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Get the Globe!



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

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My school uniform was hideous!

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It was so funny to find out that kids are kids everywhere and they do the same kind of cliques no matter where you go. But the way they do their student government was really kind of different.

They have prefects who are kind of like your student council.  There’s a head boy and a head girl, nstead of the president of a class — head boy, head girl.  And then there’s prefects, and the prefects are going around campus enforcing rules and this kind of thing.  So they start to take themselves a little seriously.

We wore school uniforms.  So the prefects had a special piping that went around their blazer, so you could tell that they were prefects.  The boys wore different color ties, that was the main difference, and they had cored piping around their blazer.  It was so funny.

You wear your school uniform to school.  When they do things in leisure, where they could wear their civvies, they would just kind of seem to go overboard.  The girls would just pile on the make-up, ’cause they can’t wear make-up to school, and they just seemed to overdress.  So it just seemed like every night when they would get together it was like they were going to go out to the disco or something.

It was very helpful being able to wear uniforms.  I learned to actually like uniforms, and I wish more schools here would do that.  It just makes it so much easier.  I know as a girl it was so hard, deciding What are you going to wear today, and did I wear that out yesterday?  I can’t remember.  Well, this is what I’m wearing today.  It sure saves a lot of time.

Although, our uniform at my school was very ugly.  It wasn’t like in the States where it’s usually khaki pants and white shirt or blue pants or something.  All the girls always wore dresses.  You couldn’t wear pants to school.  But it was this salmon orange jumper with a beige short sleeve shirt and then a black blazer.  And in the summer, the warmer months, we had to wear white ankle socks with black Mary Jane shoes.  In the winter we got to wear black knee socks that had orange stripes around the top.  And we would add a black sweater under the blazer.  But you couldn’t wear a coat.  Luckily it didn’t get too cold, but it did get kind of cold.  So that’s what we wore and it was hideous!



I kept it though.  My daughter actually wore it for Halloween.

But the Mary Jane’s were kind of silly.  And you got the schoolgirl tan, because you have these ankle socks.  And so, at lunch you just kind of sit out on the grass or whatever until you get this tan from the top of your knee down to the top of your socks.  And when you take it off your feet up to your ankles were, you know, white.  The girls would try to roll them down as far as you could.  Cause even though you had uniforms and everybody was supposed to be the same there were still little nuances of who was a little bit more trendy than the other by maybe how they wore their sock.  Or exactly which shoe did they get?  So there was still some differences out there.  Pretty funny.

My host family didn’t tell me that the girls were supposed to wear their hair tied back if it was a certain length.  And so when I went to school, the prefect in my class said, “Why don’t you have your hair tied up?”  I said, “I didn’t want to wear it that way.”  And he said, “Well you have to.”  And I said, “Oh, okay.”

And then I went and got my hair cut.  Cause it was just kind of not long enough to really — like everybody wore like pony tails or pigtails or something like that.  What they did is you part your hair down the middle from the front to the back.  And take the two pieces and bring them front, your front.  And if they touched in the front you had to wear your hair tied up.

At my host sister’s school if your hair touched your collar you had to wear it up.  So there were girls going around with this little one inch ponytails.

And the boys.  Their hair couldn’t touch their collar.  And it couldn’t touch their ears.  And we had inspections, so you’re watched.  Your dresses couldn’t be shorter than a certain length and you couldn’t have your fingernails very long.  For inspection, you hold your hand up, and if they looked from your palm over, if they could see the top of your finger nails, then you have to trim them.

Yeah.  We had inspections frequently.

You could wear clear nail polish if you wanted.  And if you had pierced ears you could wear a set earring.  I think if you had a religious medallion you could wear that, but other than that you could not wear any jewelry.  Yeah.  It was pretty crazy.

Every morning the entire school would go for an assembly in the auditorium and we had a book of hymns.  We’d sing a hymn every morning.  The whole school would say the Lord’s Prayer.  I think somebody would read a Scripture or something and have like an inspirational thought of the day type of thing, make some announcements, and then we’d go to class.  And this was a State school.  It wasn’t a parochial school.  But that’s how it was.  So I got to see what it’s like to have prayer in school, and I really didn’t like it.

At the time I was an active Mormon.  I’m not anymore.  But it felt strange to me ’cause Mormons are taught not to say the same repetitive prayer over and over again.  Pray from your heart.  Whatever.  And so it felt very strange doing that.  So I used to kind of mouth it.  I didn’t really say it along with them just ’cause it felt wrong to me.  But now I understand why it’s so important not to have [prayer in school].  It was an interesting thing to experience.

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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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