Volunteer Spotlight: Carol McCaulley

Volunteer Spotlight: Carol McCaulley

Carol with 3 local hosted students from Yuba City and Live Oak, CA, who were doing a presentation at a Kiwanis lunch meeting in June, 2019. 

Meet Carol McCaulley, a volunteer with the Silver and Gold Team for the past 46 years. Learn more about her AFS story here:

How did you learn about AFS and what prompted you to get involved?

My high school, Taft High, in Taft, CA, started having an AFS student each year in 1964.  I was intrigued that a teenager from some other country would come to my little town and live for a year, and learn about us while we learned about them and their country. My senior year, 1968, we had a girl from Hue, South Vietnam, and that was the year of the Tet Offensive. She HAD to go home at the end of the year. This experience really made the Vietnam War personal! Since then, I always think of our exchange students in their own country and what their life must be like, especially after they return.  Each year one of our school’s students got to go abroad on AFS, and one of my close friends went to Austria for the summer in 1967.  Her summer had a great impact on her future career, getting a German minor in college, and becoming a flight attendant for Pan Am instead of becoming an elementary teacher, a career she continued until retirement several years ago.

My first teaching job was at a small high school in Arbuckle, CA.  My second year there, a group of students and parents wanted to start an AFS chapter because they knew people in a neighboring town had AFS.  I immediately volunteered to be the high school club advisor for an AFS club!  Our club raised the money each year (mainly through a community Friendship Bond drive) to pay the fee to be able to host an AFS exchange student.  (Wow, have things changed!)  Our first student was a girl from England, and ironically, it was the year of America’s Bicentennial!  Our first student to go abroad went to Brazil for a summer.

About five years later, I got married and moved to a larger town, and I found out they had had an active AFS chapter since 1953, so I started volunteering in minor roles.  For about the next ten years, I helped out where I could, but with a new job and two young children, my major role was to promote AFS, especially sending programs, at my high school, and to help out with sending interviews.  Gradually, I also got involved in sending and hosting orientations, and feeling more comfortable doing hosting interviews and recruitment.  In the mid-1990’s when AFS went to the area concept, I was asked to be part of the Transitional Regional Council of the Southwest Region, serving two years.  For the last 15 years or so I’ve been the Silver & Gold Hosting Coordinator, but I transitioned into that role over several years.  Candy and Nick Carter were the overall hosting coordinators for a few years, then they asked another volunteer and me to be in charge of the Gold side of the area.  A few years later, the other volunteer moved out of the country.  When Candy and Nick were ready to retire and move to a different area, I became the main coordinator.  For two years (when I retired) I took a turn at being Area Chair.  I’ve also served as a liaison many years.  I served on the Hosting Advisory Group (HAG) and appreciated being asked for our input on distribution of applications and policies.

What keeps you coming back to volunteer each year?

Since I was in high school, I’ve always been intrigued with the concept of high school-aged teens coming here to live for a year and let Americans know what life is like in their countries, and the opportunities for our high schoolers to live and study abroad.  I also like the volunteer aspect of AFS, and respect that people involved with AFS are involved because of the mission, and they see it as a worthwhile use of their time and resources.  That adds to the camaraderie of our team, and the events and orientations that we have.  Bottom line, people who volunteer for AFS are fun to be around!

What’s a typical volunteer “shift” like for you?

I don’t have a typical “shift.”  I do what needs to be done, that I can fit into my schedule.  Being retired for the last ten years, I can devote more time to AFS.  Besides hosting calls, interviews, and paperwork, I now do more high school presentations, emphasizing sending, within an hour’s drive of home.  In the fall, it’s nice to be able to promote the Sponsored Programs scholarships to schools and students.  Unfortunately, with COVID-19, presentations aren’t getting done, and hosting hasn’t happened, in spite of our efforts, in several cycles.  We have NEVER had anything like this!

What have you learned or how have you been personally affected by your experience with AFS?

Like I mentioned in #1 above, I have been personally affected by all of the students, each to a different degree.  In 1975, the community I lived in was hosting a boy from South Vietnam.  Since the government fell to the communists in April, and AFS no longer had an agreement with the government for the students to return home because the government didn’t exist anymore, AFS gave the South Vietnamese students the opportunity to stay in the U.S. (as a refugee?) if they had a sponsor.  This boy had an older relative in another state sponsor him.

Our area hosted a cluster of the first FLEX (then called the Bradley Initiative) students.  I remember one of the activities included a tour of a new Walmart store in our community, including “behind the scenes” offices, lounge area, storage/warehouse area.  They were all flabbergasted with the amount of items, and how everything worked to keep it going.  This first group only came for spring semester, and it was 1993 or 1994.

