Way (way) back in 1977 I was fortunate enough to be able to experience an AFS Intercultural Exchange to the USA. I spent twelve months living with a wonderful family in Southern California, attending high school and lapping up all that year had to offer. It has been one of the highlights of my life!
Back then instant messaging was only possible to people standing next to you and social media was yet to be invented. Upon returning from my AFS year the most rapid form of communication I had was called an aerogramme. This required writing (with a pen) on paper, folding it then putting postage stamps on it and finding a post box. For this 18 year old lad I regretfully soon drifted away from my letter writing. Over time, with the exception of my host family, I lost contact with many of my international friends.
The AFS moto at the time was… ‘AFS – Turning Places into People’. It could not have been more true, and even today when I hear of world events and tragedies, I think back to the people who I met during that year. There were no differences, just wonderful people sharing our beautiful planet. The AFS programmes and family are just so valuable as we strive for understanding, tolerance and world peace.
Sherry and I met at our USA school. We were both members of the AFS club and both participated in various ways within the fine arts department. We hung out in the same circles and were group friends. We said goodbye to each other as my AFS tour bus left Southern California at the end of my year and that was that. For forty plus years we lived our own lives. We were each married, built our families and were living our lives in different hemispheres with no contact.
In 2017 we each received an invitation. Mine came via a host brother and Sherry’s via her sister. A surprise forty year reunion of the school drama club was being organised for our teacher of that time. I was living in New Zealand and Sherry was living in Alabama. We were both excited to attend as we were at a stage in our lives when we were unexpectedly single and we were looking forward to this opportunity to re-connect with our peers, even though at this stage we hadn’t spared a thought for one another.
Sherry and I met up before the reunion, this time a lot more easily than via aerogrammes, and became instant friends again. The reunion was a huge success and Sherry and I soon discovered love was in the air. After a few trips back and forth across the seas Sherry and I were married in Riverside California in February 2019. Our Children all came from across the world and from across the USA. My AFS host family, which now includes my God children, and USA friends (including school and international AFS students) attended plus our greater families. It was a wonderful and very special time.
Who would have thought that my AFS experience would continue and develop in this way?! We are both now very happily living in New Zealand, enjoying USA visitors and trips back to the USA when we can. What an example of ‘AFS Turning Places into People!’
From both Sherry and I… Thank you AFS!