Tag Archives: AFS
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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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Egypt flag

The AFS Experience

 

The AFS experience gave me the confidence to go away to college and move away from my family for my first job. It hasn’t really had an “in your face” impact, but I’m sure that it has influenced how I’ve interacted with others. You can’t have an experience like a foreign exchange program provides without it having an impact on your worldview in some way. It might be in many small ways rather than a couple of large ways, but the impact is there.

 

Cairo, Egypt

Cairo, Egypt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Germany flag

Traveling Europe in a VW Bus

 

They did encourage me to travel.  I knew all these AFS kids from the year before in Florida that were in Sweden and France and Austria, and so what I would do is, I would go and visit these kids during the course of the year.  I would take off four or five days, and go.

Since I didn’t have any money, my [host] parents just said, “Why don’t you hitchhike?”

 

 

So I hitchhiked all over Europe at the age of seventeen, and then I turned eighteen while I was over there.  The bad news of that was Youth For Understanding found out and they tried to have me sent home on more than one occasion.  My German mother ran the interference on that.  She kept YFU at bay because I apparently broke quite a few rules that they didn’t like, one of which was hitchhiking.

Probably the biggest fiasco that I entangled myself with was at the end of the school year.  I had six weeks left of school and my German brother, who had lived with me the year before in Florida, lived in Stuttgart.  He was graduating, and so he bought a VW bus and he invited me to go on a trans-European bus tour.

VW Bus T1 "Fensterbus"

VW Bus T1 “Fensterbus” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I checked out with my family, and then with my school, and they said go for it, ’cause you know you don’t have many chances to do something like that.

So I hitchhiked down to Stuttgart, and we wound up going in a VW bus just like, you know, an old movie bus.  We went through southern Germany over into Austria, down into Italy, down into the Italian Riviera, up through the French Riviera, up through southern France.  We got to Paris.

In Paris, I was driving at four in the morning because I was the sober one, and I got hit broadside by a taxi.  It flipped the bus and we couldn’t get the bus fixed, so I had to hitchhike from Paris back to Hamburg to catch my flight.

What was funny about all this was, since this was my last month there, Youth For Understanding was calling, making travel arrangements, and they wanted to talk to me, and they found out from the school, “No, Dave’s not here.  He’s gone off for a six-week vacation.”

They finally figured out that I was out in a hippie van somewhere on the Riviera, so they revoked my ticket home.  I hitchhiked  back to Germany from Paris.  It took me two days.  I slept in a ditch.  I got back and my German mother mentioned something about, you know, there was some issue, but we’ll get it all straightened out at the airport tomorrow.

When I went to the airport the next day, the director of YFU came up to me and she just was not happy at all.  She gave me a big fat lecture in front of everybody.

It turns out they did revoke my ticket, and in the process of revoking the ticket, they had to go tell my family in Florida that I didn’t have a ticket, and that did not go over with my mom.  So they reinstated the ticket and I did get a ride home.

My German mother said, “Dave don’t worry , if you don’t have a ticket home, you can just stay here.”


 

Germany national flag

Americans Bullshit a Lot

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Oh, they ask the same questions like — it still shocks me, but I try to get over it — “Do Americans have silverware?”  And I heard that from my German mother, and she’s a very intelligent woman.  She’d never been in the United States, and it was kind of like, “Where did you come up with that concept?”   I don’t know, I don’t know.

 

I told this girl one time that Germans — and here I’m making a stereotype — they typically don’t bullshit a lot.

 

They don’t understand just pulling someone’s leg.  And so Tanya, the girl that I really got along with, asked me at school, with her little group of friends, she asked me, “What was the biggest difference between the United States and Germany?”

 

English: Pleiades Star Cluster

English: Pleiades Star Cluster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

And I said, “Well, actually the biggest difference would kind of surprise you.  Over here in Germany, if you look up at night, do you see stars?  And she said “Yeah.”  I said, “Well, in Florida there are no stars.”  And she looked at me and she goes, “What do you mean there’s no stars?”   I said, “Well, we’re so far down on the Earth, the planet, we’re down like near the equator, that there’s no stars that low.  All the stars are above you.  That’s why when you look up you see stars.”

 

But it was like, for her, why would anyone lie?  And I found that to be a very common factor in Germany, that, yeah, you sit there, and you could bullshit all you want, and they’ll look at you like it’s the gospel truth.

 

They just don’t understand, you know, that Americans really bullshit a lot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

National flag of Iran

Traveling Iran in a mini-skirt, 1968

As a group of AFSers we were taken on a bus trip to Isfahan and Shiraz, which are more southerly cities, and very ancient and fascinating.  We stopped at Persepolis, which was an ancient Persian ruin, and we stopped at Qom which is the holy city.

At the time all of us girls were wearing mini-skirts.  We got off the bus to go in search of a particular mosque, and a crowd of people from Qom, the religious city came, ran after us to trying to stone us, but we ran back to the security of the bus and zoomed off into the night, because this is a religious city and we were insulting them by not wearing chador.  They were throwing rocks at us.

 

Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran.

Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran – Image via Wikipedia

And you know, I’m sitting there on the bus thinking: “What is with these two AFS organizers, these women, where’s their head that they put us in such danger?”

Isfahan and Shiraz were absolutely stunning, beautiful cities.  I think it was when we were coming — I can’t remember whether it was Isfahan or Shiraz, I’ll never forget this — we round the bend and overlooking the side of mountain are soldiers with rifles pointed out at anyone about to make this entrance into the city.

 

Perspolis ,Shiraz

Perspolis ,Shiraz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know for a sixteen-year-old from suburban Massachusetts, it was very different.  The cities are so ancient, so beautiful.  I just remember the white of the desert and the blue of the tile from the mosque.  The sky was blue.  The tile was blue.  There was gold trim, and the white of the desert, and it was just beautiful.  Beautiful!

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Viking initiation ceremony

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Egil and his friends arranged, without me being aware of it ahead of time, to initiate me as a Viking.  This was done as an after school function, like a dance or something at the school one evening.

Midway through it, they interrupted the activities and he and a couple of his buddies came out with some fur costume things, almost caveman-like, helmets with horns and things.  They were speaking in gobble-Norse, old Norwegian, and announcing this ceremony, so of course I had to repeat after them certain things.

And the final stage of the initiation they gave me a half skull, the top half of a skull filled with home-brewed beer, and I was supposed to drink this down in one fell swoop.  I did my best–I didn’t quite get it all down in one gulp–and finished it in a second one.

Then I was officially a Viking, and I can tell you I was in no pain the rest of that evening!