Tag Archives: YFU
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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: http://www.best-norman-rockwell-art.com/norman-rockwell-boys-life-cover-1913-12-santa-and-scouts-in-snow.html#ixzz1cE1NOO00 (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

I wanted to defect

 

 

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I wanted to defect when it was time to come home.  But I’m really strong on agreements, and I agreed that I would come home.  (Laughter)  I’m still really strong on agreements but I was not ready to go.  I was not ready to go.  We all cried.  It was not something that we were ready to do.

 

Oh, my gosh, [those last days] were awful.  They were really awful.  We were running about getting a few pictures of things that I didn’t have.  Going to different friends and shaking hands or hugging and saying good-bye, and exchanging addresses.

 

 

English: The Ferris Wheel at Liseberg in Gothe...

English: The Ferris Wheel at Liseberg in Gothenburg, Sweden. Svenska: Pariserhjulet på Liseberg i Göteborg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

There was a dinner and everybody came to the airport.  The aunts, the uncles, the papa, the mama, the boyfriends of the girls.  And we just — it was really amazing, ’cause I was hanging out the train window and I didn’t want to let them go, and they disappeared, and it was awful.  It was awful.

 

But I came home and immediately got a lecture about the way I was dressed.  I wasn’t a wearing a bra.  I decided they weren’t necessary there.  I had a couple mini-skirts that were pretty doggone short, and when we stopped at the restaurant to have dinner when they picked me up, my dad swatted my rear end and said go put some pants on.

 

They found more self-confidence, both of them said.  I asked my mother about it when we were out to dinner a while ago, and I told her I was going to be cooperating with you on this, and she said “we saw a lot more self-confidence, and your dad learned to appreciate you.  He missed you –  a lot.”   So that was nice.

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 flag

Do you really eat puppies for dinner?

 

Barbara Pape Kilkka with YFU host father

Barbara with her German host father

 

On the Fourth of July, I promised to make a secret American meal and holed up in the kitchen all afternoon. Little brother Schorsi kept pestering me about what I was making, and I finally told him, asking for a promise not to tell.

He looked at me horrified when I told him what we were going to have and asked if we really ate that in America. I assured him we did, all the time. When I brought out the fried chicken for dinner, he laughed in relief.

“Oh, haenchen, not hundchen.” (Chicken, not puppies.)

Just a typical and memorable pronunciation error for an exchange student!

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Tampons and Tempo tissues

 

English: Tempo facial tissues Deutsch: Packung...

 

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You know, here you ask someone for a Kleenex, and Kleenex really is a brand name.  It’s a facial tissue, or whatever you want to call it.

Well, in Germany the brand name is Tempo.  So one time I was in the bathroom towards the beginning of my stay.  The bathrooms, by the way, were really interesting.  I mean, here they’re all clean and well kept; the bathrooms there were, like, crazy.  If you were going to bathroom on Monday or Tuesday you better bring your own toilet paper, ’cause by the end of the week there is definitely none left in the bathroom.

And there was graffiti everywhere.  The school itself wasn’t like that, but the bathrooms were. It was really weird.  I didn’t know until the end of the year that the upper classmen had their own bathroom.

So it was usual, when you went to the bathroom, that some people might ask you if you had any Kleenexes.  But the first time someone asked me, they’re like, hey, do you have a Tempo?  And I thought, of course, that she was talking about a tampon.  It was so embarrassing.

I thank God to this day that I didn’t have one, because can you imagine her face if I would have pulled out a tampon and she really was asking me for a Tempo tissue?

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War Games in West Berlin

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This image was taken in 1986 by Thierry Noir a...
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I would hang out with friends in town after school and drink beer, smoke cigarettes and chat, whether one day it would be the Cold War, or what we would do if the Warsaw Pact attacks.

We weren’t that far from the border of East Germany, and we had a military base just outside of town.

My first week there was quite an experience because we were having war games going off.  I was lying in bed and there was shaking and bombs exploding and flares going off in the distance, and I came flying downstairs.

Bomben?  Bombs?”

“Oh, we forgot to tell you, there’s a military base and they’re just having war games.”

I got to appreciate more of that whole interaction with the Cold War, that we would have war games in there.  The Brits would come –we were in the British Zone–and their tanks would every so often drive through town.  Americans would come up for NATO maneuvers every so often and drive their Abrams [tanks] through town.  Depending on the size and scope of the games, they would have the Air Forces come in and do dry bombing runs.  What they would do is, they would come in over the base, but turn and loop back around and just skirt the border and get everybody agitated over there, and every time they did that it was an inside joke on this side of the border that we would stir the pot a little bit and see what happens.

Signage at Checkpoint Charlie

Image by edwin.11 via Flickr

It was just a brinkmanship game being played.  The Cold War was much more real at that point there.  We would discuss it and what if it came to war would you fight with East Germans.  “Yeah, if they shoot at me I’ll shoot back.  They’re the enemy.  They’re Germans, yes we speak the same language, but we’re different countries,” and they seemed very accepting of that, very Westward looking.

The whole EC at that point was 20 years old but still developing, still in it’s infancy as far as pan-Western European understanding and cooperation.  Spain and Portugal had just gotten in and that was a big shock to European economy.  Just as big as letting the former Eastern Bloc countries in recent years.

There’s actually some excitement among some of my friends, they can go and work now anywhere from Spain to Sweden.  How cool is that? I don’t need a passport!  That whole concept of not needing these documents anymore.

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