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Filtering by Category: Study Abroad Stories

A Look Back at the 2017-2018 USA Exchange Year

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Some of our favorite moments from the 2017-2018 YFU USA program year.

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An Exchange Experience

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For those families who have considered an exchange opportunity, do it! You will quickly realize the world is smaller than you think and that we are more similar than different from one another. Hosting a student is an opportunity you won’t regret with life-long memories made for everyone involved.

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It was the Summer of '70...

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YFU was the beginning of my lifelong love of travel, which continued at Stanford-in-France and in my career as a journalist and international media trainer. Except for my dad's service in World War II, I was the first person in my family to travel overseas since our ancestors came from Europe. The YFU experience literally changed the direction of my life because I was able to experience possibilities beyond the boundaries of my home country, community, and upbringing.

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A Year as a YFU Exchange Student in Germany

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The YFU experience is an open invitation to you. The opportunities are there. It is up to you to make the most of it.

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Seven Months into My Exchange Year!

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I learned how to be more independent, how to face challenges alone, and how to be strong in situations that can make me feel really weak. I learned how to convert my weakness into strength, and yes, I learned never to give up.

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A Lifetime of Exchange

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Guest post from YFU Alum Meg White Campbell

The idea to participate in an exchange probably began when my family agreed to host a student from France one summer when I was in elementary school. I couldn’t speak French, and Sanou couldn’t speak English, but we managed to communicate through acting and shared hobbies - It turns out French kids love ice cream, too. Then my sophomore year of high school, my mom came across and an advertisement in a brochure – these were pre-internet days – and she passed it along to me. Before long, and courtesy of a YFU and All Nippon Airways scholarship, I was off on an adventure to Japan.   

I absolutely loved Tokyo. My 5’10” felt like 7’10”, but thankfully my gargantuan proportions didn’t prevent my host family from being gracious and hospitable. We laughed a lot together (or perhaps they were laughing at me and I simply joined in). In Tokyo, I saw the coolest things! I remember a man rollerblade-skiing down a busy street, a group of people dressed as Star Wars storm troopers in the shopping district, and an apple (the fruit, not the technology) on sale for the equivalent of $25. I participated in a tea ceremony, met a Koto player (see photo below), and hiked majestic Mt. Fuji.  What struck me the most about the Japanese friends I made, and what I still admire about Japanese colleagues today, is their overwhelming graciousness and kindness. They are forever concerned how the other person is feeling. 

To say the stay in Tokyo was eye-opening for me is an understatement. It broadened my horizons and changed my trajectory both personally and professionally. Since that first foray overseas, I have lived in eight countries and participated in three other exchange programs. As a result of my current Foreign Service posting, my children, whom I call “multicultural minions”, attend a bilingual school in Berlin, where they are reaping the benefits of easily moving between cultures and languages.  

As anyone reading this well knows, exchange helps us see ourselves from the outside. This knowledge is an exceptionally powerful skillset in the world of diplomacy, where sometimes in our effort to do the right thing at the right time, we inadvertently act too quickly or fumble our messages. Sometimes even when we – and our policies – are well-intentioned, they are not always received the way we had hoped they would be. Through exchange we learn to ask better questions, to listen, and that it is ok to trust people who prefer Sarutahiko to Starbucks. 

Exchanges have taught me grit and moxie. I survived high school in Bavaria amidst fast friends and a flurry of flashcards. It was trying, but there was a lasting sense of accomplishment once I had made it to the other side. This persistence means that, even today, when I make mistakes, I dust myself off, chart a new course, and…make all new mistakes. I have better sense of perspective now, too. 
 
Learning foreign languages through exchange has opened my eyes to a new universe of people and possibilities. As my language proficiency increased, I also honed my empathy. I now know firsthand how taxing it is to work an entire day in a foreign language. Nothing is more humbling than spending three hours writing a short blurb in German to then attend a conference, where international colleagues give compelling speeches effortlessly in English.  

Learning another language is a gift we can give each other, but there are other ways to promote intercultural dialogue. We can host international students, donate to YFU, or simply shout from the rooftops how much we love exchange. I have maintained contact with several host family members and friends met during my time abroad. My Japanese host sister stayed with my family in the U.S., and one host family sends my children Christmas gifts signed “your ¾ family”. Thanks to Dr. Rachel Andresen and her continuing legacy through YFU, these lifelong connections have enriched my life and have helped me learn, grow, and succeed.  

If exchange is for you, find a way to make it happen. There will always be people who don’t understand how you could leave and miss Homecoming or basketball season. You have to weigh that for yourself, but you should also consider what you will miss if you don’t go. There’s a whole world out there waiting for you to explore.  Ganbatte, and Viel Spaß!  

 Meg and her multicultural minions (Max Elijah and Milo) with host sister Zita Lettenmeier - taken in Berlin, Feb 2016.

Meg White Campbell, a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State, is currently working as an exchange diplomat (Transatlantic Diplomatic Fellow) at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, Germany

Lifetime YFU Friendships

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At first, we were just exchange students…

Jeanne and Laurie were both exchange students from Michigan, the original heart of YFU. Jeanne went from the cornfields of central Michigan to the vineyards of southern France in 1982-83, learning to ski in the Alps. Laurie stretched her mother’s apron strings – but only for a summer – to the far north of Norway in 1982. When Laurie was invited to be on an alumni panel at a volunteer training weekend in the fall of 1983, Rachel Andresen told the regional director “That girl needs to go again!” – and so she did, as a gap year student to Uruguay in 1984-85.

