Bringing the Field Back Home

Before 1946, with the exception of the 7 French participants in the AFS French Fellowships, AFS's "fields" were abroad. At the same time, AFS had always drawn its material support and personnel from America and Americans and after World War I, AFS headquarters had followed Andrew and Galatti to New York.

Two world wars had produced a well-oiled coordinating office organized around the vision and experience of Stephen Galatti, an organization with great expertise in the logistics of assembling men and materials and transporting them abroad under all kinds of conditions. AFS was skilled in using an international communications network and navigating successfully through all kinds of official red tape. It had well-placed friends in Washington and throughout the world. Above all, it could make things happen, coordinating a vast effort of publicity, fundraising and recruitment of volunteers. The question of a new AFS mission would boil down to a gradual redefinition of its "field".

World Peace was the rallying cry in 1946 when the American fighting boys came home victorious. The United Nations set up shop in east Manhattan. While Europe and Asia were rebuilding from ruins, America had its own idea about bringing peace to the world: sharing its Dream. American prosperity, an economic by-product of World War II, would finance the Marshall Plan and... the beginnings of AFS's new mission.

AFS was going to bring a new vision to Americans. With its experience abroad, it had learned to see things differently. It had worked alongside of all kinds of people, learning to respect if not embrace their various cultures and was little interested in seeing this richness of "difference" disappear into a "melting pot". AFS therefore advocated opening up to alien perspectives, not closing oneself off from them: internationalism, not isolationism.

At the reunion banquet, speaking as the representative of the AFS to the British and French officials present, Mr. Galatti said: "In the two wars they carried over one million and a half of your soldiers. They did this as volunteers, not one of whom went unthinkingly or unwillingly. What these men want me to tell you tonight is not what they did but that, in doing it, they experienced the opportunity to mingle with you, to know you, and to realize that the men of your nations are their friends --- whether Australians, Indians, South Africans, Scotchmen, New Zealanders --- whether privates or generals or sergeants --- all the same kind of people, brothers under the skin.

George Rock, History of the American Field Service, 1920-1955. New York: Platen Press. 1956.

The Second World War had revitalized AFS, widening its horizons considerably. In 1946 the Fellowships, still under the management of the Institute of International Education in New York, resumed awarding scholarships. If two out of the ten French Fellows of that year were former ambulance drivers, the eight others were French.

When I left for the United States in 1945 (on a Liberty Ship loaded with troops plus a handful of French civilians), I was one of the very rare AFS Fellows of that year and we were all pursuing advanced studies. I was already a high school teacher, certified in English and was leaving to do research on Walt Whitman for my doctoral thesis. My destination was Harvard where I lived in a dormitory and had little contact with AFS outside of meeting a few times with an undergraduate who had served in France and who I believe was named Kinsolving, a very nice person, quite mature (for a freshman) and already married.

During Christmas vacation that year, I met a few other AFS Fellows in New York where we had been invited by Stephen Galatti and AFS. There was a great dinner presided over by a local politician by the name of Young, I believe, and then we were taken around New York and out to La Guardia airport.

Roger Asselineau, extracts from a letter of Dec 8, 1988, AFS-VSF Archives

The gradual shift of emphasis of the French Fellowships---through Doc Andrew's influence--- from sending American students to France to bringing French students to America had given AFS its first taste of "hosting". The WWII experience had expanded AFS perspectives from Franco-American to international. In 1946, at the prompting of the Institute of International Education, AFS took another step in bringing its international "field" experience home.

During the 1946-47 school year, AFS offered hospitality to some 75 foreign students then in the United States, arranging homes for them to visit in at Christmas and doing whatever else was possible to make them feel at home in this country.

George Rock, History of the American Field Service, 1920-1955. New York: Platen Press. 1956.

This was a gesture in the right direction----but what now was AFS to do "to stay in business"? What was its new "field" to be?

In early 1947, Stephen Galatti called a meeting of key supporters to discuss the issue. George Van Santvoord (a WWI driver) and his protégé, Arthur Howe (a WWII driver) attended. At this meeting, the broad lines of an international counterpart to the French Fellowship program were laid down. While the French Fellowships had been defined primarily with the intellectual concerns of advanced university education in mind, the new AFS International Scholarship program would be given a much broader scope.

The objective was to give the young people of various nations, who had been chosen for their character as much as for intelligence, as real an understanding of America as they could get in a year. AFS wanted them to be ambassadors for their countries while they were in the United States, informing Americans about the people, customs, and ideas of their homelands. At the same time, it was felt, they would learn about America and could take this understanding back to their families and friends at home.

George Rock, History of the American Field Service, 1920-1955. New York: Platen Press. 1956.

That fall, the membership approved Galatti's plan and AFS---not the Institute for International Education (specialized in university exchanges, and soon to be dominated by the new Fullbrights)--would administer a new program.

In 1947-48 the American Field Service International Scholarships brought its first students to the United States ----50 students from 10 countries, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, France, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Syria.

George Rock, History of the American Field Service, 1920-1955. New York: Platen Press. 1956.

28 of these 50 students would be of high school age!