Another girl from Czechoslovakia in the mid-1990’s thought it was interesting how U.S. History and Economics teachers taught about communism compared to what she had learned.  A boy from the former East Germany commented in the late-1990’s that many people in East Germany didn’t like the “new” Germany because not all of them could find a job.  Under communism they all had a job, a place to live, and childcare for the children so the parents could go to work.

In 2001-2002, I was liaison for a boy from Denmark.  He was interested in history, and was in my U.S. History class.  [Guess that couldn’t happen now with the new state department regulations!]  That was the year of 9-11.  Later in the year when we were studying World War II, we did a newscast simulation where I was the “reporter” and I was talking to different students about their role in the war—soldier, Rosie the Riveter, farmer, etc.  He played the role of an immigrant from Denmark.  I asked him a question about what did his family do when the German Army came marching into Denmark, and what did they think about that?  He replied that one of his uncles was taken away, and they never saw him again.  They think it was because he spoke out against the invaders.  That is something our students wouldn’t even have thought could happen!  As a side note, he told me that the Germans convinced the Danes to sign a treaty of protection with Germany so that they would be protected from a possible invasion by Britain.  Danes knew this wasn’t true, but they did it anyway to prevent the Germans from “invading” and killing a lot of the Danish soldiers and citizens, since the Danish military was no match for the Germans.  Later after he went home, he started volunteering for AFS-Denmark, went to university, and is now a lawyer.  Several years ago he wrote me a great Thank You email, for being his liaison, and for encouraging him to volunteer when he returned.  He later became the President (or Chair?) of the Volunteers of AFS-Denmark!

In the late 1990’s, a boy from my school went on a summer program to Chile, in the small town of Angol.  He had been taking Spanish in high school, and he credits his summer with making him fluent.  After graduating from Stanford, going to medical school, and completing his internship or residency, he was ready to apply for a “real” doctor’s job when a massive earthquake struck Chile, severely damaging his town.  He came home to Yuba City, launched a campaign to get donations of supplies, and money to buy supplies, to take with him to Chile so that he could use his doctor skills and help the people of Angol.  (He had stayed in touch with his host family in Chile all of those years.  He got to practice his Spanish treating patients in his medical training, so he was still fluent.)  I think he stayed a couple of weeks, then came back to the U.S. and got a job as a real doctor.

About ten years ago, a girl from our town spent her junior year in the Netherlands.  She had had two years of Spanish before she went, but she started learning Dutch as soon as she was guaranteed to Netherlands.  She did learn Dutch as the year progressed, and by the end of the year, she passed all of her classes in Dutch!  After high school she went to the local community college, then transferred to UC Davis, and majored in linguistics!  She has to know a foreign language, so she took German, and did very well.  (I don’t know whether or not UC Davis offers Dutch.)  AFS gives students additional confidence that they didn’t know they had!  And ideas for potential careers that they hadn’t thought of.

About seven years ago, a girl from our town spent a semester in Ghana.  She picked Ghana because she didn’t want the challenge of learning a new language, but wanted a lifestyle and culture that was very different.  It was different!  I could follow some of her experiences on Facebook, and it was so interesting!  She even got malaria, and she had been taking malaria pills since before she left for Ghana.  She went back to visit about two years later, for about a month.  Less than two years ago she married a local man who is in the military, and they have been stationed in South Korea for about a year.  They love getting out and seeing the country, experiencing new activities, including the foods.  Just this week she posted, “I can’t stress this enough.  GET OUT OF YOUR HOMETOWN.  Even if it’s not forever.  Move.  Travel.  See the world.  There’s more to life than the same 10 people and the same 2 restaurants.”  They are looking forward to their next station in Germany in about a year.

In all of these years as a volunteer with AFS, and a high school teacher, it has been interesting to learn more about world geography, and the perspective of other countries and cultures from people who really live there!  I always tried to have the exchange students make presentations in my classes, especially in the spring when they were more comfortable with English, and had been here long enough to make comparisons.  I’ve also been interested all these years in learning about the educational systems of the different countries, and how different most of them are from the U.S.  As the phrase says, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, or in this case, to constructively educate young people!

Please share the best or the funniest thing that’s happened to you while volunteering with AFS.

The best things are pretty much mentioned above.  Funniest thing:  an Australian girl asked her male biology lab partner to hand her a rubber, meaning eraser!  They were both embarrassed after the explanation was made!

What do you want to say to people who might be interested in volunteering with AFS?

It’s very rewarding, getting to learn more about the world from young people who live all around the world, and know that you are making an impact on hosted students, Americans Abroad, their host family members, and the people in the schools and communities they come in contact with.  Like I said above, it’s fun working with other volunteers to make the mission of AFS come to fruition.