This article is written by AFS-USA Alumnus Dave Schrader. Dave is currently an AFS Volunteer in the Greater Los Angeles and South Bay Chapter who is greatly involved with orientation work for the area. We are excited to share his start with AFS and his continued contribution to the AFS Effect.

I had the good fortune to be selected as Sterling High’s AFS student for the summer of 1968. Growing up in the cornfields of Illinois, this was a chance to see the world. You’ll be happy to know that AFS hasn’t changed much – I got my host family’s information after I flew from Chicago to NYC, on the boat (yes, boat!). I was in the last group of AFSers to travel on the SS Waterman to Rotterdam with over 600 students.

S.S. Waterman on the ocean
Map of Austria

64 Americans were going to Austria. We hopped on a train from Germany to Salzburg and from there, the Austrian group split into those going east to Vienna, those going south and west to Innsbruck and Tirol, and my smallest group headed up and over the alps to Styria. At every stop or two, a student would hop out to greet a family and we’d help with their luggage. My stop was the very last one south of Graz, called Leibnitz, located just before the border with the former Yugoslavia. Back then, Austria had been a neutral country after World War II and was, like Germany, split into 4 sectors but, unlike Germany, had been put back together. Styria had been in the Russian sector.

House and lawn
Two boys smiling and sitting on a bicycle

Both of my host parents lived through World War II. The family consisted of Mama, Papa, and two brothers: Franz (15) and Reinhold (10). I found, to my surprise, that my host dad had unwillingly been in the Nazi army because he got drafted and came from over the border. He was captured and spent much of the war in a Belgian POW camp.

They lived in a small but neat house with a day room/kitchen, a bathroom, and two bedrooms. There was a pump in the back yard for water, and most of what we ate came from the garden out front; there were fruit trees in the side yard and the animals in the barn and back yard. On Sundays, Mama would ask “was magst Du zu Mittag essen?” (what do you want for lunch?) and I’d usually say “Brathendl” (roasted chicken). Then she’d say “welche?” (which one?) and I’d point. Reinhold was fast getting the chickens – within a minute Mama would be plucking lunch!

Here are pictures of Papa and Franz in 1968 and Mama with me in 1985.

Papa and Franz in front of house
Dave with Mama holding red flowers

It was a great experience. I spent a junior college year in Salzburg and double-majored in math (my real major) and German (my fun major). Over the years, I’ve been back 25 times and often take along my parents, one grandmother and aunt, and all 5 of my brothers and sisters. Some of the Austrians have also visited me, including my host brother’s daughters. It’s been a great bonding experience that continues to this day!

Since 1985, I’ve tried to pay it forward by helping AFS as the Area Team Orientations Coordinator (for life!) – both in Colorado Springs and Los Angeles for the past 30 years. I’ve enjoyed watching the growth of the exchange students from the day I arrange pickups at LAX to the day they hop on the bus back to the airport. I also enjoy doing the American student outbound orientations – at one point, LA was sending 80 students abroad each year.

Another delight is working with the AFS volunteers locally. One year, we pushed hard to reconnect with as many people as we could, and I found to my astonishment that there were 3 AFS alumni, all my age. When we compared notes, it turned out that they all went to Germany and were on the SS Waterman with me too. This just goes to show – you never know about life’s little coincidences!

Four men smiling

Pictured above: Roy Schermerhorn, Peter Rutenberg, Brian Buchiarelli, and Dave Schrader