Grace has been an AFS exchange student (US to Germany, 2008), a volunteer, and a host sister to multiple exchange students over the years. She now works in a seasonal role with AFS-USA as a Community Outreach Advisor. In this article, she talks about the importance of intercultural exchange and how AFS has shaped her life (including her wedding)!
My family and I first learned about AFS when [an AFS representative] made a visit to my high school in 2007-2008. I was hooked and set on wanting to study abroad for my junior year. My parents felt I would be a better exchange student if we hosted a student first! My sophomore year we hosted a student from Austria. The following school year I went to Germany. While I was in Germany, my parents hosted a German student for half the school year, and then for the second half of that year, my parents hosted a student from Turkey. Once I returned from Germany, my family hosted a student from Italy during my senior year [as a welcome family for the first few weeks after they arrived]. During my first years of college, I was a volunteer and liaison. My parents were also liaisons and welcomed a student from Germany and China!
AFS has been a huge part of my life over the last 15 years and in many ways shaped who I am today. It helped me develop global understanding and empathy. In some ways, AFS has made the world feel smaller for me, because I feel connected with many parts of the globe with all the friends I have made in many countries. It has given me the opportunity to create a global community. My family has stayed in contact with our AFS students, and many have visited over the years. In 2019, we all traveled to Austria to attend the wedding of our first student, Paul. He also attended my wedding with his wife and parents in 2017 here in Minneapolis! This summer I was traveling with my whole family, and we were again able to meet up with Paul.
To me, the “AFS Effect” is the lifelong connection and global peace that is spread through exchange. When I tell someone about AFS and hosting, I place emphasis on the fact that there is so much more to it than having a student live with your family. It is rather a global effect towards spreading peace and understanding. Hosting and studying abroad has the potential to affect generations!
[There] is so much more to hosting than just opening your home. It is the chance to open your eyes to new cultures and ideas from around the world. If you host, you will learn about your student’s home country, but likely also learn A LOT about your own culture as well – which in my opinion is equally important when working towards a more peaceful and compassionate world. Hosting has the potential to change your life and change the world!
From left to right – Grace’s husband Fares (holding their youngest daughter Aminah), her dad Roger, their eldest daughter Lila, Grace (holding their second daughter Mariam), Paul, her family’s first exchange student from Austria, and her mother Melissa. This photo was taken in Meinerzhagen, Germany, where Grace spent her AFS year!