Last week on Wednesday I was able to spend the day at the airport and the bus station in Santiago picking up exchange students and bringing them to a camp located on the outskirts of Santiago. I really enjoyed this opportunity because it taught me how to organize and run a group. I spent the day with two of my colleagues whose names are Domingo and Madara. While one of us would go and get students from their flights, another one of us would be in charge of staying with the luggage and the students who had arrived previously. And another one of us would make sure that the transportations buses to the camp were arriving on time.
We took turns at the different jobs as well. The most complicated part of the job was locating the students at the bus station. Unlike the airport there is not always an assigned arrival platform for the buses, and also there is a higher crime rate and chance of having luggage being stolen. But we had no problems and were able to locate the students successfully. I can definitely say that preorganization was important; since we had had a reunion beforehand we were able to do the job almost stress free.
Furthermore, the time spent at the airport, and the camp was a great opportunity for me to get to know my colleagues and the exchange students. Both of my colleagues had participated in exchanges beforehand. Madara is also doing an internship at A.F.S. in Chile. She is from Latvia and took a gap year to study abroad in New Zealand for six months with A.F.S. and then decided she wanted to do an internship with A.F.S. in Chile. Domingo also participated in an exchange program while he was in high school, and has been an A.F.S. volunteer for over 10 years. He started working for A.F.S. when he graduated college, in his local committee in southern Chile. During this time he also worked as a psychologist in an abused children center. Then two months ago he was offered a position in the national headquarters for A.F.S. in Santiago, and took the position. His position deals directly with students and host families who are in any sort of difficulty and he helps them resolve the issue that they are facing. He says that this way he is still able to use his psychology studies and also work for an organization that he is truly passionate for.
It was also great talking to exchange students and to hear feed back directly from them that they had had an amazing experience. At the camp outside of Santiago, my colleagues and I stayed up until 2am talking with students about their time in Chile. It was amazing to see the joy that they expressed when I asked them about their exchange. Not a single one of them wanted to leave Chile; the connection with their host families, schools, activities and life had formed throughout the year in Chile. I remembered myself being in their shoes a few years ago. As a professional at A.F.S. we are supposed to connect with students in this way, but I found it hard to hold back tears when I talked with students. While it was sad to see the students leaving Chile, I found myself looking at it from a different perspective. Instead of being sad, I felt happiness, because their sadness expressed that they had learned to love another country, culture and find them selves to be a part of it.
A.F.S. has an expression that your exchange is only the beginning because A.F.S. is a lifetime experience. The connections that these students made in Chile will always exist, and they will find themselves connecting with other countries and viewing the world differently. After discussing this with my colleagues and the students, I directly saw the impact that exchanges have, and it made me think how beautiful the connection is that is created between friendships from different countries.