This weekend I attended a Conference for AFS. This conference involved Returnees on a functioning role for the first time (as opposed to just being present). I was asked to speak about the impact of AFS on my life. I think my story was very impactful on the crowd as I, unexpectedly, almost lost it for a few minutes.
So this is it. This is why I volunteer:
I'd like to take a moment to tell you a story.
There was once a 17-year old high school student. One March or April day this student's Spanish teacher approached her with an application packet for an AFS scholarship to study abroad. Her teacher informed her that this would be a great opportunity for the student.
And so the student took this packet home. She didn't tell any one about it. The student was certain that her parents would say no.
Finally, knowing a deadline approached, she broached the idea of a study abroad to her parents. Much to her surprise, they said she could apply, but without a significant scholarship she couldn't take advantage of this opportunity.
Well the student received a scholarship from AFS, but only for a small percentage of the total cost. The student, being the second of eight children, knew that with only this small scholarship, the study abroad experience was out of her reach.
The local Area team knew this as well. And so, that wonderful group of volunteers, people much like yourselves, knowing what the exchange experience means to the student who participates, enabled the student to take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad. They would provide her with the funds to study for a summer in a foreign county.
And so, that is how this young student became one of two exchange students in a small village in Paraguay. They were the first two Americans ever to live in this town, furthering the mission of AFS to cultivate understanding of new cultures and people.
As many of you may have realized, that young girl was me, 11 years ago. 11 years ago a group of AFS volunteers, much like yourselves, made a dream possible and sent my life careening off into a direction I never could have ever in my grandest dreams imagined.
I came home and chose to study International Relations in College. I pursued a career where I used my fluency in Spanish and had the opportunity to continue to interact with people from many cultures and countries.
Over the years, I have truly come to appreciate what benefits AFS has given me. I acquired a second family, and a worldwide community of people I am honored to call friends.
I have, at each orientation, a captive audience who won't tell me that they've heard my stories before. In fact, they ask questions. They want to know more. Better yet, they want to see pictures!
I get to cultivate inquisitive minds. I get to see young students learn, grow and mature into young men and women.
I know why I volunteer for AFS.
I volunteer for AFS because the opportunities created, the doors that are opened change lives forever. The difference we make is why I volunteer, it's why you volunteer and it's why you are here this weekend.
So for that 17 year old high school student and for all those past and present students that you motivate, inspire, enable, encourage and empower, I say thank you. Thank you for being the stuff dreams are made of, because without you, dreams simply remain dreams. With you, dreams become the most amazing realities that change lives forever.
September 24, 2010
Sending/Volunteer Coordinator Conference