Study abroad is a life-changing experience that can have a significant impact on your career and life goals as well as result in enduring friendships. We recently caught up with these eight AIFS alumni as they celebrated the 51st anniversary of their summer abroad on the AIFS in Cannes program:
- Melinda Hayes Dubson – Risk Management (Retired)
- Tina Turok Colson – Lecturer
- Valerie Munson – Attorney/Law Professor
- Leslie Reeder Marchiando – Economic Development (Retired)
- Becky Doane Herb – Homemaker (Retired)
- Judith Vance – Business Owner (Retired)
- Pam Stone Twitchell – Realtor (Retired)
- Ron Nolte (Group Leader) – Teacher (Retired)
Read on to learn about their study abroad experience and the impact it has had on their lives and friendships after 51 years!
What was it like to reunite for your 51st anniversary of studying abroad?
Melinda: We have all stayed friends over the years and keep in touch over the miles, but it [was] great to have us all in the same room for a few hours.
Tina: This reunion, the same as others we have had, was full of laughs and memories! We always have such an amazing time remembering the summer of 70 in Cannes. Some of the group members, including our chaperone, shared excerpts from their travel diaries which were so memorable and enjoyable. Our host, Valerie served some wonderful French fare and wine displayed with festive French themed decorations. It was so enjoyable! We can’t wait to meet again soon!
Valerie: It was fabulous! We genuinely liked one another in 1970 and we genuinely like one another now. We shared an important experience in the summer of 1970. That experience created a special bond. It was wonderful to share memories and laughter about them. It was also wonderful to catch up. We are all blessed to have had good lives. Although, we are saddened by the premature death of one member of our group from breast cancer some years ago and missed her.
Leslie: Reunion, fifty-one years hence, [was] an energizing and heartwarming experience, and one not lacking in moments of peace and relaxation as well.
Becky: [I was] looking forward to our 51st reunion. Memories are treasures and sharing them again in person is entertaining and fun.
Pam: Unfortunately for me, I [attended] virtually. I was married in April, and after a whirlwind house sale and packing up, I moved from Illinois to Florida. I [missed] being with the girls that we have kept in touch with these many years.
Your group has been able to reunite a couple of times now. What makes all of you want to continue meeting up over the years?
Melinda: Love to relive (and remember) some of the stories. We each remember different things which makes it fun.
Tina: Who better to share our trip memories with than our own awesome group of travelers! We always enjoy recalling stories, some that we have forgotten but that others remember. We have some much fun when we are together. The only thing better would be to have our next reunion in Cannes!
Valerie: I enjoy the company of everyone who was on the trip. We shared a wonderful experience, and it is great to share memories (and a lot of laughter) about the trip. I also like to catch up on how everyone is doing and what is going on in their lives.
Leslie: This group feels solidarity when it reunites. Our connection emphasizes good will and wholesomeness. We appreciate it that we have survived this long, prevailing over many things. All of this positivity is rooted, in part, in the joys of having shared six weeks together in 1970 in such a stimulating environment.
Becky: When you live together closely with a group of people for 6 weeks, you become a mini family for a time. You can “pick up” where you “left off” effortlessly.
Pam: We have all grown up together and remained friends. Being the AIFS European class of 1970 made a rather unbreakable lifetime bond for us all.
How did your study abroad experience impact your educational goals and careers (including your current job, if applicable)?
Melinda: Still have dreams of going back and appreciate my experience more now than when I was 16. The world has become a lot smaller!
Tina: I was initially a French major in college but later switched majors. International travel and exploration of other cultures has been a mainstay for me. My family has hosted numerous exchange students over the years. I have also served as a host family coordinator for the 4-H program and have assisted with placement of hundreds of students over the years. In addition, I have served as orientation trainer for students from the US who are placed in international homestays for the 4-H program international and the Japanese LABO program. After graduation, I was an IFYE (International 4-H Youth Exchange) delegate to Finland for 6 months. The following year, I was appointed as group leader to France for the 4-H Ambassador Caravan leading 12 high school students. All of these experiences led me to a career in youth development.
Valerie: I returned to France four years later and earned a graduate diploma in 19th Century Literature from the Université de Paris IV (Sorbonne). I seriously considered pursuing a career teaching French at the college level but decided to pursue a career in law instead. I published a translation of the Constitutional Charter of Chad, while in law school, and translated various legal articles and documents throughout my legal career. My travel and education abroad motivated me to study international law and I practiced in that field.
