have the adventure of a lifetime and promote intercultural understanding. As a part of the celebration two high-class panel discussion were held at the UNESCO Headquarters. There was also an AFS Returnee Day, where over 700 returnees came together to reminisce about their exchange and their experiences and share it with other participants. Furthermore there were workshops about several intercultural topics, an elegantgala dinner, and an exhibit dedicated to the volunteers of the wartimes.

AFS Partnerships

AFS Switzerland is a member of several organisations that focus on youth exchange and youth development. Most of the European AFS Organisations, like Switzerland, are a member of EFIL (European Federation for Intercultural Learning).

Intermundo, the Swiss umbrella association for youth exchange, unites different Swiss non-profit organisations, who reach a certain quality standard. AFS Switzerland is a qualified member since 2008.

It is also one of the founding members of sentio, a network of organisations who offers exchange possibilities for adults. With this partnership, we can provide an intercultural experience for almost anyone.

AFS Today

Our core work

AFS Switzerland operates mostly in three areas. We offer exchange and intercultural experiences for three different target groups: Students between the ages of 15-18, apprentices and adults (18+). The participants can choose between over 50 destinations worldwide and the volunteer opportunities abroad can be specifically tailored to each person. The goal is to provide intercultural experiences to everyone, from which they can benefit later in life and that helps them to better navigate our complex and multicultural world.

AFS also supports the participants and their host families during their intercultural learning experience. We give them important practical and theoretical knowledge and tools which facilitate mutual respect, understanding and appreciation of different cultures. The orientation camps and handbooks offer instructions on how to react during complex intercultural conflict situations and how to find constructive solutions.

AFS is a volunteer-based organisation hence the importance of all our volunteers. They work tirelessly and closely with our participants and support them during their exchange experience and spread the AFS mission in the whole world through their motivation and passion.