AFS volunteer, Kathleen Collins (R), and her Thai daughter, Anyawee (Pam) Chaitanunlert (L), exploring the ice caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, on March 1, 2015.

For the month of March we are proud to feature Kathy Collins of the Lake Superior Team in our Volunteer Spotlight.  Kathy has the title of Chair –and a couple of other titles – for the Lake Superior Team but her contributions to the team go above and beyond the expectations of these titles.

This past year Kathy hosted Second Arrival Orientations in her home, even though it involved a long day of students arriving on separate flights. Need a host family or an in-home sending interview completed in the Duluth area? Kathy is the one to call.

Kathy is active and supportive as a volunteer, current host family, past natural family and support volunteer. She is the person who can always be counted on to get what needs to be done in Lake Superior. Her support for AFS crosses generations, as two of her daughters are returnees. One is an active orientation volunteer for the team.  This is Kathy’s AFS story.

How did you learn about AFS and what prompted you to get involved?

I first learned about AFS way back in high school from talking with exchange students, and decided that I wanted to try out the experience for myself.

What keeps you coming back to volunteer each year?

I love meeting the new students each year and watching them grow and become more confident.  Seeing the host families get more and more comfortable with their new family member is especially rewarding. At the end of the year it is wonderful to hear the students’ and families’ reflections on what the experience has meant to them. I also really enjoy meeting students at the sending interview, and then seeing them again after their exchange experience, and witnessing their personal growth, and almost always, the enthusiasm they have for sharing their experience.

What’s a typical volunteer “shift” like for you?

There is no such thing.  Does it even exist?  Host family interviews, sending interviews, dealing with family/student problems, enjoying the family and student get-togethers, answering random (sometimes very random) phone calls from people who’ve gotten my name as an AFS contact—I rarely know what is coming next.

What have you learned or how have you been personally affected by your experience with AFS?

I was an AFS student in Italy in 1972-1973, my family is currently hosting our seventh student, and two of my daughters have spent a year abroad with AFS, so AFS has had a profound effect on my life. I feel that I am a global citizen thanks to my experiences with all the different people I have met and the different cultures I have learned about. I would love to visit all those places for myself, but even if I never get a chance to do that, I feel a connection there.

What do you want to say to people who might be interested in volunteering with AFS?

It’s the best way I know to make the world a better place, right in your own backyard. It’s a way to have a really authentic world travel experience, without traveling. I really believe that AFS puts faces on the map in a way that changes people’s perception of the world.