5/21/2008 - The Rewards I’ve Enjoyed Hosting an AFS Student
by Bonnie Jernigan
I like rewards. I get free travel points by using my credit card, and bonus coupons for repeat business at the grocery store. But the rewards that mean the most are the ones I’ve enjoyed since becoming involved with AFS five years ago, when Meza from Indonesia became a part of my family forever.
This has been a particularly rewarding time for many of Duxbury’s AFS volunteers — they’re the people in town who work to bring international students to Duxbury High School, while also making it possible for local kids to study in other countries.
Judy Weyand was recently rewarded with the Gallati award, named for AFS founder Stephen Galatti. For AFSers around the world, the Gallati is like an Oscar, an Emmy and the Nobel Peace Prize rolled into one. Judy’s involvement with AFS began 30 years ago, when her family hosted a student from Finland. The international press points to Judy’s current position as head of the national council. But those of us involved with AFS Duxbury think of Judy like a mother who is always there — keeping us organized, cheering everyone on as she offers the wisdom that comes from experience.
On a more local level, the recent Duxbury Community Volunteer Awards honored Kevin McNally and Debbie Gallagher with a special “Building Bridges to the World” recognition. Kevin’s extensive volunteerism includes being an AFS host parent, and Debbie’s long list of AFS contributions includes being support coordinator as well as past president of our local chapter.
My family recently had the biggest AFS bonus reward of all: a return visit from our Indonesian daughter. Meza had come to the U.S. with her team from Jakarta to compete in the prestigious international Jessup Moot Court competition, the culmination of debate contests involving over 500 law schools in more than 80 countries. Contestants simulate a fictional dispute between imaginary countries, addressing real issues like terrorism and human rights. Meza won third prize for most effective speech and delivery, out of all the contestants from all over the world. I claim maternal bragging rights, but everyone in Duxbury should share my pride.
When Meza arrived at our home in 2003, wearing the headscarf that symbolizes her Muslim faith, she was clearly uncertain of how to find her way in this culture that was foreign in every sense of the word. While Duxbury will never be known for its diversity, we can be proud of our willingness to embrace cultural differences. I know, because I watched how our town responded to Meza’s curiosity and intelligence, and most importantly — her smile.
While she was a student at Duxbury High School, Meza changed her career path to international law — thanks largely to the way history, philosophy and international relations courses were presented. I tagged along with Meza when she went back to DHS and re-connected with some of her favorite teachers, thanking them for the difference they had made in her life.
What could be more rewarding? For me, it all began with agreeing to become a host mother. I was reluctant at first; I could only imagine the work involved with having another teenager in my house, and the stress of having a guest on days when I’m feeling out of sorts. I quickly learned that an AFS exchange student is not a guest, but a part of the family. Whatever work is involved is richly rewarded, as it always is with parenting.
Students like Meza bring so much to Duxbury, and take so much of what is good about us out into the world. But it can’t happen without host families. Right now, AFS is recruiting for next year. Think about it. Maybe you like the AFS mission of building peace through cultural exchange. Or maybe you just like the idea of expanded horizons for your family. Either way, consider hosting, and discover the rewards of AFS for yourself.
This article was originally published here.