In this article, Janice Mills, an AFS-USA Alumna who went to Sweden with AFS in 1972, shares her experience during a 50 year reunion with her fellow AFSers! Janice was in fact able to reunite with most of the returnees with whom she shared her AFS experience and it was truly an incredible moment.
I turned around and there he was. Ted and I hugged and then we stood there in the lobby and laughed together. I was in 719 and he was in 729; a suite for all of us. I woke up to a text notification that said to join the party in 729. When I got there, there was Patricia and we grabbed each other and hugged and laughed. Another woman asked me if I knew who she was and it was Karen; more hugging and laughing. Then the other Karin, our beloved Swedish teacher was standing right there in 729 in the Minneapolis Hyatt Bloomington, straight from Sweden. She introduced us to her husband, Anders and Ted introduced us to his wife, Ruth. Everybody was talking and at some point Admassu and Phil arrived, and there were more hugs and laughter. Some of the group were trying to figure out what to do for dinner. Eventually it was agreed that we would all meet at Doug’s , who also went to Sweden and now lives in Minneapolis. From there we walked to a restaurant and had pizza and drinks. After dinner we were back in 729 and in walked Alice who had flown in from the west coast.
Everything seemed surreal. Here we were, 51 years later, all together.
The next morning, we had a zoom meeting so we could chat with those who could not make the trip. Mitch, Claire, Carl, and Gwen zoomed in. We each took 5 minutes to tell the others how our lives had been. In the meantime Rod zoomed in from the airport so he could talk with the other zoomers. Later on, he arrived at the hotel. During the weekend, we had conversations with Ken, Mo, and Judy. We also remembered those we had lost; Mike, Janice, Bob, Pearl, and Tim. It was hard to believe they were gone. We never did locate Dilaver, and wish him well if he is still living. That evening we went to Doug and Cheryl’s for dinner. Patricia’s husband drove us there and everywhere else for our outings, along with Cheryl and Doug and their rides were much appreciated. At Doug’s we had a great meal. We also had a talk by a Swedish instructor and played Swedish trivia.
At the American Swedish Institute we wore our AFS 72 Sweden T-Shirts and mingled with the crowd and told those who asked that we had been exchange students in Sweden 50 years ago and that we were having a reunion. Then we traveled to Stillwater and crossed the river by foot and were in Wisconsin! Our activities ended with a visit to a beautiful park and then a boat ride on Lake Minnetonka.
As we had drifted in at various times, so did we begin to depart. We had come from all over the country and were headed back to our respective lives. We were no longer 18 and living together in northern Sweden, taking a crash course in Swedish before we met our respective host families for the year.
We had become doctors, attorneys, teachers, engineers, farmers, missionaries, diplomats, peace workers, performers, musicians, digital specialists, craftspeople, directors, managers, librarians, entrepreneurs, political pontificators, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles. We had also had our ups and downs. Some shared true confessions, while others confessed nothing at all. Gwen was able to join us on the last day. Some had departed but some were still there.
When everyone was gone, I sat in the lobby bar and thought about the weekend. It was exquisitely wonderful. Seeing friends from 50 years ago was truly amazing. My emotions were strong and I was saddened that the reunion was over… then in walked Karin and Anders, and we had one last visit. They would head out first thing in the morning for their trip back to Sweden. I left in the middle of the night. To my knowledge, no other group of AFS students has had a 50-year reunion.
We have made the world a better place through the friendships we formed and the relationships we keep with our Swedish and other foreign families and friends. The American Field Service program continues to do good work.
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AFS Sweden 1972