Looking at her son made her think of her uncles.
“The beard made him look mature, like a college student,” said Frederica Murray-Crews, 54, of Concord as she stood admiring her son recently near baggage claim at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.
She threw her arms around her 16-year-old son, Michael Crews, hardly able to feel the embrace around his oversized backpack filled with clothes, mementos, his laptop and various international electronics. It had been 322 days since Murray-Crews had hugged her son.
Crews spent the past 11 months as an exchange student in South Africa through AFS-USA Intercultural Programs.
AFS-USA, formerly the American Field Services, offers international exchange programs in more than 40 countries through independent, nonprofit AFS Organizations, each with a network of volunteers, a professionally staffed office, and headed up by a volunteer board.
“AFS-USA works toward a more just and peaceful world by providing international and intercultural learning experiences to individuals, families, schools and communities through a global volunteer partnership,” said Linda Fulkerson, AFS Concord Chapter president.
Crews, returning as an honor-roll junior at Cox Mill High School, received an AFS Carolinas scholarship. He lived with a host family and studied at Spine Road High in Mitchell’s Plain, about 40 minutes from Cape Town, South Africa.
“Mitchell’s Plain is the second-largest township in South Africa. The area was set aside for colored people during apartheid,” Crews said.
“When I arrived in South Africa, I landed in Johannesburg after a 15-hour plane flight. The first thing I noticed was the heat. February is summertime, so getting off the plane, I was hit with the African summer.
“The next day, I flew to Cape Town, which was a two-hour flight. The first thing I heard was Afrikaans, which is mostly spoken by colored and white South Africans.
“One thing I will always remember is driving from the airport. Across the highway are some of Cape Town’s informal settlements where people live in shacks. All you see are rows and rows of shacks and power lines hanging overhead.”
As part of a farewell tour in South Africa, Crews spent 10 days traveling from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Then he started the trek back to Charlotte, where he looked forward to an order from Chic-Fil-A and sleeping in his own bed.
Crews spoke eagerly of stories and ambitions and his next adventures. He’s applying for the Kennedy-Luger YES Aboard program scholarship, sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Crews hopes his next journey will be to study in a country with a significant Muslim population, such as Turkey or Oman.
He has a plan for his future.
“I would like to attend The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and join the Army ROTC program. While there, I would either earn a degree in international affairs or sociology,” said Crews. “After I am finished with school and my service as an Army officer, I would like to work for the State Department.”
Fulkerson said AFS would like to have more families to host incoming students and more students from the United States who would like to experience an exchange.
As for his mother, she said, “I’ll be up very late tonight because he’s still telling stories. I guess I’ll have to wait for him to fall asleep before I can go to bed. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Kristen Fortin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Kristen? E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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