The AFS Exchange

A Lifelong AFSer

May 25, 2021 AFS-USA Season 1 Episode 1
The AFS Exchange
A Lifelong AFSer
Chapters
The AFS Exchange
A Lifelong AFSer
May 25, 2021 Season 1 Episode 1
AFS-USA

In this episode, we chat with Kim from Wisconsin. Kim has been a host sibling, host parent, study abroad participant, and sending parent. Kim shares tips for host parents and discusses how she brings intercultural education into the preschool classroom. We also hear from a volunteer with AFS Brazil about the history of the Portuguese language in Brazil.  

Guest: Kim Thompson 

Guest narrator: Júlia Herszenhut 

AFScast Brasil on Instagram: @afscastbrasil  

Contact us: [email protected] 

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we chat with Kim from Wisconsin. Kim has been a host sibling, host parent, study abroad participant, and sending parent. Kim shares tips for host parents and discusses how she brings intercultural education into the preschool classroom. We also hear from a volunteer with AFS Brazil about the history of the Portuguese language in Brazil.  

Guest: Kim Thompson 

Guest narrator: Júlia Herszenhut 

AFScast Brasil on Instagram: @afscastbrasil  

Contact us: podcas[email protected] 

Kate M.
Hello and welcome to The AFS Exchange. My name is Kate Mulvihill. The AFS Exchange is a podcast by AFS-USA where we open the door to hear from members of our AFS family. This is a place to have conversations, or ya know, exchanges, with AFS host families, students, volunteers, and educators.

During these exchanges, we will hear from our guests on how their lives have been impacted by AFS. What lessons have they taken away from their experience abroad, or their experience with hosted students in the United States?

In today’s episode, we’re going to hear from a long-time AFSer. She’s been a host sibling, a study abroad student, a host mother, a sending parent, a volunteer, an educator, and a life-long believer of the importance of intercultural education. Kim Thompson lives in De Pere, Wisconsin, outside of Green Bay.

Kim’s family’s relationship with AFS began before she was even born, when her mother hopped on the AFS boat and traveled to Berlin, Germany in 1954. Her mother got involved with AFS locally once she returned, and Kim grew up with host siblings before she herself spent time in Brazil and Japan through AFS. As an adult, she has hosted AFS students, sent two of her children abroad, and been an active volunteer in the World Class Area Team in Wisconsin. She is an early childhood educator and makes it a priority to include aspects of intercultural learning into her classroom. She also has life-long ties to Brazil, all stemming from the first AFS student her family hosted when she was growing up.

Along the way, we will be including some advice and best practices for host families to encourage a great year for participants and host families alike.

Kate M.
So, Kim, thanks for chatting with me today. Could you introduce yourself and tell me about how your family got involved with AFS?

Kim T.
Yeah, so my name is Kim Thompson. I live here in De Pere, Wisconsin, and I am the coordinator of the local AFS group here. I'm here in De Pere right now, but I guess I would say ever since I was a high schooler, I've been a volunteer for AFS and in multiple cities.
So my beginnings come back because my mother was an AFS student in 1954. And she went to Berlin, Germany. And in that summer, they traveled by the boat across the ocean. So all the AFSers got on a boat, traveled across the ocean, and she had a marvelous- her experience was a summer experience- she had a marvelous summer experience, and very impactful in her life.

The fun thing about it is, my mother is no longer living, but I've recently found her slides of her summer and a speech that she wrote. And I know why I am an AFSer now because it was that passion, and that love that she had for her experience that she brought to our home.

Kate M.
Wow, what a gift, really. So, growing up, what do you remember about your family’s involvement with AFS?

Kim T.
We grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, about 3,000 people. And my mother and another woman who had also gone to Finland the same summer she did, started an AFS chapter in Chilton, Wisconsin. And so AFS was really part of our life growing up,  she was involved as a volunteer, and eventually, we hosted our first student because it was a change in families. She was the current president at the time.

Kate M.
So tell me about that first student that your family hosted when you were growing up, your first experience as a host sibling.

