What is the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program?

High school students from countries with significant Muslim populations live and study for an academic year in the United States through the U.S. Department of State’s Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program.  YES students serve as “youth ambassadors” of their home country, promoting mutual understanding by forming lasting relationships with their host families and communities.  Participants live with a host family, attend an American high school, acquire leadership skills, and engage in activities to learn about U.S. society and values; they also help educate Americans about their home country and culture.

The program officially launched in Kenya in 2008 in hopes to expand communication between the people of the United States and Kenya in order to promote mutual understanding and respect. Since then, over 220 Kenyan students have completed the YES program and now participate as alumni.

The YES program is administered in partnership with the U.S. Department of State by a consortium of non-profit organizations led by American Councils for International Education. In Kenya, AFS Kenya – Organization For Intercultural Education manages the YES program in partnership with the local U.S. Embassy, Public Affairs Office.

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Eligibility Requirements

In keeping with the U.S. Government-sponsored initiatives, dedicated to democratic reform, the competition for the Youth Exchange and Study scholarship is merit-based and open at no cost to all applicants who meet the following requirements:

  • Be between the ages of 15-17.7 (born between January 15, 2005 and August 15, 2007) by the start of program (August 15, 2022);
  • Be enrolled in a secondary school at the time of application;
  • Have the equivalent of a B average or better without failing grades;
  • Meet U.S. J-1 visa eligibility requirements (for instance, U.S. citizens are not eligible for J-1 visa);
  • Be a citizen of Kenya.


Students with Disabilities

The program can support students with disabilities and encourages their participation. The Department of State and the YES program work with Mobility International (MIUSA) to provide students with disabilities leadership-building workshops, appropriate information and support as needed to enhance their year in America. Applicants with disabilities are encouraged to contact [email protected] for information on eligibility.

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Application and Selection

There are multiple rounds to the YES application and selection process. All applicants are required to take an English proficiency exam, write a proctored essay, complete a YES program application, and participate in group and individual in-person interviews. All finalists are selected on the basis of merit.

Applications for the Kennedy-Lugar Youth exchange and Study program for the 2022-23 cycle have now closed. Thank you for expressing interest in the program.

FAQs for Natural Parents

There are multiple rounds to the YES application and selection process. All applicants are required to take an English proficiency exam, write a proctored essay, complete a YES program application, and participate in group and individual in-person interviews. All finalists are selected on the basis of merit.

Applications for the Kennedy-Lugar Youth exchange and Study program for the 2022-23 cycle have now closed. Thank you for expressing interest in the program.

YES participants are placed in volunteer host family homes and into host schools in the United States by established and reputable placement organizations that have competitively been awarded grants by the U.S. Department of State to implement the placement portion of the YES program. While on the program, your child will have regular contact with a trained coordinator in his or her community who will provide support, assistance, and guidance, and who will be in regular contact with the placement organization’s national headquarters.

As the consortium lead on the grant for YES operations, also competitively awarded by the U.S. Department of State, American Councils has a national office in Washington, DC, which cooperates with all placement organizations nationwide and with all overseas recruiting offices. Each country participating in the YES program has an in-country office with at least one permanent employee in each YES country. These staff, who are the main contacts for the parents of YES students, in turn communicate with all organizations placing YES students in host communities.