On July 11, I took a train from Domodossola, a small town in the Italian Alps, and headed to Switzerland, in order to work as an intern at the AFS Foundation in Thalwil, a village located on a small hill facing the beautiful lake of Zurich. The AFS Foundation hosts a large amount of original documents that belonged to Abram Piatt Andrew, the founder of AFS, collected in 2007 at “Red Roof”, a summer house that he built for himself in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The purpose of my three weeks internship was to work on the arrangement of some of these documents, in order to make them more accessible and preserve them from deterioration.
This was not my first experience with AFS, since I just completed a six month internship in the AFS Archives in New York where most of the documents and sources on AFS history can be found. The time spent with the Foundation was then a great way to improve the skills I developed in New York and to learn even more about the history of AFS.
I concentrated my energy on a small but significant part of the documents stored in the Foundation's archive related to Helen Andrew Patch, the sister of Abram Piatt Andrew. Helen Patch, who seemed to have had a very good relationship with her brother, gathered many letters and records about him, even after his death in 1936. At the same time, she held a fundamental position in the history of the organization throughout her life corresponding, for example, with Stephen Galatti, Abram Piatt Andrew's “right hand man” during WWI, head of AFS during WWII and Director General of AFS until his death in 1964.
My experience with the AFS Foundation had very much in common with the experience of a student participating to an AFS exchange program: I had my own “host family” since Marianne Meyer, among the founders of the Foundation, and her family welcomed me to their house in Thalwil. As an AFSer I tried to get a better understanding of the culture I was living in, although I was there only for a few weeks, attending an intensive German language course and visiting some of Switzerland's main cities, such as Lucerne, Zurich and Bern. I was really surprised to realize how little I knew about Switzerland, even if I come from an Italian small village which is only an hour by car from the border.
The internship in the AFS Foundation was then really important both from a professional and personal point of view: it was a way of getting to know a close, but still different, culture and, at the same time, improving my ability to work in an intercultural environment.
Link to the original text in Italian.<< back
Photo: AFS Foundation
Anna Beltrami graduated in History at the University of Turin, Italy, in 2013. The following year, she received the “Master dei Talenti” grant, sponsored by the Fondazione CRT, allowing her to complete an internship at the AFS Archives in New York where she was supervised by Nicole Milano, AFS head archivist. She's still collaborating with AFS through the AFS Foundation, mainly working on the arrangement of the historical collection.