Kim T.
Our exchange student, yeah. So her name is ‘Antonina’. We called her when she was in our home, we called her ‘Nina’, but her nickname at home is ‘Tunina’.

Kate M.
And that led to your family also hosting…

Kim T.
So we hosted her, became very good friends with her, and even eventually all of her brothers and sisters, which were four brothers and sisters, came and lived at my home. And then I had the desire to be a part of this. And so I spent a semester in Brazil, returned and after my senior year I asked my mother to do it again. So I was an AFSer, a summer AFSer to Japan.

So that actually was kind of unique. And that was the time when you could actually bring a student to the United States without a program. So the first student was an AFS student, and then their siblings were able to come independently, the school accepted them, that's no longer possible. And so they weren't all part of AFS, but it was because of AFS and that family, I mean, we remain in contact.

Kate M.
Wow! The whole family! How valuable those ties must be, even still.

Kim T.
The unique thing about that is that my daughter lived with their family and their daughter then came on AFS to my home, so we truly do have a second generation of exchange with that family.

Kate M.
Hah, okay, so Nina from Brazil was hosted in your home while you were growing up. Then your family hosted 4 of her siblings. Then, years later, your daughter stayed with her family through AFS, and her daughter stayed with your family. Wow! What a connection. So, did your parents host students from other countries as well, in addition to these siblings?

Kim T.
So we had lots of Brazilians and then we also hosted a daughter from Sweden and from Japan and from Venezuela. And that was my parents’  family. My family hosted two students from Brazil, a Thai boy, a Norwegian girl, and a girl from Paraguay.

Kate M.

Wow, well there’s so many things I want to touch on! To start... you were in Brazil through AFS, as a teenager. What was your experience like there?

Kim T.
I love Brazil, Brazil was, is, like a second home to me, in a way. And yet I probably in terms of generalizations, you know, Brazil tends to be a country of just friendly and passion, enjoying life, probably more laid back then we as Americans are in general, and I tended to be… I was a student who was pretty academically focused. I was very organized, kind of very structured. I had a busy schedule when I was a high schooler. So when I went to Brazil as a 16 year old, it was a dramatic change in terms of kind of the whole lifestyle, but it really taught me how to appreciate life, how to step back and see the positives of a different culture.
Also, I just love the people and the friendliness and I love to learn the language also. I went not speaking the language. I had some family members that did speak English when I arrived but after a month they said no more English and that really benefited me to, allow to, speak the language.

Kate M.
Hmm, well, that’s great that you were able to see life through the lens of another culture for a while, and maybe become more aware of your culture’s own behaviors and tendencies. 
And, well for the language-learning aspect of your program, it sounds like it was sink or swim! So you didn’t know Portuguese when you got there… had you studied Spanish or any other romance language in school?

Kim T.
Well, in my junior high I had studied French for two years and then I took a semester of Spanish before I had departed. So I have a little bit of knowledge of the romance based languages and the verb conjugations and things like that, but I was not speaking fluent Spanish or Portuguese when I arrived, so.

Kate
So every so often, I’ll hear someone mistakenly assume that Spanish is what is spoken in Brazil… but yes, actually, it’s Portuguese!

Okay so, for a super super abbreviated history of the Portuguese language in Brazil, I would like to introduce Júlia Herszenhut, an AFS Brazil volunteer based in Brasilia, the capital.

Júlia H.
The first wave of Portuguese-speaking immigrants settled in Brazil in the mid 1500s, and at that time, there were already over 1000 languages spoken in that area. Over the next few centuries, Portuguese came to coexist with these other languages. For example, there were various African languages brought into the country by enslaved people, there were indigenous languages including Tupi, and there was Língua Geral, a lingua franca that served as a common language between the indigenous populations of Brazil and Jesuit missionaries.
However, in 1758, Portuguese became the official Brazilian language by an act signed by the Marquês de Pombal that also banned the use of Tupi and the Lingua Geral.

Following Brazilian independence from Portugal in 1822, Brazilian Portuguese became influenced by Italian and other European immigrants migrating to the central and southern parts of the country.
Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese have continued to evolve and change over the past few centuries. Different vocab, grammar and spelling, accents, and usage of formal and informal speech. That said, they are still mutually intelligible. As in, speakers of each of these dialects can understand each other. It’s kind of like speakers of American English and British English. But even more different.

