Date: March 14, 2012 02:09AM
In the summer of 1973, I was selected to represent my school abroad as an exchange student with AFS (American Field Service www.afs.org). AFS had chapters in thousands of US high schools. AFS brought foreign students to live with a US family for a year (all voluntary; families were not paid) and sent US students abroad for a summer or a year.
When I returned from my summer in Holland, I was a senior in high school. I was asked to serve on a Regional Interview Committee. The AFS process began at the high school chapter level. Each chapter or club could nominate two students as Semifinalists to apply to go abroad. Before those applications were sent to headquarters in NYC, the Semifinalists had to participate in Regional Interviews, the purpose of which was to weed out bad apples who might have been nominated due to nepotism (perhaps a Semifinalist was chosen because he or she had a parent on the committee, etc.). The idea behind Regional Interviews was that the applicant would be interviewed by a group of people who had never met the applicant, versus the school chapter environment where the applicant was likely well known to the committee of parents and teachers who chose the final two.
When I went through my Regional Interview myself, I was sent to an interview committee in the other end of the metro area, to ensure that I didn't know any of them (I didn't). Likewise, when I was asked to serve on an interview committee which met in my region of the area, we interviewed Semifinalists from the eastern suburbs, so they had to face a panel of unknown interviewers. Our panel included a college aged student who had gone to Costa Rica, his mother (a long time AFS volunteer), a woman who had hosted a student in the past, a college-aged student whose family had hosted a student, and me.
Before we met each student, we were given time to review his/her application, which included high school transcript, community service, teacher recommendations, etc. The application asked about religion and whether one was active, semi-active, or inactive in one's faith, since it might or might not make a difference to potential host families.
One of the Semifinalists had a very impressive resumé: student body president, head of the debate team, excellent grades, excellent letters of recommendation, etc. His religion was listed as LDS. Bear in mind, my best childhood friend was LDS but I knew very, very little about TSCC other than popcorn balls, road shows, and Primary Movie Night on Fridays (10 cents admission, you'd watch 16 mm Disney flicks on a sleeping bag and afterwards there were Rice Krispies treats and red punch).
So the interview starts well, he obviously likes to talk and likes to be heard, but that's ok, sometimes you need to be outgoing and break the ice when you are an exchange student. A rough sort of poise, if you will.
And then came the shocker: the college aged guy whose family was hosting the interviews in their home asks, "I noted from your application that you are Mormon. If you were placed in a family of a different faith, which would be highly likely with AFS, would you be able to refrain from proselytizing and would you be able to respect your host family's own religious beliefs?"
Then came the shocking answer (shocking to me at the time, probably predictable to many of you): "I believe that my church is the only true religion on the face of the earth. Therefore I would have no choice but to try to teach my host family about my faith and share it with them."
We all just sort of nodded and went on to the next question. When he first asked the question about proselytizing, my gut reaction was "why are you picking on him, he can't help it if he's Mormon", but the dufus applicant's response very quickly explained to me why the question had been asked. After the LDS applicant left, we had about 15 minutes to discuss the interview, write a synopsis of how the interview went, and assign a rating of "Highly Recommended", "Recommended", "Recommended but with reservations", or "Not Recommended". We opted to "recommend with reservations" and add a verbatim transcript of the question and his response in our comments section, knowing full well that once AFS headquarters saw his remarks, he goose would be cooked.
After the discussion, I turned to the guy who asked the question, somewhat amazed, and asked, "how did you know to ask a question like that? Are you a mind reader?" (again, to those of you who grew up LDS, the question wasn't all that amazing, but I was impressed)**. He said his school's chapter had had issues twice with LDS host families viewing their exchange student as a missionary opportunity. His mother, whose AFS involvement went back twenty years, nodded in agreement. They had never met an LDS Semifinalist before, but Randy (the guy who asked the question) figured if the host families did it, what about a self-assured, arrogant young Mormon applicant? He was spot on and nearly read the applicant's mind, as things turned out.
From there, AFS could do one of three things:
1. The applicant was named a Guaranteed Participant, in which case they guaranteed to place the student with a family.
2. The applicant advanced to Finalist; they might or might not be placed with a family, depending on availability of families. I.e. the Guaranteed group was first-served, and then they placed as many Finalists as possible, but not all Finalists got to go.
3. The applicant did not make Finalist and was out of the competition.
Regional Interviews were in early November. By early February, applicants were notified by their chapter as to the decision from New York (one of the three outcomes above). Students who were in the first two categories were notified of placements between April and early June.
Toward the end of the school year, Randy sent me a list of the ones we'd interviewed and their final dispositions, and I was relieved to see that the LDS applicant did not make finalist. The folks in New York heeded our advice. Hell, all we had to do was quote him directly and he basically sunk his own candidacy. Whether he ever figured out whether his asinine answer was the cause of his rejection, we'll never know. Maybe he just never "got it".
** I ought to explain that my LDS best friend was not hard core TBM and NEVER would have given an idiot answer like our Semifinalist...so this was my first encounter with a self-righteous TBM. I never knew that many of them believed what this kid believed.
Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 03/14/2012 12:04PM by PtLoma.