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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!

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Germany flag

Do you really eat puppies for dinner?


Barbara Pape Kilkka with YFU host father

Barbara with her German host father


On the Fourth of July, I promised to make a secret American meal and holed up in the kitchen all afternoon. Little brother Schorsi kept pestering me about what I was making, and I finally told him, asking for a promise not to tell.

He looked at me horrified when I told him what we were going to have and asked if we really ate that in America. I assured him we did, all the time. When I brought out the fried chicken for dinner, he laughed in relief.

“Oh, haenchen, not hundchen.” (Chicken, not puppies.)

Just a typical and memorable pronunciation error for an exchange student!

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Flag of Afghanistan

John Kennedy, good man, Peace Corps

Logo of the United States Peace Corps.

Logo of the United States Peace Corps. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They loved their king.  He was respected and revered.  When the king went by, my brother and family were just honored they could see him.

That’s our king!

They knew nothing about our president in 1972.  The one president they did remember from the US was John Kennedy, and that was because he sent the Peace Corps over.  My father had named me Esmeri Jon, which meant Dear Lion, almost like you would say Papa-san, a term of endearment.  That was Jon in Farsi and Esmeri meant Lion.

He asked me what my name meant, and I figured here’s my chance to score a goal and I told him that Bob meant lion.

The few words that my father was able to say in English, he said “Esmeri Jon, John Kennedy, good man, Peace Corps.”

That was another life lesson I learned, that when you offer people it would pay dividends years later.  I considered a career in international relations when I came back.

National flag of Germany

Tampons and Tempo tissues


English: Tempo facial tissues Deutsch: Packung...


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You know, here you ask someone for a Kleenex, and Kleenex really is a brand name.  It’s a facial tissue, or whatever you want to call it.

Well, in Germany the brand name is Tempo.  So one time I was in the bathroom towards the beginning of my stay.  The bathrooms, by the way, were really interesting.  I mean, here they’re all clean and well kept; the bathrooms there were, like, crazy.  If you were going to bathroom on Monday or Tuesday you better bring your own toilet paper, ’cause by the end of the week there is definitely none left in the bathroom.

And there was graffiti everywhere.  The school itself wasn’t like that, but the bathrooms were. It was really weird.  I didn’t know until the end of the year that the upper classmen had their own bathroom.

So it was usual, when you went to the bathroom, that some people might ask you if you had any Kleenexes.  But the first time someone asked me, they’re like, hey, do you have a Tempo?  And I thought, of course, that she was talking about a tampon.  It was so embarrassing.

I thank God to this day that I didn’t have one, because can you imagine her face if I would have pulled out a tampon and she really was asking me for a Tempo tissue?

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Flag of Thailand

Mmm, that’s good oyster sauce!


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It’s not really very Thai to call people out on things that are embarrassing.

I’m sure that it must have happened like once or twice I said something kind of funny and my friends were like, “ha-ha,” they would laugh explicitly at me.

But my parents and people like teachers wouldn’t say anything generally.  They might correct me but they would never say anything or give me the actual definition of what I said.

There was one thing though that actually happened after I got back from Thailand and we were hanging out making some Thai food. And in the Thai language, any kind of liquid like soy sauce and fish sauce and things like that, they preface it with nam which is the word for water and liquid.  So fish sauce would be, like, nam pla and nam siew was soy sauce.

And so they have oyster sauce. And the word for oyster is hoi.  It’s the word for like any generic type of shellfish.  It also happens to be a very vulgar way to refer to female genitalia.  I see the analogy there, you know, but it’s a common word.  People use it and say it all the time.

But when they say oyster sauce they don’t say nam hoi, they say sauce hoi, and it’s because nam hoi is, well, the glib female genitalia.  Apparently by the time that I had made it bake to the United States I still had been calling it nam hoi.

So I can only imagine how many times I’d said that cooking in the kitchen with my host mother and she had just, you know, bit her tongue and didn’t say anything.  So, I say, “Oh my God!”

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Flag of South Africa

Afrikaans and English in South Africa


When they took me home, the entire family was there – aunts, uncles, and cousins- and they were having a big barbecue.   It was just really overwhelming.

And although they did speak Afrikaans, they were totally bilingual, so they could speak English.  But generally what would happen is they would start out speaking English for me, and then about halfway through everybody would start speaking Afrikaans — not really realizing what they did.

So, I would find myself falling asleep and people were talking and I just didn’t understand what was going on.  And then everyone said, oh, Kathy, oh, and then they’d start speaking in English again.



On my host dad’s side, he had a brother that lived nearby and his wife was an English speaker.  The way it worked was whatever language the mother had was the language the kids would speak.  So because she was English, all those cousins spoke English.  So most of the time they spoke English, although they were bilingual as well.

Then my mom’s brother also  lived close by, and they were both Afrikaans, so those kids only spoke Afrikaans.  So communicating with the different kids was kind of interesting, getting to know, you know, who could speak what.

But getting used to their slang — they say, “just now” for, like, “in a while” or “later on”.   They knew I played the piano, and they said “we’re going to have you play just now”, and I thought that meant like, this minute.   It would just make me nervous and I would keep forgetting that “just now” actually meant “well, maybe someday”.   So I was all panicked.  But it was like, no, it didn’t mean right then.  It was later.  And by the time I got back to the states I was saying “just now” all the time and people didn’t understand what I was saying.

I was really worried that I was going to do something wrong. 

I was really trying to pay a lot of attention to what I was doing, and catching on to the accent and figuring out what it was they were talking about.  And the kids had a lot of questions for me.  Like, do you really eat peanut butter and jelly?  And I said, yeah.  Because jelly there is Jell-O, and so they were imagining people eating peanut butter with Jell-O.  And I said, well, it’s peanut butter and jam, really.  So, “Oh, okay.  We get it now.”

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