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YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Gretchen - German Exchange Student - Year Program Alumna


In 1959, newly-graduated Gretchen Holstein (17) of Manchester, Michigan boarded a sixteen-hour Flying Tiger Airlines flight bound for Amsterdam. The plane was packed with lively, eager YFU teenagers from across Michigan on their way to an exciting summer program in Europe.

By the busFrom Amsterdam, Gretchen took a long train ride to Balingen, Germany where she was greeted by her new ‘sister’ Renate at the train station.  “I remember talking a mile a minute to Renate, the only one in her family to speak English.”

YFU ‘Sisters’ Celebrate Fifty Years of Friendship

Gretchen continues…

Around a Table“At the time I thought that I was the first American the people in Balingen had ever met!  I felt like ‘Miss America’ in the school classes that I attended with Renate at our local Gymnasium. School was interesting even though I didn’t understand any German.  Dances and parties were frequent as well as walks through the town and weekend trips to castles.  Longer trips took usto Schaffhausen am Rhein, Koblenz and the Black Forest.

WundebarEverything was wunderbar in Balingen. Food, fun and friends made the summer full of many memories.  I remember the Kartoffelpuffer, Koenigsberger Klopse and Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte mit Schlag just like it was yesterday.

German became more familiar with daily doses from Tante Hannchen and Renate’s Oma who lived with her family while helping with lunch dishes. I heard stories about their early life in Koenigsberg, now Kaliningrad and their flight to southern Germany during the war. Rubble was still evident in Koblenz; clean-up and rebuilding from the war took many years.

Returning to GermanyThe YFU experience impressed me so much, that I chose to return the next two summers as well as for nine months in 1963-64. Meanwhile, Renate braved an eight day trip by ship, the Groote Beer from Rotterdam to New York, to come to Michigan to live with my family for almost a year.  Being an only child, she loved the big family of five kids and our dog named Heidi. There was always something happening.  She kept busy with classes in American history, literature and French as well as volunteering at the International Institute of Detroit where she met many interesting people from all over the world. Living in the U.S. sparked her interest in international travel and learning about other cultures.

Strong FriendshipThe bond between us remains strong; we have visited each other about nineteen times over the years- both in the US and Germany.  My parents also visited her parents several times and were present for the groundbreaking of Renate’s house in Vaterstetten in 1976.

Recent PhotoMy love for YFU led me to volunteer as an AO Representative, a Flight Leader, an Alumni Coordinator, and a host parent for a student from the Netherlands. Renate and I recently celebrated our fifty years of friendship with a two week trip in New York City, Maine, and Boston. I can’t believe it’s been fifty years!  Wunderbar!  Vielen Dank YFU!

Gretchen Holstein HullRenate Sauerbaum Bruessow

Would you like to share your YFU Story? Please submit your stories and pictures!