International programs foster friendships

Posted: February 23rd, 2018 | Columns, Featured, Foothiller Footsteps | No Comments

By Connie and Lynn Baer

Welcoming international students to Grossmont High School (GHS) has been a tradition at Grossmont, creating life-altering experiences and lifelong friendships.

One prominent program for decades at GHS was the American Field Service (AFS). According to their 1969-1974 newsletters, AFS “began with a group of WWI ambulance drivers who wanted to help bring peace and understanding to the young people of the world.” The AFS motto proclaims, “Walk Together, Talk Together, O Ye People of the Earth. Then and only then shall ye have Peace.”

Lily Aw and Michel Osinski visit the Grossmont High School History Museum. (Photos courtesy GHS Museum)

Each spring semester, GHS students sold AFS bond for 25 cents to be able to invite three AFS students “to live with us at Grossmont next year.” In 1969, the fundraising goal was $2,550. In the museum collection, we have large paintings of many of the AFS students who visited Grossmont as members of the senior classes from 1962-1974.

In 2013, Lily Aw from Malaysia and Michel Osinski from Belgium visited the museum during a 40th reunion of 1973 AFS San Diego students. They were excited to see the AFS bronze plaque and Friendship Tree planted in November 1963 to honor the AFS Club.

“That year in my life when I was an AFS exchange student has remained among my most cherished memories,” shared Aw, who is now a doctor in Singapore.

While at GHS, international students stayed with a Foothiller family. Many of them formed a lifelong bond with their host families.

Jody Baumgaertel Catlin, Class of 1964, remembers what life was like living with another family.

“Since my dad’s military orders sent him to the Pentagon, the rest of my family moved to Virginia, and as ASB President, I remained in San Diego. I lived with Ruth and Mel Anderson and their son Skip, along with Ramesh Sawheny, our Grossmont exchange student from India,” she said. “It was a delightful adventure, sharing many Grossmont activities with my new ‘brothers,’ savoring Ramesh’s cooking of yummy lentil soups, and creating for me an enduring love of Indian food. After decades, Ramesh and I reconnected and I got to meet his lovely wife.”

Also, as an important part of the AFS program, GHS students participated in the Americans Abroad program. Jim Zumwalt, Class of 1974, spent a year in Yokahama, Japan.

“My AFS experience was life-changing for me,” he said. “Living with a Japanese family for a year and attending a Japanese school exposed me to a new culture and forced me to rethink my life goals. One result was that I vowed to continue learning more about Japan and Asia. I majored in Japanese Language at UC Berkeley and later joined the Foreign Service of the U.S. State Department where I served for 36 years as an American diplomat. Retired now, I work for a nonprofit foundation in Washington, D.C. dedicated to promoting strong U.S.-Japan relations.”

This school year, German exchange student Nathalie Mock is attending Grossmont. She is 16 and from Berlin and sponsored by the Forte International Exchange Association.

(l to r) Nathalie Mock and Meghan Ellis at tennis banquet (Photos courtesy GHS Museum)

“I decided to come to the U.S. mainly to improve my language skills and to learn about the culture,” Mock said. “My image of America was drawn from movies and TV series. I wanted to experience how my life in Germany was different and how it was similar. I realized that it is way different from what I expected. I thought there would be more fast food and unhealthy snacks, but rather there is the delicious Mexican food I have learned to love.

“On the other hand, one thing that turned out to be as fascinating as it seems on TV is the large number of school sports like football, water polo, or tennis, which we don’t have in Germany,” she continued. Mock played on the GHS girl’s tennis team this year.

“Grossmont High School is extremely special to me because of the many great people I have met and the awesome school spirit everyone has,” she added. “The never-ending motivation of teachers and students makes daily class delightful.”

For decades, exposure to international cultures has had a positive impact on Foothillers. Once we know a person, the differences of culture vanish as we connect through our humanity.

Visit the museum March 7, noon–3:30 p.m. to learn more about the second-oldest high school in East County. For more information, visit; call 619-668-6140; or email

— Connie and Lynn Baer write on behalf of the Grossmont High School Museum.

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