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Personal stories

Here are some of the personal stories we received. Through theses stories you might be able to get an impression of varying experiences.

Please keep in mind that all of theses stories are very personal experiences and can only offer a very selective glimpse of each country or culture.

Additionalley - there are some more stories. Feel free to read them (in German) on our German webiste: Erfahrungsberichte auf

Here's a list of our English stories:

George G., from Puerto Rico to Switzerland, 1987/1988
Flavia, Germany to Guatemala 2000/2001
Julia, hostsister in Germany
Julia, exchange student in Thailand

George G. from Puerto Rico to Switzerland, 87/88

We are interested in the following questions:

1. When and where were you abroad?

1987-1988 from AFS Puerto Rico to AFS Switzerland.

2. Did you already know that you were bisexual, transgender or homosexual when you applied?

No. I, and the bullies and the girls I fancied (who always loved me as "brother") knew I was "different" but I could not put a name to it. Also, the image in those days of homosexuality (the less-of-man ridicule or effeminate man) was not one I recognized myself. What I did know is that I did not treat girls or boys with any difference; i.e. if I cursed in front of boys, why not in front of girls; or I found boys and girls attractive, but never shared it with anyone.

3. Was your sexual orientation or sexual identity a topic for you during your time abroad?

Yes and no.  My exchange year was in the spirit of cultural awareness and achievement of a peaceful world after being a teenager during the awful days of the Reagan years!  However, when I saw the Aids "MOMOL" Campaign in Gymansium and posters on the SBB in Zürich, and the lack of sexual repression and honesty of the Swiss in dealing with HIV/AIDS prompted my curiosity of topics of sexuality.  Living under the systematic puritanical attitude of the USAmerican society towards homosexuality and HIV/AIDS---and the obscene obfuscation and denial of this crisis by the Reagan administration!---and being in a country like Switzerland that was not taking any chances of assuming that only homosexual men were in peril of acquiring he disease opened my eyes to an exploration that I had not taken seriously because the exploited stereotypes of what a homosexual man was in the eyes of the USA media, which was incompatible with my social attitudes and personal demeanor of how I saw myself as a man that just happened to be homosexual.

4. If you had a "coming out," how did the people in your surroundings react (host family, friends, fellow AFSers, AFS volunteers, school or other activity groups)?

I did not come out to myself during my exchange year. I still fancied girls, but went out to Zürich and had "experimental adventures" but did not have the courage to pursue further staying in contact with these "mentors". However, a fellow AFSer, who told me his brother was homosexual, had proposed to have sex on our last night before our departure. I was very conflicted, because I did want to be "that close" to him, but thought it was a trap. His offer was as a way to culminate how close we had been as friends, and this was the ultimate demonstration of that closeness. Why then I thought it was a trap? Because I was not sure if he wanted me to find out if I was homosexual like his brother and then reveal to others, or what.

5. How did the people in your home country react?

I came back with more liberal ideas about sexuality, but resumed being in the closet as the same masculine images I saw in Europe were not present back home, or I did not know how to further my understanding of who I was and how to escape societal conditioning of who I was supposed to be. It was not until I left my homeland  for post-graduate studies in the USA that I finally was able to "sort myself out" at least four years after I left my graduate-school program.

I never made my sexuality a topic, let alone with AFS USA. The first thing I did once I moved from my university town to my work city was all AFS and volunteer. The local teams that welcomed me regarded me as young man that fancied blondes Scandinavian women - because I did. Then slowly I was growing up out of my social conditioning of marriage, and the perfect delay to this were my studies and fancying a group of women not easily accessible in Puerto Rico, let alone the places in the USA where I lived.

6. What helped you? What did you wish you had had?

That is hard to answer; I am Gen-X AFSer. I have never introduced myself to AFS students as: "My name is José, and I am homosexual." However, through my years of volunteering in the USA, in reading interview questions that asked about relationships I would say "...if your girlfriend/boyfriend?" whether they were boys or girls; which I had learned from a younger returnee that would do interviews with me of prospective candidates. Thereafter, I would always include in my local team and Outbound Orientations language to make all aware, straight or not-straight, of the fact that they could encounter homosexuals and lesbians that were not the stereotype they have been exposed to by the media; or to not assume that because men kissed or women held hands in public that these were signs of homosexuality, etc. I also added to the old "10% of you will marry each other ..." popular legend within AFS, the "... and 5% will discover you are homosexual". Maybe language like that in our forms, interviews and orientations would have helped me. Now I make sure I do for others.

One thing I have to say, is that the USA is a bit far from this... After I finally came out, which was not too big fanfare, as again I never made an issue or use my sexuality as a political banner; a student used my relationship to demonize me being homosexual and hosting him as a temporary-host parent in order to allow the student - whom I was his liaison to - avoid being sent back home for "fucking up" (is the only term appropriate to what he did) relationships with his host family in just 3-weeks of arriving to the AFS local team I had volunteered for AFS USA for more than 10 years at the time. My then bf - a YFU alumni -was part of the volunteers for two years when this happened and as I introduced this YFU alumni, everyone "figured" out who and what I was, and no one showed any contempt Personal storiesfor us. It was the AFS management and members the area team my local team was part of, who allowed that to happen. No apologies have ever been said. I still volunteer, but not at the local level; only on D-Day and Outbound Orientations for AFS USA students going to AFS Switzerland.

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Flavia, from Germany to Guatemala 2000/2001

"I spent 00/01 in Guatemala as an exchange student, and am still in touch with my host family, mainly through Facebook. I recently chatted with my host brother, and after some dithering, and cautious questions and hinting, we finally dared to come out to each other. What a sign of trust - I'm so grateful for my AFS family!

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Julia, hostsister in Germany

"I spent 00/01 in Guatemala as an exchange student, and am still in touch with my host family, mainly through Facebook. My American hostsister visited us again after graduating high school and brought her boyfriend as well. I got along with him really well and we stayed friends even when they broke up. This year he visited me with his boyfriend. My hostsister became a mother last year - with her girlfriend.

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Julia, exchange student in Thailand

"When I lived in Thailand as an exchange student, my hostfamily did not really talk about my hostbrother who went to a military academy in the US at that time. When I asked "What's he like?" I only got one answer: "You will see". He came home for christmas break - and he was an extroverted gay and very camp young man. My hostfather had hoped that the military academy would turn him into a "real man". Well.. that did not work out."

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