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It's Okay to Be Selfish

After two decades of volunteering with AMIS, Nadeen Green reflects on her journey and the relationships she shares with International Students.

Recently someone asked me about my longtime “hobby” of being a volunteer with the Atlanta Ministry of International Students. While I am now an expert AMIS volunteer (plenty of practice), at first I had to overcome what I perceived as obstacles to taking that first leap of faith in signing up with AMIS (and today I have absolutely no idea how I knew about the program, so don’t ask!).

· Time! The first obstacle was “I don’t have the time’. But then I realized (even then with a busy work travel schedule) that I controlled the time commitment. It was up to me and in my power (hah!) as to when and for how long my husband Ned and I would meet with a student.

· Complicated! Not! Back in the day there was no online registration, but the 5 x 7” form (one side) was simple…basically we just needed to tell AMIS who we were and how to reach us. Easy-peasy and even more so today with the online process.

· Fear! The biggest obstacle. And I am darn proud of both Ned and me for getting past this (although the first time picking up an Amigo is still today a bit of an anxious time). But as Seneca the Elder said way back in Roman times, “If we let things terrify us, life will not be worth living.” Disclaimer here…I still not going to bungee jump or skydive.

Now, 20+ years later, Ned and I have had many Amigos. While some have been “one-offs” – a pleasant get-together but not much further interaction (from the students), more have been truly special. Sometimes our non-AMIS friends tell us how “nice” we are to do so many things with so many students, but here is the clincher…we get back far more than we give. In looking back at cards and notes and emails from our Amigos I am reminded just why being a part of the AMIS program is so rewarding…

· Your Amigo will often grow to care for you. On 9/11 I received this email from Korea (our Amigo at that time had returned home): “In the morning I saw the news about the World Trade Center. I want to know about you. Are you alright? I am really worried about you, could you give me a quick answer? I will wait for you.”

· Your Amigo will miss you when it is time to go home: “I don’t want to say good bye to you. You are so nice and wonderful for me. You look like my mother {Author’s note: charmed that race and ethnicity didn’t get in the way of that]. I will never forget you and Ned. I couldn’t pay for your love and taking care of me.”

· Your Amigo will make every effort to be polite (just let them know what is expected): “I am very happy to get your email. I will be on time. I bring one suit to USA when I come here and also have several ties. I will dress myself as good as possible. Thanks for your invitation. I feel really happy now.”

· Your Amigo will appreciate the time spent with you: “I am always thinking about what we did, what we ate, what we talked about. Every moment with you, I loved that time.”

· Your Amigo may become more than a befriended international student: “Because of you, we no longer feel lonely in this country. We feel so lucky that we have two more hearts to think of us, take care of us, and share our joy with us. We have already taken you as our best friends, and sometimes even more than that.”

· Your Amigo may become part of your family: Today Ned and I are “faux grandparents” to several of our Amigo’s offspring, as some Amigos stay here in Atlanta and even become US citizens.

· You may become part of your Amigo’s family: Ned and I have been warmly hosted by some of our Amigos’ families when we have had the opportunity for international travel.

So my message to those who might consider becoming an AMIS volunteer (remember that it is so easy to do so) and befriending an Amigo international student is that you do not have to be good, kind, or generous to do this (although those are fine traits which I strongly encourage you to cultivate). Rather sign up selfishly to reap all of the benefits…true friendships that will last through time and distance, care and concern from your Amigo, warm memories, perhaps even getting to have extended family, and the knowledge that you have made a difference in the life journey of a young person, which makes you pretty darn special.

Strangers are just friends waiting to happen.

Nadeen Green

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