Leslie: I have continued to love visiting art museums and symphonies, and I have participated eagerly in historical seminars and symposiums. My self-education through independent research has been motivated, in part, by my 1970 trip abroad.
Becky: I was in a beginner class for French. I had only taken Latin in HS. In college I took another French class, but my real passion was learning to cook as the French cook. The food was amazing and the experience probably launched me into becoming a “foodie”
Pam: Being fortunate enough to travel to Europe was a bit of a novelty back in 1970. Consequently, whenever I went to a job interview, I led with my study abroad experience. Every interviewer seem to be fascinated by my story and experiences there, and every job I ever applied for, I got. I attributed the success to a fantastic interview with my European trip as the centerpiece to the conversation. It opened a lot of doors for me.
How did your study abroad experience impact other areas of your life?
Melinda: Increased my interest in traveling and appreciating history.
Tina: As this was my first experience with international travel, it fueled my interest in learning more about other cultures. I continued to study the French language and also began the study of the Finnish language. I so enjoy traveling but also have a passion for inviting international students into our home for homestays. One goal I have is to become a lecturer in Finland at a university. I will definitely be traveling again as soon as possible.
Valerie: My high school study abroad was my first exposure to international travel, and it whetted my appetite! I have been fortunate to travel extensively for both business and pleasure and learn about many different cultures, religions, and ways of life.
Leslie: The study abroad experience gave us a taste of European and specifically French culture … both inside and outside the classroom. The history remains present in the arts and the architecture. To be surrounded by the deep dimension (made so concretely manifest) encouraged our appreciation for the urban buildings and the varied countryside, but also for the historical narratives that were encompassed by the locales. I, personally, felt such appreciation within the moment… and in the longer term! The continuity of this influence in my life has been clearly demonstrated at school, at home and on the job.
Becky: When I married, our duty assignment was in Germany. I loved returning to Europe, and rather than spending 3 years on assignment we extended to 5 years. Our first son was born there.
Pam: Not only did our immediate group remain friends, but I became friends with one of the couriers that was employed by the school. He, in turn, came to visit (along with his girlfriend) a few years later. His girlfriend and I are in communication to this very day.
Have you been back to France since your time abroad as a student? If yes, what was that experience like for you?
Melinda: Unfortunately, I have not. But still on my bucket list!
Tina: Inspired by Ron Nolte, our group leader, I decided to lead a group of 12 high school students to France through the 4-H exchange program. We spent the summer living with families and touring many of the special places that I had explored during my summer of ’70 trip, including Cannes. There were many times that I recalled our trip and asked myself, “How did Ron Nolte do this!!?”
Valerie: Yes. I have been back to France a number of times for a variety of reasons and enjoyed it immensely every time.
Leslie: I have not been back to France since my time abroad in 1970.
Becky: I returned to France a few times… most memorable with my two daughters. My eldest daughter worked for British Air and “won” a slot to sing at Euro-Disney for the British Air Conference’s entertainment. After the conference we went into the Loire Valley and spent a few days enjoying all the sites and food.
Pam: Yes, I have been back to France. I worked for the department of architecture at the University of Illinois in administration. In 1977, I led a group of 60 architecture students to France where they were to study for a year in Versailles. It was interesting to be on the “other side of the fence” being the leader this time. But it, too, was a wonderful experience.
Are there any activities or traditions from your time abroad that you have continued back in the US?
Melinda: Not that I can think of.
Tina: My undergraduate internship project at Illinois State University was created based on my travel experience. I developed a successful cultural arts festival for the Champaign Park District that is still being held annually, even after 45 years. Combining music, food and the arts, I wanted it to be an immersive experience for those not able to travel internationally. I also brought one of my favorite activities from my summer experience to my family. I was in awe of the international fireworks festival and created a mini version at our annual Independence Day event, complete with fireworks choreographed to music, a reminder of the amazing fireworks in Cannes.
Valerie: I would say my first trip to Europe as a high school student introduced me to many things that I incorporated into my day-to-day lifestyle, over time. That includes serving cheeses and fruit as dessert, breaking bread instead of cutting it, and a myriad of small things like that. I also was introduced to a “walking” lifestyle and have favored living in a metropolitan area where I could walk to shops, restaurants etc. ever since, including now in retirement.
Becky: Holiday meals always contain a few French recipes… always!!
