After fifty years of hosting foreign exchange students, Pingry decided to cancel its AFS (American Field Service) program for future years. This news comes alongside the fact that, over Spring Break, the current AFS program was understandably called off due to COVID-19.
The AFS program allowed a multitude of students from across the world to be a part of the Pingry community. Exchange students would stay with a host family for a year, take classes, and be introduced to a new, Pingry way of life. Through this program, students from Pingry were able to meet people from all around the world. Exchange students could engage in new American experiences, while teaching students from Pingry about their own culture.
The program also involved Pingry’s AFS Club, a student-led club that hosted welcome parties and birthday parties for exchange students. The club’s main purpose was to help exchange students acclimate with their new community. This year the club was led by Alison Lee (VI) and Massa Godbold (V), both of whom loved being a part of the club.
“I think it was very rewarding,” Lee mentioned (regarding her experience as a club leader). “This foreign exchange was very valuable to not just me, but the Pingry community. I’m sad to see it go.”
“I will miss my ability to travel abroad without leaving the comfort of the Pingry School,” said Godbold. She’ll really miss getting to know new people and making new friends, “friends that I will not soon forget and will keep in contact with for as long as possible.”
The faculty advisor for the club, Ms. Julia Dunbar, will also miss the program. “In my opinion, the best part of the AFS program is the opportunity to meet and work with students from around the world,” she said.
Pingry’s cancellation of the program was not an easy decision, and there were multiple factors that ultimately decided the program’s fate. The first was the search for host parents. “When the program began, many families were eager to host exchange students,” Ms. Dunbar remarked. “In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to find families who are able to welcome an exchange student into their homes for an entire school year.” This is the main reason Pingry has decided to cancel the program.
The other factor was the expansion of Pingry’s global programming. AFS was one of Pingry’s first global programs, but now there are many opportunities for students to travel around the world, with immersive trips focused on a variety of subjects. Though programs have had to adapt due to COVID-19, the travel program continues to expand.
“Despite current conditions, Pingry will continue to build its global programming,” said Ms. Dunbar. “By expanding our global travel programs, global education will continue to become accessible to even more Pingry students.”
The program will be missed by Pingry students. Martine Bigos (IV) said, “I think it’s really amazing that AFS gives us the opportunity to meet incredible people from different places every year.”
This year’s exchange student was Meina Franzius (V), who came to Pingry from Germany. Even though the program was cancelled early this year, she still took a lot away from it.
“Everyone at Pingry was really nice; the teachers, the students, everybody,” she commented. She talked to me about her experience at Pingry: “It was a challenge at first, but I really enjoyed the classes. The school was totally different than my school in Germany, but I really miss it.
“We did a lot of great things. I really miss everyone.”