Archive | August, 2015
Flag of Japan

Felt like a Celebrity

 

 

It was my first time really away from home.  It was exciting!  I was never the homesick type of kid.  I was eager.  I was willing to try everything once [although] I didn’t like everything I tried.  I embraced it all.  I tried to be respectful to customs.

 

They sent us to Seattle first with hundreds of YFU kids there [for a weekend] orientation.  That was sort of like a summer camp, getting to know the kids and learning all the rules and regulations.  In Tokyo, the next day, I got on the bullet train to Hiroshima and that’s when I met the family.

 

Bullet train, Mt. Fuji

Bullet train, Mt. Fuji

 

 

They were there with a little sign waiting for me.  You know it’s going to be awkward because they are strangers, and you weren’t sure if they would speak your language.  I had learned how to say pleased to meet you, so I ran up to them and I bowed and I said “xxx” and they were all giggling and excited that I was speaking Japanese.  They gave me little gifts and right away everyone wanted to touch me.  I think it was just because I’m really pale-skinned.  They whole time I was in Japan everyone wanted to touch me—touch my skin, touch my hair.  You felt kind of like a celebrity, but it was more of a novelty.  They hadn’t seen a lot of Americans.  They gave me gifts right away and hugged me.

 

Then everyone pulled out the dictionary.  [Laughs]  We all carried dictionaries with us everywhere we went.

 

national flag of denmark

Our eyes were so red from crying…

 

 

The last weekend was awful.  I was so sad, but I missed my family and friends at home.  I had the time of my life.  I was blessed to have those people, that family.  The match couldn’t have been more perfect.  An incredible bond.  At the airport all of our friends were there to surprise us and say goodbye.  Our eyes were so red from crying, crying, crying.

 

national flag of denmark

Mom, Dad: I’m leaving in three weeks…

 

I wanted to get away from my parents.  I was the baby of the family and had three siblings 7-10 yrs older.  My parents were solid middle- to upper-class, my mother was a travel agent, and my dad owned his own business.  My mom handled Asia and Europe for years and they traveled extensively all over the world. They were also scuba divers and instructors back in the 60s and went on exotic dive trips.

My mom read an article in the Chicago Tribune about YFU and spending a summer in the Philippines, so she cut it out and gave it to me and said this might be something cool to do.  The year before I found in the back of Boys Life magazine a scuba camp in the Cayman Islands and so I had done that.  We also hosted a problem exchange student from Mexico when I was six and my parents took him in.

 

English: The cover of Boys' Life published Dec...

English: The cover of Boys’ Life published December 1913. Read more: http://www.best-norman-rockwell-art.com/norman-rockwell-boys-life-cover-1913-12-santa-and-scouts-in-snow.html#ixzz1cE1NOO00 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

My parents traveled a lot, and when they did they gave my older brother power of attorney.  They went on a two week trip and I got my brother to sign the application about a month past the due date.  I really wanted to go to Switzerland and Germany because that was my heritage.

Since I had to pick a third country I picked Denmark because a teacher went there and thought it was pretty cool and the people were friendly.  I got a response right away that said Switzerland wouldn’t take me because I was too young and Germany was full and wanted me to wait a year.  But Denmark would take me.

So when my parents got back I went up to them and said, “Hey, I’m leaving in about three weeks and I’ll be gone a year.”  They weren’t against it, but my dad did the math and figured it was cheaper to send a kid away for the year than to keep him.  My Danish parents sent their son to America so they jumped into it without much notice as well, so it was meant to be.

flag of Sweden

What? Eat in the Car?

 

 

When we got close to Stockholm, my family was talking so excited about the drive-thru McDonald’s.  It was a big deal to them and not a common part of their culture.  We pulled up and ordered at the window.  Then Papa pulled into a parking spot and we walked in and got the food and then ate at the table!  I tried to explain the point of drive-thru was to eat in the car. 

What?!  Eat in the car?!

The thought of eating in the car was so unbelievably gross and unnecessary.  If you’re going to eat, then you stop and you sit at a table and who cares if you’re in a rush and have to get somewhere.  I remember being like, wow, okay, I guess you’re right, it is kind of stupid.  Why would you want to pick up your food and eat it in the car when you could stop and sit and talk and socialize a bit and enjoy.  But for us it’s just normal.

 

View image | gettyimages.com

 

Brazil Flag

I cried all the way home

 

 

 

My 3rd family had a huge party for me the night before I left.  I stayed up all night packing.  I had kept putting it off.  I didn’t pack anything until the night before I left.  Friends came over and stayed up all night with me.  I didn’t sleep at all.

I cried.  I spent the last 48 hours crying, crying, crying.  Pictures at the airport show me with puffy eyes.  I was crying all the way home on plane.

All the families came to the party.  Seventy-plus people at the party, catered.  We spent weeks making invitations.  They made all these flags with American and Brazilian colors.  It was quite the scene.  Somehow they rigged a bonfire on a tennis court without burning the tennis court.  It was great fun!

 

National Flag of Belgium

The best 10 days of my life!

 

I was on the last ship to ever sail to Europe, the SS Waterman, and we left July 20th, 1968.

We had 10 days on the ship – 900 students – everyone was going home to their different countries except 26 of us.  Twenty three went to Belgium and three went to Finland.  It was the last ship to take anybody home and we had the whole world represented on that ship, kids from all the European countries.

 

The SS Waterman (aka the AFS Party Boat)

The SS Waterman (aka the AFS Party Boat)

 

 

I fell in love with a boy from India on the very first day I met him.  He was leaving the US after having been there for a year.  We spent ten days and fell madly in love with each other, and we wrote for five years.  He went on to marry some Indian actress and I married my husband.

I had my 18th birthday on the ship and that was fun.  All day long the boys, especially from France, were kissing me.

We had lessons on the ship–in the mornings we had two hours of Dutch, we had to learn Flemish and about Belgium, we had classes, and some free time in the evening.  We learned how to eat the European way—how difficult that was at first and how awkward!  They had movies and dancing and organized games and all kinds of activities on the ship for 10 days.

The world was represented on that ship!

Star-crossed lovers — the movie Titanic

Not quite the SS Waterman…Image via Wikipedia

At the time I as so curious, I loved meeting people with different experiences, I wrote everything down.  We said goodbye to the kids from India and Pakistan—they had to get off a day early—standing on top of the ship and waving goodbye to my new love.

This was like the movie, Titanic.  We kept motioning to each other I love you, and we sailed off and I couldn’t see him anymore.

When we flew back at the end of the year, I was so disappointed that they took the boat experience out of the AFS experience.

That in itself was one of the best ten days of my life!

Enhanced by Zemanta