Anyway, back to the interview!

Kate M.
So, you came back from Brazil, then you got involved as a volunteer and as host parent. Once you had settled in Green Bay, what was your first hosting experience like?

Kim T.

But again, what happened was there was a student that was wanting to be placed in Green Bay without a chapter and AFS found me, asked me if I'd be a liaison, and I agreed to do so. And then the next year, they actually approached me again, because they had a Brazilian student, it was the end of hosting placement. And they had a student who spoke very little English. And you know, there may be some that will be more challenging to place, because families might be fearful of that, but they approached me to take her in as a welcome family, which we did.

And my family, my daughters, they were, one was a freshman in high school and one was yeah sixth grader. Right away, they said, “Can’t she stay with us? Can’t she stay with us?” So we approached the high school, but that's when the high school said that they hadn't been accepting because of numbers of students in the high school. And so we really had to work through the superintendent, who agreed, eventually, to help work with the school board, and we got permission for her to stay with us. So that was our first experience. So because my children, I think had kind of been exposed to the relationships of my Brazilian family and whatnot. They  were again, kind of like, when my mom brought the student in and they said, “She,” that Tunina, “came as a change of families.” She was here in our family temporarily, and we said to mom, “She should stay here.” It's kind of what happened to my kids.

Kate M.
And it sounds like it really worked out! Did that spark an interest in travel and cultural exchange in your children?

Kim T.
My oldest daughter went to Brazil herself. And then we took our second student,  the daughter of our AFS student. So we, that was a direct placement. We asked for direct placement. And then it kept going, my youngest daughter said, Let's host again and then we had a Norwegian student and a Norwegian daughter. My youngest daughter had her experiences and she came back from actually she had come back from her summer in Paraguay and said, “Mom, let's host a Paraguayan student.” So then we had a Paraguayan student, so really, they just kind of bought into it because it was part of our family life. And part of what they, they grew to like.

I will say, you know, bringing, just like bringing a new baby into the home, you know, it always doesn't go without issue or without challenges of working through things and working through relationships. Sometimes you have differences in personalities, and that happened with our family. You know, one of our students were more like our daughter than the other, and so on. But I think that, and I believe that, any challenge that we faced through those hosting relationships also made my kids better people, you know, had to learn how to work through and, and build relationships. So where it's not always, always wonderful every day, I tell host families or families that are thinking of hosting that it's an opportunity for your own children to grow and learn and open their world.

Kate M.
And it seems like that was absolutely the case with your daughters, their world was already open thanks to you and your family, and now even more so.
So, let's see, as a host daughter, host sibling, host mom, maybe host grandmother someday... Do you have any advice for new families that may be kind of hesitant to host? You know, what if there's a problem? What if the student doesn't get along with my kids? What sort of advice would you give?

Kim T.
I think the advice I would give is that recognize it's like, like having a new child, like having a new baby coming in the house, that there are adjustments for everyone. But that new baby can bring just a bundle of joy and that's the same thing with an exchange student, that they can just bring a bundle of joy.
I would recommend that you always seek to make them a part of your family, not just someone that's staying with you, for the year, but a part of your family. That you should just share your everyday with them, shared traditions like apple picking and Thanksgiving and those typical American things that isn’t so typical for them.
But then also, look to receive from them, learn to learn about their cultures, because that exchange starts that dialogue of interest.
Also know, for host families, that there is a support network of volunteers and AFS. I think, you know, over my many years of volunteering, you know, I have had some challenges and some issues at times. But what I have found that AFS’s experience is usually spot on, they're spot on in terms of giving you guidance to work through it. And they’re spot on in terms of guidelines and, you know, lines that can't be crossed in the program. So, from a hosting perspective, you know, be open to the opportunity to give and take and then know that with AFS, you've got a support structure there that will give you give you what you need, in most cases, and allow you to work through it. And I always tell them that the benefits so much outweigh the challenges and the relationships that we've had over the years.

