Dear AFS-USA Community,

While we are all immersed in challenges these days, we’ve also come to value the stability of a singular mission and values that inspire all that we do at AFS-USA. In the face of constant change, we recognize our need to seek-out and maintain deep and diverse human connections—which is a pursuit that we share.

Whether you’ve been waiting to see your grandchildren or have been left ‘glowing’ after a Zoom call (which so many of us are doing right now), we also share in our deep gratitude for the memories and moments we’ve had as a result of being connected with others through AFS.

AFS-USA creates global citizens. Right now, so many of us are involved in our communities—volunteering to help others, advocating for changes, speaking up…and speaking out.

This is a good time to review our values at AFS-USA and to thank you for all that you are doing to create a more just and peaceful world.

– Participants and mission come first.
– Individuals have the power to make change.
– Inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA) are central to our work.
– Following our founders’ example, volunteerism sustains our organization and inspires our participants to make change in their communities.

In this newsletter, we’ve highlighted just a few of the people and stories that have given us inspiration during these times. At AFS-USA, we need to support one another through these difficult times and thanks to all of you, we are!

With appreciation,

Tara Hofmann, President and CEO, AFS-USA

New Beginnings

Photo: Hosted student Niccolo from Italy was the first student to arrive in the US this fall, and was greeted by Michigan Area Team volunteer Ann Steglich and his host family.

Through more than seven decades our mission has remained relevant, and this moment is no different. With tremendous focus and determination by so many, especially AFS volunteers, we responsibly repatriated 2,309 students back home to their families. And, while this coming academic year has many challenges and student numbers have been reduced by more than 80 percent, we are pleased to welcome our next class of AFSers in both traditional and dynamic new ways.

AFS was able to respond to the pandemic quickly with innovative virtual exchanges as we also adapted our exchange programs to be able to welcome some students from abroad into US communities, as well as sending US students to specific countries abroad. Thanks to the enormous work of volunteers around the world, our first group of students began their AFS experiences in the U.S. and abroad! Exchange students have shared and shaped the experiences of communities for decades and are now reminding global families that the issues we face are not singular. As the world may feel fragmented, AFSers provide a bird’s eye view through programming such as:

  • Launching a newly redesigned on-boarding journey for students that uses new technology made possible through our continued investment into student experience. New learning modules help students address and understand issues such as racism, communication styles, and microaggressions– all through our intercultural lens.
  • Contributing to virtual programming for 110 BP Scholarship participants from over 12 countries who are focused on moving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals forward. Even while staying home, AFS connects youth from around the world to identify the issues of today and solve for tomorrow.
  • Pivoting to new “Global You” virtual programming, which brings together youth from the AFS Network’s 60 countries to learn about intercultural competence through our powerful Global Competency Certificate platform accredited through UPenn.
  • Supporting the U.S. Department of State’s Public Diplomacy programs– including the virtual implementation of the National Security Language Initiative for Youth Program that empowers critical language acquisition– which is now teaching high schoolers languages such as Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Indonesian, Turkish, and Russian from native in-country speakers– all while contextualizing the importance of culture and connection.

Grounded Connections: AFSers Connect and Recall Better Times

Here are just a few ways that AFSers are connecting with each other.

30th Kazakhstan AFS Reunion… on Zoom! Nearly 20 alumni from around the world celebrated their 30th Reunion of their AFS experience in Kazakhstan.

During nearly 2.5 hours, alumni caught up, shared some of the ways the experience shaped their lives and careers, and had fun recalling their unique experiences in Kazakhstan as they broke down barriers and connected across cultures. AFS-USA Alum Deron Quon who organized this event said, “We can all have comfort that the world has gotten a little closer because we have reconnected with friends, though a world away, who were always close to our hearts.”

Are you interested in a Zoom reunion? Email [email protected] to get the conversation started!

AFS-USA Alum, Frank Thoms, publishes new Book, Behind the Red Veil: An American inside Gorbachev’s Russia

Informed by his AFS experience to Russia in 1988, author Frank Thoms recounts his seven trips living and teaching during the Gorbachev era, 1985-1991, the last days of the Soviet Union- and one more trip three years later to the new Russia. Chapter X is devoted to his AFS experience. Order it today!

“Behind the Red Veil is a nuanced understanding of the Russian people, their thoughts, feelings, hopes, and fears. I looked for common ground to connect with them, seeking not to judge but to learn, not to bring America to them but to be an American with them. It’s a story of how Russians opened their hearts to me- and in doing so opened mine.” – Frank Thoms

Remembering our Host Brother, Joerg Hanisch by Betty McManus

Photo: Bud Ehlert (left) and Joerg Hanisch (right) during Joerg’s last visit to Selma in April 2018.

