Tag Archives: AFS

One of hardest cries I’ve ever had in my life…

A Reflection on Departing.  March 2004, by Lilian Kennedy, AFS LA to AUSTRIA

Lilian Kennedy

"Give me back my AFS people, my memories, my heart."


I had to leave Austria July 9th (my host mom’s birthday).  It was one of the most sad and painful parts of my exchange.

Every single person was crying.  Every single one.

Guys, girls, counselors, families, everyone.   I think that was one of hardest cries I’ve ever had in my life, the tears just would not stop and I hugged my host sis and dad so so hard, I didn’t want to let go.

I knew in heart that it was time for me to go home, but it was just so hard to let go, to just leave behind this life and all the people in it.  The night before I had said goodbye to a lot of my friends, including my two best ones, Kathi and Simi, and we cried so hard too.  It was so painful.

Lilian Kennedy, Austria, AFS

Lilian Kennedy, Austria, AFS


I felt mad at AFS, like I wanted to kick and scream and scratch it.

In the brochures and information packets the exchange was described as this amazing experience, all smiles and wonderfulness.  It was almost like I was lied to.  I never got a real warning for this pain, the leaving part.  No one told me how your exchange claims a part of your heart and never lets go.  Or how badly it hurts when you had to leave the home of that part of your heart.

And now, I am so glad.

A lot of people are afraid of emotional pain and risk; Austria and my exchange cured me.  I don’t know if my pre-exchange self would have done my exchange if I had known what was in store for me those six months.  I don’t know if my pre-exchange self could have comprehended the times of just incredible and surreal beauty either though.

Those moments were so pristine and transcending I will never forget them, or could ever forget them.

Hungarian Music Scene

American musicals like Grease and Hair were very popular and were played a lot in bars and clubs, along with the Doors, the Beatles…etc.  There was a divide in the youth culture — there were the people that listened to the Doors and the people who listed to Madonna.  I was in with the Doors crowd.

We also liked a local band called Kis Pal and went to concerts.  There was also a band called $Texas we went to see — a Hungarian jazz band had traveled to Texas and were inspired by the place.

Everyone there seemed to play an instrument.  Whenever we would get together with our friends, someone would have a guitar and we would all sing together.  Sometimes we went around singing to people at their houses — not at Christmas, we would just do it for fun on a Thursday night!

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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 BortaBra.se via Flickr

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flag of South Africa

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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Flag of Jordan

Oh my gosh! I’m going to live in a tent

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The trip there was very nervewracking because it was such an unkown.  I had been to Europe before, so had I gone to someplace like that it would have been a little bit easier, but it was such an incredible unknown that I was really nervous.  We stopped in Vienna with all the students going to Austria.

As we were landing, the international airport, which says it’s in Amman, is actually outside of Amman in the middle of nowhere, literally.  As we were landing I was looking out the window and all we could see for miles was desert.  We couldn’t see buildings, we couldn’t see any trees, we couldn’t see any civilization whatsoever, we couldn’t see the airport.   All we could see was just desert.  We were like, oh my gosh, where are we going, what did we get ourselves into?  Finally after we landed then we realized that the airport was just way far away from the city, but that was pretty scary.  I really thought, oh my gosh I’m going to be living in a tent.  I was really scared at one point there.  OK, maybe I got myself into too much change here.

Afghanistan flag

Well, Dave, you’re going to Afghanistan.

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Steve: So then when you decided and you actually did the paperwork and all that, how did your parents feel about it?

David:  I think they were pretty cool.  I think they were pretty encouraging.  My parents in general, with regards to things like sports and general interests, tried to be fairly neutral.  I think there was a philosophical decision, that they’d seen a lot of parents pushing kids this way and that way.  They kind of had a hands-off.  But the fact that they had been involved with AFS, I think, was a tip to me that they were interested in that kind of bigger world vision.


So I think the big shock really was when I found out I was going to Afghanistan. Glossy World Globe


Steve: What was that like? When you found out?

David:  I still recall mom calling me at school, so it would have been at Scottsdale High.  I had a mes sage, “call your mom,” or something.


I called and she said, “Well Dave, I found out where you’re going.”  And I said, “Woo!  Where?”  And she said, “Afghanistan.”


And I think my first reaction was, “Well, where’s that?”  And then she said, “Well, you know I had to look it up, too,” and she described it to me, you know, like it’s west of Pakistan and east of Iran, you know, south of the Soviet Union or something.

So I ran.  I seem to recall hanging up and running to one of the school rooms to look on the globe, and it was just breathtaking because I — I mean, I just assumed that because most AFS students go to Europe or Latin America, that’s what I would do.  So I was kind of, I guess, dumbfounded.  That would be the word.  But excited.  I thought, whoa, I mean, it would be exotic to go anywhere, but to go there was completely unexpected.