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Long-distance travelers for picnic

AFS marks 60 years

FALLS VILLAGE —The Falls Village chapter of the American Field Service (AFS)organization celebrated its 60th anniversary with a picnic at the West Cornwall home of Katherine Gannett on River Road Saturday, Aug. 21.

The AFS is an international exchange organization founded in 1947 by volunteer ambulance drivers from both world wars who believed the goal of world peace could be served through international student exchange.

The Falls Village chapter was started in 1950 by Housatonic Valley Regional High School (HVRHS) Principal Paul W. Stoddard and is one of the oldest continuing chapters in the country. Chapter families have hosted 85 foreign students from abroad, while 154 HVRHS students have gone abroad.

Eight of the students who came to HVRHS were on hand, as were 18 Mountaineers who had traveled abroad.

In brief speeches, they touched on the value of their AFS experiences. Peter Orioles went to Australia in 1990. “There was no language barrier, and it was the farthest away I could get from my mother,” he said to laughter.

His experience “taught me how to interact,” he added. In his current position as medical liaison at West Point, “I still use AFS daily.”

Tricia Segalla Burton fondly recalled her first encounter with the Finnish sauna (a very hot sauna followed by a plunge into a very cold lake). AFS “gave me the ability to deal with people and exposed me to a whole new kind of life. It gave me the courage to expand my own horizons.”

Iris Hermann spent 2002 in the Netherlands and traveled widely, first by bicycle and then by train.

She said she learned this lesson: “Don’t stop traveling, don’t stop learning.”

Geoff Lee from Australia found himself in Woods Sinclair’s English class at HVRHS. Turning to the retired teacher, Lee admitted he never read “The Scarlet Letter” or “Moby-Dick.”

“Haven’t read them since, either.”

Unal Zenginobuz of Turkey remembered Sinclair’s English class as well. Regarding the teaching of the Herman Melville classic, he said, “I was impressed with his patience — as well as mine.

“I still love literature and read a lot,” he continued. “It didn’t deter me at all.”

Paco Carajaville of Spain spent 1981 to 1982 at HVRHS. He said he has never stopped traveling.

“If you know languages you can travel around. There are wonderful people everywhere.”

When Sinclair rose to speak, he kept the literary cetaphobia theme going. “Where to begin?” he mused. “Call me Ishmael?”

He said he has received several copies of “Moby-Dick” — in several languages — from former AFS students. “It gives me immense pleasure, though I can’t read them.”

He went on to mention the official AFS tree planted last Thursday in the White Oak courtyard at the high school — a Winter King Hawthorn from the Kent Greenhouse.

The ceremony closed with the singing of “Auld Lang Syne” and lunch from Freund’s Farm Market and Bakery in East Canaan.

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