Kate M.
Okay, to sum up…
Recognize that bringing a new student into the house is going to be an adjustment, but there are many positives that come out of hosting.
Make the student a part of your family- share your everyday together, your family traditions, and don’t treat them like a guest.
Be open to learning from them- what their life looks like back home, their traditions.
Do not hesitate to reach out to AFS volunteers for support.

Kim T.
I think another unique part of what has happened for us is that, so, I had hosted AFS siblings that we hosted. And then I had AFS children that I hosted, and I was the host mom. And now those people have met each other. So we've had different countries meeting each other. And it's like, even a bigger AFS family. So it just makes my heart full. And I guess I'd share that with families that there's that opportunity as well.

Kate M.
That's great. So have there been weddings or family reunions where everyone just kind of comes together?

Kim T.
Well, my mom way back in the years... Tunina actually, her husband was studying in Spain. And so my mom kind of fostered the first time. So she went and visited Tunina in Spain and our Swedish daughter came down and visited and this friend from Holland, who was an AFS student, she actually didn't live with us, but she's a very good friend and spent a lot of time at our home. They all met in Spain, so that was back in the 80s. But more recently, in 2017, my oldest daughter got married. And so we had, we had Brazilians, we had Swedes, we had Norwegians, we had Paraguayans, we had a Canadian and we had Philippines. I think we had six countries represented at the wedding. So really cool for everyone to meet. And then there's been the following year, my husband and I traveled to Sweden, I'm involved with another organization, Sister Cities, and we traveled to Sweden. And we just wound up finding out that my Brazilian sister was going to be in Europe. So we all ended up in Stockholm. My Brazilian sister, our friend from Holland and our Norwegian daughter came over. And we all met in Sweden. So there's a number of stories like that, but it's pretty, pretty awesome.

Kate M.
That’s great that your husband also enjoys travelling!

Kim T.
My husband had not traveled as a kid. He didn't have those experiences. So when we got married, I said, you marry me, you feel like you're signing up to go to Brazil some day. And it took us a while because we were young. I told you about the family trip. That finally we had kids and we went. But he loves to travel now. He loves all of our connections. He actually is a dentist and does a lot of mission work in Haiti. So he's really dived into the culture of Haiti.

Kate M.
Did your mother also have a similar impact on your father, inspiring a love of travel?

Kim T.
My dad had never experienced being abroad until my mom introduced. I mean, it was my mom that introduced the world. And then my dad just dove into it and loved having our students. And eventually he, you know, he traveled all around visiting all of his exchange students also. But he died last summer. And so we had to clean out the house. And he had some dementia. So there was a number of years where, well, there was a lot of stuff there that we didn't know was there. And I tell you, the pandemic allowed me to really because we move down a lot of stuff and just put in boxes, but I found the letters my parents… they were dating when my mom was in Germany. So I found all the letters that my mom wrote to my dad. I found her slides which I am, I'm creating. And it was Berlin, Germany in 1954. So there was also a lot of bombing that had done it was just after the war. So there's like, you know, good history description of going on here too. But I'm taking all digital ties all her slides, and I'm going to make a book for all the grandkids of of what my mom experienced because when I started reading all this, like I knew where all my passion came from was and yeah, it's just it's kind of been a comfort you know, even in terms of their loss and, and being out of our lives but just reconnecting with them and reconnecting with moments that I had heard stories about, I heard my mom always wrote my dad when she was on the ship, but here I found these letters and so really kind of some cool stuff and then this whole AFS yeah, that's what you do what you do Kim and yeah, so I'm a lifer.

Kate M.
Well that’s great to hear, and the scrapbook sounds like such a nice project and gift for your family.

Kate M.

We’re going to take a break, and when we come back, we’ll learn about how Kim has brought intercultural learning into preschool and pre-k classrooms around her community.

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Kate M.
So Kim is also an educator. In fact, I initially reached out to her because a colleague mentioned that Kim had been putting together presentations about different countries, and sharing them with her pre-K classes. It was only after I contacted Kim about this that I learned about the extensive history that she and her family have with AFS!

Kate M.
So, Kim, could you tell me a bit about the history of this project?

