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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 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: (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.


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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!