It started as a young girl’s dream: I wanted to be an exchange student! 50 years ago today, my dream came true. On January 25, 1967, at age 17, I received my acceptance letter from the American Field Service, (known today as American Intercultural Programs) and I began a journey that shaped my life in so many ways.
In 1963, I was inspired by our charismatic young president, John F. Kennedy, speaking to a group of American Field Service exchange students visiting the White House. (See the video link below of that speech.) His call for international understanding and his hope for our younger generation bringing peace to the world, touched my heart and set in motion my dream. 54 years later, his words still move and inspire me.
I can look back 50 years now to that January day and realize the full impact that letter of acceptance was to have on my life and thinking. That year shaped the young me into the adult I am today. That experience of living for a year in another country, completely immersed in another culture and language, shaped my view of the world and broadened my understanding of humanity. We all live similar lives and share similar hopes!
That year also shaped my beliefs about my responsibilities as both an American citizen and a citizen of the world. My experience as an exchange student is why I am so deeply concerned about the direction my country is taking under this new president with his hate-filled rhetoric and his closing of so many doors. But I realize that my experience of 50 years ago is also what gives me HOPE and direction. I know firsthand that there are many good, kind, caring people in the world, from all different cultures, that are committed to and working diligently for peace and understanding among nations and for human rights everywhere. That is what I will continue doing, as well.
“Everyone who comes here to live and study — every American who goes abroad to live and study — forges one more link of world understanding and sympathy.” ~ John F. Kennedy