Kim T.
Yeah, so Growing up in Chilton, you know, AFS would always have potlucks where the AFS students would speak about their country. And I did that as well. I came back and spoke about Japan. So I was accustomed to these presentations, country presentations, and it was something that I had put into place within our AFS chapter. We always had both our returnees and our AFS kids do speeches. But that was that, you know, an adult group, family kind of level. My friend was a kindergarten teacher, I actually was teaching pre K, but my friend was a kindergarten teacher. And one of my Brazilian sisters was visiting and she said, Oh, it would be great if your Brazilian sister could come into the classroom. And it was a real hit. I mean, she came in, she talked to the kids at their level. She had a little Samba dance lesson. And my friend, the kindergarten teacher was thrilled with it and she said, you know, we should do more of this. Don't you have more presentations? And I thought, Well, yeah, I do. And are there more students it's really great when you get the students so I actually started reaching out to local investors and students and I kind of put together like a map of how they could create a presentation for a kindergarten level.

Kate M.
So what does a presentation look like for kindergarteners?

Kim T.
We included common things like common languages or sports foods, kids love animals. So key topics that each student could kind of cover, but then a little bit of just freedom about their countries. So basically, they took their AFS presentation and brought it down to a five year old level. At the beginning, I then would work with them to get that set up and I would literally pick them up in the afternoon, get permission to excuse them from class and bring them into the kindergarten classroom. Usually helped coordinate some kind of craft that would tie into that country. For example, for Brazil, we would make Brazilian Carnival masks and then we would also make the flag of the country and the kids each got a little passport and a little suitcase made out of paper. And then we would put a sticker both in the passport and on the suitcase with a picture representing something from that country. So that was the beginning. And we did that for about three three years where it was actually bringing the student in but working with them as I said, to take their presentation down to a five year old level.

Kate M.
What sorts of questions would the kids have for the exchange students? Like what were they most I'm just trying to think as a five year old, which I can't really do, what sorts of things would they be curious about?

Kim T.
Oh, um, sometimes they would want to know more about their family. Or, oh, if you talk about animals, you know, they they'd love to jump on specifics about the animals. They usually just kind of took it all in and we're pretty excited about it. The enthusiasm was, was definitely there.

Kate M.
And how did this project evolve?

Kim T.
I was mentioning that I've done that in the kindergarten class. This particular teacher then changed schools. And I actually teach in a 4k class, and so then my director said, “Well, why don't you do that in the 4k class?” And I said, “Well, I could do it. And it's pretty similar ages.”

Kate M.
A quick note here, 4K is an optional year of schooling and play before kindergarten, referred to as “Pre-K” in many other states.

Kim T.
But it was kind of tough for me to always bring the exchange students in. So if people are thinking about doing something like this, that can get a little challenging, but what I was able to do is I saved all those presentations. And having heard a lot of those presentations, I was able to then create my own script and actually, you know, some of the countries I've been to myself, Brazil, Japan, I knew about Panama for my daughter. I knew about Norway from my Norwegian student. And so I think so now I do that in the 4k,  we do ‘Passport to the World,’ we travel. This is probably the fifth year that I've done it and the kids get pretty excited. And you know, we start out with The concept of the world, and how many that the world is broken down into continents. And then within the continents, there's more diversity and in different countries. And you might, one might say, well, that's a lot of information for a child that's four years old. And I would say, you know, they might not remember everything that they learned, but they're going to remember something. And you've created a knowledge of geography. You've created a knowledge that our world is big and different, and yet a lot of similarities.

Kate M.
Hmm, what else have you found to be helpful in explaining more about the world to your students?

Kim T.
And one thing I've really love to do is there are so many movies kids movies out that actually present a lot of cultural information. And kids know those movies. So for example, you traveled to Brazil. The Rio movie actually has some highlights and through those highlights, so I do a presentation in Brazil but then I'll, I'll bring into the Rio movie and You get half the kids sitewide Oh, that movie? Well, you say, yeah, you know that movie that was in Brazil, look at what they're doing in Brazil. And all of a sudden, it's familiar to them. And it's not this foreign place. Norway, Frozen. Wow. Great Norwegian culture in that movie. So what can you teach a four year old about the world in different countries and diversity? They not, you know, they might not be able to write a full report, but they've taken home. Some, as I said, geography, cultural ideas, diversity in food, openness to something new and different. When we go to France, we get chocolate croissants for snack that day. When we go to Italy, we get gelato that day. And all of a sudden you have a four year old knowing what gelato is.

