The traditional AFS (American Field Service) Intercultural Dinner drew a capacity crowd to the Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church in Kenai the final Sunday in March.
Eileen Bryson has been organizing the event for over 3 decades and this year was co-chair along with Laura Sievert and Nancy Cranston.
“I’ll keep doing it as long as I can! I love it! I like the kids and meeting the exchange students and learning about their cultures and home countries,” Bryson told the Dispatch in an interview.
Most of those in attendance shared Eileen’s passion for the student exchange program and in one way or another, whether as a host family, exchange student to other lands or volunteer shared the life changing experiences of welcoming a young person from another culture into their homes.
“It’s a priceless experience of making lifelong friendships with others from around the world. When we have a dinner we always feature the foods from the homelands of the students. We bring all the AFS students together that are at different schools across the Peninsula and with the help of volunteers like Geri Litzenberger, Kelly Keating, Marcus Mueller and too many others to name that help prepare the dishes from each students country, serve and wash the dishes. We have a tasting party and select the best dishes for our gourmet dinner during which each student tells us about their countries and their experiences,” said Bryson.
There are nine AFS students in the school district this year according to Eileen, one in Nikiski, three at Soldotna High, four at Kenai High and one in Homer.
The broad based community event draws support from many sources according to co-chair Laura Sievert.
“Too many to name that help put this on, from food donations to a lot of businesses that donate items for our silent auction. It’s great fun and we all learn so much and become better people for it,” she said.
Flor is a student from Germany and said he requested to come to the United States, but was surprised when he was chosen to come to Alaska.
“Just a couple of months before I left I decided to go on exchange after talking with some of my friends and they talked about have done it and it sounded pretty cool so I signed up. The only country I picked was the United States, but for me it was a surprise to come to Alaska. I didn’t know anything about Alaska except that it’s cold and it is, but now that I’m here I like it. There are really many similarities between Alaskans and Germans,” he said.
Mira Jradi is from Lebanon, a country with a very different climate from Alaska yet in many ways similar.
“It’s very very different from my country. But people are very friendly just like back home and they never let me miss home, they do everything they can to help me stay happy and feel loved. My host family is wonderful and I’m very sure our friendship will go on forever. I’m so grateful and thankful to have such wonderful parents and host family in Alaska.”
Afina is attending Soldotna High School and was wearing a traditional dress from her home of Indonesia.
“I’m wearing the traditional clothes the biggest island in Indonesia called Borneo. Being in a country that is very different from your own with no one you know to rely on I believe bonds exchange students in a special kind of friendship and we rely on each other because we know how each other are feeling being away from home. We share the experience of learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I’ve learned not to be afraid to look stupid because you will live through it no matter what you do once you’re comfortable with it you know you can learn anything. An event like tonight that brings us all together is wonderful and we learn to embrace all cultures,” said Afina.
AFS-USA works toward a more just and peaceful world by providing international and intercultural learning experiences to individuals, families, schools, and communities through a global volunteer partnership. To learn more about being a hosting an AFS student or supporting the local AFS branch visit afsalaska.org/team/Alaska or get in touch with Eileen Bryson.