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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: (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.

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I just had an interest in international travel.  It was totally self motivated.  I always thought that it was nice that these foreign students could come here.  It sounded like a wonderful opportunity.

I grew up in a town where AFS was quite active.  They hosted several students a year and had a selection process which started with a large group of kids who were interested, then they had interviews, and then the application stage that whittled down to three of us.  Once we were selected from our community, we met up in New York City and the AFS staff matched us up to where they thought was a good fit.  Back then we couldn’t request a country, only a hemisphere, and I had requested the southern hemisphere because I wanted to go to Australia or New Zealand.  But instead they came back and said you’re going to South Africa and this is your family.

I found out the beginning of December and left about Jan 18, 5-6 weeks ahead of time. The phone call came in and they said you’re going to South Africa, and we in our ignorance had to run to the globe to check out where it was.  A whole education process began.  My parents were not particularly supportive of it.  What was I getting into?  My parents were incredibly concerned because it was shortly after the Soweto Riots, and there was a lot of unrest in the country.  I know my parents called the State Department to find out if it was safe and should I be going.  The news was not at all positive.  In hindsight, as I’m thinking about it, I was lucky that they agreed to let me go because there was a lot of concern back in the late 70’s.



Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa

Afghanistan flag

Well, Dave, you’re going to Afghanistan.

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Steve: So then when you decided and you actually did the paperwork and all that, how did your parents feel about it?

David:  I think they were pretty cool.  I think they were pretty encouraging.  My parents in general, with regards to things like sports and general interests, tried to be fairly neutral.  I think there was a philosophical decision, that they’d seen a lot of parents pushing kids this way and that way.  They kind of had a hands-off.  But the fact that they had been involved with AFS, I think, was a tip to me that they were interested in that kind of bigger world vision.


So I think the big shock really was when I found out I was going to Afghanistan. Glossy World Globe


Steve: What was that like? When you found out?

David:  I still recall mom calling me at school, so it would have been at Scottsdale High.  I had a mes sage, “call your mom,” or something.


I called and she said, “Well Dave, I found out where you’re going.”  And I said, “Woo!  Where?”  And she said, “Afghanistan.”


And I think my first reaction was, “Well, where’s that?”  And then she said, “Well, you know I had to look it up, too,” and she described it to me, you know, like it’s west of Pakistan and east of Iran, you know, south of the Soviet Union or something.

So I ran.  I seem to recall hanging up and running to one of the school rooms to look on the globe, and it was just breathtaking because I — I mean, I just assumed that because most AFS students go to Europe or Latin America, that’s what I would do.  So I was kind of, I guess, dumbfounded.  That would be the word.  But excited.  I thought, whoa, I mean, it would be exotic to go anywhere, but to go there was completely unexpected.