Kate M.
Ah, gelato is great. Well, Kim, that sounds like a great idea for a project and I’m sure the students enjoy it! Is there anything else you’d like to add about your experience as an educator, or your long history with AFS?

Kim T.
I believe, like, you know, AFS did start through calamity through a challenge. And so I, I hope and I pray that they will persevere. We'll get through it and come out stronger on the other end.

Kate M.
Hey- another quick note- for context.
AFS’s founders were volunteer WWI and WWII American Field Service ambulance drivers. They emerged from the wars with a mission: to help prevent future conflict through cultural exchange and understanding.
This interview was conducted in September of 2020, and Kim is referring to the  COVID-19 situation as it existed in September 2020.

Kim T.
I mean, I have two families that have, we had a student placed for the year in my hometown, and in De Pere here and yeah, and then the school did back out because of COVID. But they're inquiring. They're saying “What's going on with AFS?”  You know, I know that they're still interested when they're ready to go. And I had another family who had a semester student from Switzerland that had to end program in March, but they just inquired with me and said, “Are there students available?” So, you know, there's, I know that there's still some interest out there.

Kate M.

Yes, the future of student exchange is looking better now than it was a few months ago. You know, right at the beginning, it was just like, Okay, what are we doing now? We need to get these kids home, we need to get these kids safe. So now we are able to talk  more about the future. And you know, hopefully these families will be able to welcome a student next year.

Kim T.
It was a statement AFS I mean, I, the family when they said How's it going, I said, You know what, this is what AFS is doing. I mean, the organization and the just the response and the communication that a of us did through that. I always have told parents when I have kids that are looking to study abroad, that I have faith in AFS and that AFS you know, if if the situation is that safe, they will respond and they will you know, do their best to To do what they need to do to keep students safe, and that there's that network. So it's a testament. I mean, the whole execution of that. Getting kids home was pretty amazing.

Kate M.
Yes, it was a very big production that all staff and many volunteers were involved in in some way… It’s something that I hope AFS never needs to do again!

Kim T.
Yeah, I'm sure but applause to you and the AFS staff.

Kate M.
Again, thank you. I mean, also, you know, I wasn't the person who was getting a phone call saying, “Hi, this student you've built a relationship with… they are leaving in two days?” You know, it must have been so hard for these host families and these volunteers and these communities to have such little closure and time for goodbyes.

Kim T.
Yeah. And that and that was tough. But I really felt, I mean, I felt as though that AFS was communicating with us and the minute I knew something I would communicate with families and I did deal with a couple of families of frustration and stuff. And I just tried to keep it balanced and said, You know, we're in a situation that no one expected and just be thankful you have an organization standing behind, you know, the students and, and the families. So, yeah, not easy, but well done.

Kate M.
Well thank you, Kim. And thank you for joining me to chat about your history with AFS, your advice for potential host families, and your work as an educator. 

That was Kim Thompson, a volunteer with the World Class Area Team in Wisconsin. A thank you to Júlia Herszenhut for reading the section on the history of the Portuguese language in Brazil. Julia is part of a team with AFS Brazil that produces their own podcast- AFSCast Brasil. You can find them on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. AFSCast Brasil, Brasil spelled B-r-a-s-i-l.

Well, thank you for listening to The AFS Exchange! I’m Kate Mulvihill Let us know what you thought of this episode by sending a message to [email protected] 

If you enjoyed this show, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, and subscribe on Spotify.

Keep an eye out on AFS-USA’s social media- you will be hearing more from The AFS Exchange soon!

This podcast was created, produced and edited by Kate Mulvihill. Social media by Julie Ball. Special thanks to Jill Woerner and our guest, Kim Thompson.