Our German brother Joerg arrived in Selma during the hot summer of 1960, armed with a wry sense of humor, excellent formal English (which soon sounded Southern), and a bag of magic tricks that served as cool ice breakers when he made speeches.
Selma was not used to ‘outsiders,’ including Europeans, but Joerg was a charmer who was eventually embraced by the community. He was a good match with us. Both families had two girls and one boy, and both fathers were doctors. He and my brother Bud bonded immediately, sharing a small bedroom crammed with arrowheads, snake skins, and turkey feathers. Joerg was thrilled when John Kennedy was elected that fall and even more thrilled when his AFS end-of-stay bus trip visited the White House where he met the President and Mr. Galatti.

After his AFS year Joerg became a lawyer, learned other languages, and settled with his wife Barbara and two children in Ulm, Germany where he became an AFS host father and had a long career as corporate counsel for Wieland Werke.

Joerg returned to Selma many times over the years. When he learned he had a fatal lung disease a few years ago, he came one last time to spend a month at my brother’s country cabin where we gathered to rock on the porch, count turkeys at sunrise, and celebrate how AFS has changed our lives.

AFS-USA thanks Betty McManus, Cecil Lytle, Bud and Regina Ehlert, and Florence Roberts for their contributions in tribute to Joerg and his family. What a wonderful way to memorialize this man who indeed changed many lives.

If you would like to make a tribute gift in honor of an AFSer who changed your life in some way, please visit

Candace and Bert Forbes Matching Challenge: Thank you all!

As you know, AFS-USA has been dealing with many challenges since COVID-19 became a pandemic. Right now, our AFS-USA ‘Drivers Group’ of volunteer and staff leaders are working together to revise our Strategic Plan to enable us to ‘pivot’ as we deliver our mission in new and innovative ways.

AFS-USA extends its deep appreciation to AFS-USA Alum Candace Forbes and her husband, Bert, who established a $500,000 AFS-USA Matching Challenge to help our organization survive what continues to be the biggest challenge we have ever faced. Thanks to thousands of people—all of whom are connected in some way to AFS-USA, we are very close to raising the $500,000 that will be matched by the Forbes Family!

The Challenge is extended to September 10th. Any gift you make will be matched dollar for dollar! If AFS-USA has made a difference in your life, now is the time to give back. We thank you!

AFS-USA Remembers Marie Cole

Marie Cole (with her legendary smile) and her husband Dave. Photo by Ellen Paseltiner.

AFS-USA lost a dear and devoted family member with the passing of Marie Cole on May 19, 2020 after a valiant struggle against pancreatic cancer.

Marie’s inspiration to volunteer with AFS-USA came from her younger brother, John Hartwig, who had been an Americans Abroad student to Switzerland in 1970.
Impressed by the profound impact of this experience on John’s life, Marie and her husband Dave decided to personally become involved with AFS and served in a wide range of capacities throughout the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

In 1974, Marie and Dave became founding officers of what eventually became a very successful AFS chapter in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer, Wisconsin. As Marie’s involvement with AFS expanded over the years, she became a Diagnostic Counselor to assist in addressing foreign student placements in the U.S. that needed reassessment. Her counseling activity increasingly grew to the point that she became the “de facto” Chief Diagnostic Counselor for AFS students being hosted in the United States. If some placement anywhere in the U.S. could not be successfully addressed, the response was “send them to Marie Cole and she’ll figure it all out.”

And Marie did. Time, after time, after time. Students from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and Europe would arrive at Marie and Dave’s home lugging all their worldly possessions along with the weight of the world on their shoulders, their fun and exciting year abroad in the U.S. now upended. With the sole exception of one student who returned to his home country early, every single one of those students left the Cole’s home filled with the excitement of a new school, a new family, a new American city and a renewed hope of a good experience in America. Dave lost count but at one point estimated that Marie had provided support and counseling to more than three dozen AFS students over the years.

In touching so many lives, Marie played a vital role in building a more just and peaceful world and we are deeply saddened by her passing. Her husband, Dave, would welcome hearing from students and others who remember Marie and her special legacy.

Those wishing to express their sympathy to Marie’s husband Dave can send their notes to: [email protected] or Attn: Alumni Relations, 120 Wall Street, 4th Fl, New York, NY 10005 and we will forward them as received.