Jed Hepworth is our new Board Vice Chair and has been a member of AFS-USA’s Board of Directors since 2015. He is also an AFS Returnee (U.S. to Chile, 1968-69), a host parent to three exchange students, and parents of two children, one of whom was an AFSer who also studied abroad in Chile and stayed with Jed’s host mother. Read below to learn more about Jed Hepworth.

Would you please tell us more about yourself?

JH: I didn’t speak any Spanish when I arrived in Chile as an AFS Student, but the Spanish language and culture skills I gained opened the door to working in Latin America with Cargill, Incorporated, a company with worldwide operations.

For almost 40 years, I was an in-house lawyer for Cargill. My work for most of my career dealt with matters in Latin America and I eventually ended up as the Latin America General Counsel with a team of 70 wonderful native legal professionals in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, and Miami.

I needed and used all the language skills and lessons I learned via my AFS experience! Like many other Returnees, I recognize everyday that my AFS experience made a huge impact in my professional life as well as my personal life.

What inspired you to join AFS-USA’s leadership team?

JH: I give the credit to Jorge Castro, president of AFS-USA, who called and asked if I would be interested in participating at the board level after I retired from Cargill. Once I retired and had more control of my schedule, I was looking for an opportunity to service when I received a call from Jorge.

Also I truly believe in the mission of AFS and its impact. I’ve seen it in my life and the lives of everybody that AFS has touched. I felt that I could use some of things that I learned in the 40 years I’ve been in international business to be a support to AFS.

One of the things I’m delighted to see is the progress in alumni outreach that Mandy Sheriff, manager of AFS-USA alumni relations, is achieving. After I came back from studying abroad in Chile, I quickly lost contact with AFS. One of our challenges is to get more Returnees engaged, especially when they are starting out in college or their careers. It is a big challenge for AFS to stay in touch with and engage Returnees.

How did you end up studying abroad in Chile?

JH: I thought I was going to go to France because I studied French. Out of the blue, I got a telegram (which tells you how old I am) that said, “Be in Miami in 10 days. You’re going to Chile.” I had no idea where Chile was and I didn’t speak Spanish. From that experience, my interest in Latin America grew and I spent almost 40 years at Cargill working with issues in the region. When you talk about life-changing experiences, this is a classic example!

Do you keep in touch with your host family?

JH: Yes, I talk with my Chilean mother almost every week and visit her at least once a year. I recently went to Chile to be with my Chilean mother on her 94th birthday, to visit my AFS brother, and my two AFS daughters who also live in Chile.

When my son was 16 years old, I wanted him to have the same kind of experience that I had. We thought about an ideal place for him to spend the summer abroad and the answer was Chile. My Chilean mother wanted to see her grandson again, so she signed up as a host mom and my son spent the summer with my host mother — 30 years after the year I was there.

In what ways did AFS change your outlook of the world?  

JH: I had lived abroad before my AFS experience, but not as a member of a local community. I studied in the international school in Kabul, Afghanistan where my family lived because my dad was an agronomist working to help make Afghanistan become self-supporting in agricultural production. I loved Afghanistan, but the international community lived quite separated from Afghans.

Having enjoyed my time in Afghanistan, when I was in high school, I was excited about the idea of living abroad again. What I didn’t anticipate until I lived it with AFS was the impact of being immersed in different cultures and language. In Chile, I learned to see myself as a member of a Chilean family and a classmate of Chileans in a Chilean school. I had to look at the USA through a  different lens because my friends and family asked me to explain the USA to them (I was in Chile during the Vietnam War, and when Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated). I learned and grew in a lot of ways I didn’t anticipate.

Do you think that AFS’s work is as relevant and important today as it was when you went abroad?

JH: Yes, because AFS doesn’t just impact participants, it impacts families (whether you’re hosting or sending students), schools, and communities. Participants go home changed and are tightly bonded by those who share the experience and understanding of how international exchange has changed them. But it’s not just the participants who are changed. AFS is about opening doors of understanding in the classmates of participants, their host families, their sending families, and the communities that host.

What are you most proud of as an AFS Returnee?

JH: Not of anything that I have done but of how honored I am to have Chilean family and friends that have accepted me even when I appeared at their door speaking no Spanish 50 years ago. I am honored to be considered still as an integral member of my host family and worthy of sharing their best and worst moments. I am also honored to have joined the AFS-USA board of directors to work with a group of amazing volunteers, leaders, and staff.  I am excited to pay it forward and learn a lot from this current generation of participants.

Do you have any tips for Returnees?

JH: Don’t make the mistake I did and get so caught in the day-to-day of college and career that you lose connection with AFS. Stay involved! Returnees have so much to offer as volunteers and ambassadors for AFS (and their host countries).

There are now more opportunities to stay involved internationally, especially now in the service side. Service and community involvement wasn’t an element of my AFS experience, but I think that the current focus in AFS on service while you’re abroad is a phenomenally positive change that magnifies the AFS impact.