AFS Ecuador Director, Juan Rodriguez, with Karen Lindquist, his host sister during his AFS exchange year to the US.

October 2, 2014 | New York, NY – This past Saturday, AFS-USA hosted a celebratory gathering for AFS study abroad alumni at the American Swedish Institute’s Nelson Cultural Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Alumni from across the country, along with AFS volunteers, host families and donors, came together for an evening filled with joyous reunions, fond memories and reflection on the impact of AFS’ programs.

An alumni attendee displays a photo from her exchange experience.

The event raised nearly $9,000 for AFS-USA’s National Scholarship Fund, which provides merit and need-based scholarships to deserving high school students hoping to study abroad. Such scholarships are awarded through initiatives like the Global Leaders Scholarship Program and the Faces of America Diversity Scholarship Program, which targets students from low-income backgrounds in underrepresented areas of the country.

The AFS-USA alumni in attendance – who came from numerous US states including California, South Dakota, and South Carolina – had collectively studied abroad in nearly 25 different countries. Several “Reverse Returnees” (international students who were hosted in the US) also attended, coming from countries as far away as Ecuador and Sweden. Moreover, AFS-USA’s Minnesota-area volunteer teams were strongly represented by Area Team Chairs Lisa Abeles-Allison, Kathleen Collins, and Anne Mellesmoen.

The evening began with a cocktail reception before several prominent alumni speakers took the floor. Each shared anecdotes from his or her study abroad experience and encouraged audience members to reflect on the many ways in which AFS has changed their lives. They also discussed the need to increase the number of young people studying abroad, encouraging attendees to volunteer with AFS, host foreign exchange students, and help fund more study abroad scholarships.

AFS Returnee and Second Century Campaign Chair, Jenny Mesner, speaks to the attendees.
Featured speakers included: Jorge Castro, AFS-USA President and Returnee from Argentina to the US; Betty Ehlert McManus, AFS-USA Board Chair and Returnee from the US to the Netherlands; Lydia Brosnahan, a recent Returnee from the US to Portugal; and Jenny Messner, Returnee from the US to Brazil, Founder of the AFS-USA Speedwell Foundation Study Abroad Scholarships, and Chair of AFS-USA’s Second Century Campaign.

The Second Century Campaign is a unique fundraising initiative that was launched by AFS-USA in conjunction with the Centennial of the American Field Service, the volunteer WWI and WWII ambulance driver corps that gave rise to the cultural exchange organization we know today as AFS. The Minneapolis gathering is one of several events that will celebrate the Centennial throughout this year and next, including a multi-day affair in Paris this November.

American Field Service driver, Romeyn Taylor (left) with AFS-USA President, Jorge Castro.


One Minneapolis attendee, Mr. Romeyn Taylor, stood out among the rest as the event’s focus shifted to the Centennial and the history of AFS. Mr. Taylor was one of the earliest members of the American Field Service. He served in both Italy and India between 1944 and 1945, helping to transport many wounded soldiers to safety. His presence lent an inspirational air to an otherwise uplifting evening focused on volunteerism, global connections, and experiences that change lives.