This month AFS USA is pleased to spotlight Katherine (Kate) Weber of the Michigan Team. Kate is a relative newcomer to the world of AFS. Registering for the first time in the spring of 2011 she has covered a lot of ground in her short time as a volunteer dedicating much of her time to fundraising for Michigan scholarships. She enjoys sending interviews and working with the Sponsored Programs students. Congratulations Kate!
How did you learn about AFS and what prompted you to get involved?
I met Jessica Andres, Mid-Michigan coordinator, through cub scouts where her husband was a den leader for my son. Because I had been abroad in college and spent over 10 years as a travel agent, I already had an interest in intercultural learning. Jessica introduced me to her exchange student at the time and invited me to become a liaison for the next hosting cycle. I was hooked after my first volunteer experience and have been involved ever since!
What keeps you coming back to volunteer each year?
The students (both international and American), the families, the sense of community and the feeling of making a difference in the world… I feel like my tiny drop of volunteerism can ripple across oceans to change lives, break down stereotypes and promote international peace.
What’s a typical volunteer “shift” like for you?
I spend a lot of time on my computer working on AFS tasks in the evening hours after my “real” job and my family’s needs are completed. Sometimes, my volunteering blends into my family life. For example, I will have a liaison student over for dinner which gives my own children a chance to learn about another culture, or I will take my hosted student along for school presentations or a sending interview. This gives them a chance to earn community service hours and allows me to share my passion for AFS with them and another family.
What have you learned or how have you been personally affected by your experience with AFS?
Although I consider myself fairly open-minded, I’ve learned that we all have preconceived notions about other cultures. I’ve also learned to look at my own values and culture through the eyes of the AFS students and have actually made adjustments to my own parenting styles and belief system because of things I’ve learned from them. I am also always surprised how I can love each new cycle of hosting and sending students as much as I enjoyed the last… the heart has an incredible way of expanding to make room for more new relationships!
Please share the best thing or the funniest thing that’s happened to you while volunteering with AFS?
One of my favorite yearly events is our chapter’s mid-year orientation. For the last several years, we have been taking our students to the “Perchville” festival in East Tawas, Michigan. They enjoy a parade, chili cook-off, shopping and the usual orientation conversations, but the highlight of the day is the “Polar Bear Plunge”! We challenge the kids to push their limits and jump into frozen Lake Huron for an unbelievably cold and unforgettable experience. I’ve always told my students that I won’t ask them to do something that I won’t do, so in 2014, I took the plunge myself! (I don’t think my heart has ever been closer to stopping!)
What do you want to say to people who might be interested in volunteering with AFS?
If you have even just a few hours to spare to help with an orientation or unlimited time to help with the many jobs available to AFS volunteers, your time given will be a worth-while investment. Your “dividends earned” will include the chance to make friends from all over the world, learn first-hand about other cultures, inspire American students to consider intercultural learning, and make a difference in the lives of both the students and their families, impacting them for years to come.
What is the one thing AFS volunteers and staff don’t know about you?
I want to own a seasonal resort or bed and breakfast someday… all of my AFS friends will always be welcome!