“Only through dialogue and communication can differences be understood and appreciated.” – AFS and CBYX Alum, Tony Valencia ’18- ’19. In this blog post for Pride Month, Tony delves into navigating his identity while abroad, and the importance of being yourself. Tony is currently a student at Cornell University.
Some people say that college was the best years of their life. Although I am enjoying my college experience, I believe that I will say that my AFS experience was the best time of my life. Through the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange scholarship, I was afforded the opportunity to live with a German host family for a year and experience life to the fullest. My German family and friends made me feel at home and never discriminated against any parts of my identity (such as being black or gay). I truly appreciated their unconditional love and support because had I not had either, my experience would not have been phenomenal—I would have been too worried about what people thought instead of living in the moment.
Some key moments come to mind when I reminisce on my year abroad. The first being performing with my host siblings for the entire family on Christmas day. One of my host sisters choreographed a dance to a playlist of songs that she composed. We practiced for at least two weeks and felt like our practice payed off when our family clapped for us as we danced to the music. As our feet moved to the beat of Starships by Nicki Minaj and Ocean Eyes by Billie Eilish, I smiled because we were in sync. We were one. We were a family.
Another key moment happened more than once: going on walks with my host mom, siblings, and the cute family dog. We would talk about topics ranging from politics in the United States and Germany to cartoons that my host mom grew up watching. I cherished each conversation because we learned more about each other’s culture and perspectives. We did not shy away from our differences in opinions or perspectives—we embraced them. Only through dialogue and communication can differences be understood and appreciated.
On that note, I would like to encourage everyone who wants to travel abroad to be open to learning about others and leave judgements at the door. If you are LGBTQ+, BIPOC/POC, a woman, or anyone else from a too often overlooked group, please make the decision to experience another country if you really want to. I promise you that you will find people who will love and support you! There may be a few less than favorable characters; however, you will come across people who respect you way more frequently (that I can guarantee). Good luck with your decision and thank you AFS for offering such a life-changing opportunity.
Tony offers invaluable advice for young explorers eager to go abroad. The LGBTQ+ community has always been a part of AFS-USA. LGBTQ+ people are openly included at every level of our organization.
The AFS-USA LGBTQ+ Exchange, composed of AFS Staff, Returnees, and Volunteers, is proud to offer support and resources for our students, host families, and volunteers who identify with the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. Send us an email at [email protected] to connect with the community.
AFS-USA offers study abroad applicants the opportunity to apply for the AFS-USA Pride Scholarship. The annual financial award(s) assist openly-identifying and exemplary LGBTQ+ students in their plans for studying abroad with AFS. To help AFS in offering more scholarships to LGBTQ+ applicants, donate to the Pride Fund here.
As noted in his post, Tony was a participant in the U.S. Department of State’s Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) program, implemented by AFS. Jointly funded and managed by the U.S. and German governments, the CBYX scholarship is for motivated high school students who want to fully immerse themselves in German culture by living with a host family and attending a local high school. No previous language experience is required. CBYX also offers opportunities for young professionals and vocational interest or specializations. Learn more about the CBYX program at usagermanyscholarship.org.