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The trip there and first impressions upon arriving

Egypt flag

Soldiers with Guns



I went to Egypt only one year after Anwar Sadat was assassinated.  Security was very tight.  I remember walking down the steps from the plane to the tarmac and seeing soldiers with guns at the bottom!  On the drive to the pension where we spent our first night in country before meeting our families the next morning, more armed soldiers were positioned behind sandbags in windows along the thoroughfare.

I remember wondering if I could handle living in such a place.  That memory overshadows actually meeting my host family the next morning.


Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter und Anwar Sadat i...

Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat in Camp David (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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 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!

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Flag of Indonesia

Feeling alone…and far away


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They brought us to the house and my host mother seemed completely surprised at the woman running the program and myself having arrived there.  My host father was working in the yard, and was wearing shorts and a tank top.

I saw the woman from the local coordinating group talking to him, and even though I didn’t speak any of the language, I could tell exactly what was going on.

She was saying, “Do you remember a month ago when we told you that we might be able to find an American student to stay with you?  Well this is it, he’s here.  Remember when we told you that?”


Indonesian soup bowl

Indonesian soup bowl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Clearly he hadn’t been told that I was coming that day, or any time really, and he may not have even known that he had been given a student.  So the contrast–with what we saw in LA with this informal but organized and deliberate process, and what we saw at our actual homestay, which was this kind of a let’s-see-what-happens attitude.  They were really just kind of playing it by ear.

Of course, over time I realized that it’s just the way things were done and there’s not an emphasis in Indonesian culture on rigorous planning.  It’s just not the same.

I remember getting into my room–and I shared a room with my host brother–and sitting there with my bags as I unpacked, and then feeling alone…and far away.

Flag of Japan

This place is different, and therefore, so cool!



From the jet lag and with the time difference, I was wide awake very early in the morning.  Couldn’t wait to get out and explore my new world.  The house, the neighborhood, and what was around the corner, on the horizon?

I was excited as my surroundings were completely different to what I had known until then.  One of the things that left an impression initially was the difference in the size and design of the homes, the look and feel of the town, and the shopping experience.  Especially supermarkets.

Japan has some very bizarre things that would seem weird by American standards.  A friend and I nicknamed them “bugs and tentacles”.  There are literally octopus parts packaged in those flimsy white Styrofoam plates in clear plastic wrap like we have with hamburger and steaks.  And whole fish packaged the same.



Who in their right mind would buy a salmon as it looks when a bear drags it out of the river, guts, eyes, and head intact?

(Note: now when I visit the States, though, I am appalled by all the disgusting crap that Americans eat, all that processed and junk food.  YUCK.  No wonder obesity is a serious issue.)

My first impression?  Wow!  This is place is different, and therefore, so cool!

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Flag of Greenland

Hey, Lady! You left your bag!


Ilulissat, Greenland

Ilulissat, Greenland, Image by kaet44 via Flickr


 “We stayed for a week in Denmark, and then went to Greenland.

When I first got to Denmark, I was in the airport and I went to the bathroom.  In the United States, there’s usually a box attached to the wall for women’s tampons.

In Denmark, they usually have a bag attached with a clip, and of course I didn’t know this.  This was the first time I was ever out of the country.  I walked in the bathroom and saw this clip with this bag on it and I assumed that it was a place to put the bag that you were carrying.

So this lady had just come out of the bathroom, and I walked in and saw the bag sitting there, so I took it off the hook, and ran out chasing this lady going “Your bag!!”  I stopped and I was like, uhhh, and it dawned on me what the bag was for.

In Denmark we got picked up by a chaperone and we almost missed the flight because the chaperone, who was going to be my AFS contact person and also my Norse teacher up at the school I was going to, bought us extra alcohol.  Once we were on the plane she bought champagne for us to drink!

If only my friends back home could see my teacher buying alcohol for us!  I was in a state of shock.”

Calving Ice Berg in Illulissat Icefjord

Calving Icegerg,Illulissat, Image by via Flickr

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