Pam: I really can’t think of any specific traditions, but my French girlfriend and Girard spent Thanksgiving with us and every year since then, she makes sure to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving, and she recounts the wonderful time she spent that holiday with my family.
What advice do you have for any current students considering studying abroad?
Melinda: Go for it! It’s a lot scarier in these times but an experience I have never regretted having.
Tina: I would highly encourage it. I have made international travel a priority for my 3 sons so they could experience life in other cultures. It has helped mold them into inquisitive and open-minded young men. It is an impactful experience that you will always cherish. Choose wisely when selecting a program. AIFS did a great job of combining academics and culture. The key priority is an amazing chaperone. We couldn’t have asked for a better leader than Ron Nolte.
Valerie: Do it! Also, keep a journal. I am so glad I did. I did not re-read it for fifty years and had forgotten about much that happened. It was wonderful to have captured the experiences and my feelings about them at the time and re-visit them at a much different stage of life.
Leslie: My advice is to be fortunate enough to be endowed with a quality chaperone. Our group was blessed with one of the best possible candidates in Mr. Ron Nolte. We respected him and felt trust in his character and judgment. And even now, we feel that he completely earned that regard: before, during and after our study tour.
Becky: Enjoy every possible experience while studying abroad… and befriend people in the host country. Most of them love to talk with you and practice their English, while sharing advice and tips.
Pam: It will be a very rewarding experience that I highly recommend anyone take advantage of. It will open many doors for you in the future.
Anything else you would like to add?
Melinda: Very much appreciate the experience, the friends and the memories. Would do it again in a heartbeat!
Tina: First and foremost, I am so grateful and appreciative of Ron Nolte for including me in this amazing experience. His guidance, support and diligence ensured that each day was memorable and eventful. We couldn’t have asked for a more caring and organized leader. He made the wise decision to select the American Institute for Foreign Study as our trip company, which provided us with an educational cultural experience that was engaging and well-planned. I also had an amazing group of eager and insightful travelers, who made the experience so memorable and fun. Without these three key factors, our trip could have been mediocre instead of phenomenal. Thank you to all three for providing me with a trip of a lifetime.
Valerie: I am forever indebted to our chaperone, Ron Nolte and to AIFS. Travel abroad, particularly study abroad for high school students, was unusual fifty years ago, especially in the small rural Illinois town where we lived. Mr. Nolte’s decision to organize the AIFS trip was an expression of his incredible commitment to provide young people with opportunities. The trip to France in the summer of 1970 was an important bright spot for me at a difficult time and truly transformed my life. I would not be the woman I am, and I would not have had the life and career I have had, without that experience. I am deeply, deeply grateful.
Leslie: I feel affectionate gratitude to American Institute for Foreign Study, an organization that played such a significant role in my personal and professional unfoldment. Thank you!
Becky: This trip 51 years ago opened my world to THE world. Life is short… profite de la vie!! Enjoy Life!!
Pam: I have been blessed throughout my life to have many wonderful travels and experiences, but this trip to Europe, when I was 17 years old, was absolutely magical. I’m glad that I realized it at the time and fully appreciated it.
A Note from Ron Nolte – Chaperone
“I was not a student in 1970 when our group joined an AIFS summer program in Europe. I was the sponsor/chaperone accompanying 8 high school girls (juniors and seniors) who spent six weeks on the continent, primarily in Cannes, studying the French language and culture. I was an 8th grade Social Studies teacher at the time, and had had these young women in my class in Monticello, Illinois.
Most of your questions do not apply to me, but I would like to jot down a few thoughts on the experience from the vantage point of hindsight – 51 years of it.
Let me say that the 1970 trip was my first adventure in a foreign country and my first experience with AIFS, but not my last. AIFS even allowed me to plan a customized trip that I dreamed up, and they made a reality,
AIFS always did a wonderful job organizing these trips. They invariably picked out the most scenic locales, the most interesting locations, top museums and tourist attractions. They employed top notch couriers, speakers and authorities on a wide range of topics. And they were totally safe. I so enjoyed my experiences with AIFS that, after 1970, I returned again and again… and involved my wife as a chaperone, too. Many of the students I chaperoned became lifelong friends…to this day… we have remained in contact through cards, letters, emails, and visits in Monticello. I would encourage today’s parents to avail themselves of the experience and expertise of AIFS to give their children the opportunity to see a bit of the world for themselves.“
– Ron Nolte