Both of us felt our exchange experiences were the most amazing (and educational!) experiences we’d ever had, but little did we know we would still be involved over 30 years later, or the tremendous friendships we would develop over the years, not only with each other, but many others as well.

And then we were invited to events….

In the 1980s, YFU had an amazing Regional Director in Michigan named Diana Follebout. She believed that the exchange experience doesn’t end when a student arrives back home, but it is part of them forever. She also believed that young YFU alumni can (and should) be part of the volunteer base. She starting having Jeanne (and then Laurie) attend events, putting them to work in the regional office and Pre-Departure orientations.

And then we were volunteers….

Somewhere along the way, we were both became full-fledged volunteers; Jeanne was the first Alumni Coordinator for Michigan, organizing social events, fundraisers and orientations. We kept running into each other at events, and even though we went to rival universities, we hit it off. Soon Jeanne had dragooned Laurie into almost everything, and the two of us were quite a pair! Our YFU volunteering was an important part of our college experience, and the camaraderie that developed amongst our alumni group was like our own fraternity. We went on ski weekends together, did fundraisers for American YFU students, did presentations, and organized and conducted American student Pre-Departures and Homecoming orientations. When Jeanne moved to Illinois to work for the YFU Regional Office there, Laurie took over as the Alumni Coordinator.

And then we were friends….

The connections we developed during those college years – working together to achieve goals and laughing along the way – have kept our friendship strong, even though we haven’t lived in the same state for over 25 years.  When Jeanne was married, Laurie was one of the bridesmaids, and when Laurie (finally!) recently got married, Jeanne was right there to help her celebrate. When Jeanne moved to Illinois and Laurie went in the Army, we didn’t connect as often as we had, but when Jeanne called Laurie to tell her about the National Alumni Council that was being formed, we picked right up where we had left off. Remember, this was before cell phones or email were common, and so YFU has helped us stay connected as friends. It unites us and gives us common ground, even though we are now so deeply connected that we are friends in all aspects of our lives.

 Laurie on the left, Jeanne on the right

And there’s always YFU…

Why do we stay involved? What motivates us to continue working with exchange students? For both of us, we especially enjoy working with volunteers, particularly young alumni, who are working with exchange students or promoting the exchange experience. We have gotten to do so many wonderful things in YFU, for YFU, for students, that we love to see it when others can have similar experiences. The development of the National Pre-Departure Orientation a few years ago has been a dream come true for us.  Not only do we get to spend three days providing year and semester American students with skills and knowledge to help them have the best year of their lives, but we are also training the next generation of volunteers. We feel it is our turn to encourage and coach young alumni who will take our place, never forgetting the faith and hope that Diana Follebout once had in us.

65 Years of Vision

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Guest post from YFU President & CEO Michael E. Hill

Great literature has many references to “the ghosts of our past;” so, too, do great organizations. This is the week we celebrate our founding visionary, Dr. Rachel Andresen, and while all “Founder’s Weeks” provide a time to honor a very special woman and to reflect on her vast contributions to Youth For Understanding, this year’s Founder’s Week is particularly special as it marks the beginning of our 65th anniversary year.

When Rachel was called upon to form and support YFU shortly after World War II, there was no recipe for how an exchange program should operate. The founding premise was both much simpler and yet significantly complex: how could we bring young people to the United States in such a way as to have them return to their home countries believing in the hope of a brighter tomorrow? One of the things that we celebrate this week is the tremendous success that Rachel had in answering that question.

As we embark on our 65th year, in some ways, we find ourselves asking this question anew. While it is absolutely the case that our core programs in in-person intercultural exchange remain as powerful as ever, we do know that advances in technology have certainly provided greater access to the world – or at least the perception that this is so. And the evils that Rachel was trying to combat are far different than the ills of today’s world.

Andresen was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for her work in uniting young people and communities. According the Alfred Nobel’s will, which established the recognition, “the Peace Prize shall be awarded to the person who in the preceding year "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

One of the central challenges for today’s youth is that “standing armies” are not the preeminent threat to a peaceful co-existence. And while this is certainly the case, the heart of conflict has not changed all that much: namely conflict and terror exist when people move from a place of fear to a place of hatred to a place of violent action. 

Those who lost their lives in the recent bombings in Brussels are victims of those that believe a way of life is threatened or when values are not shared or at least respected. In this frame, young people are facing a future where conflict is resolved not through traditional methods of discourse and when or if that fails, conventional warfare, but rather are subject to random acts of terrorism, destabilizing the world and causing some to retreat into hyper-nationalist views that impede a much broader agenda for peace.

When Andresen began YFU six decades ago, the world was a simpler place. Students travelled on boats across the ocean to live with host families. There were few rules of engagement then. There were no governmental offices that monitored regulations. Students wrote letters home to update their parents on their experience abroad, and, if they were lucky, called home once during the experience, often to arrange a reunion time for when they would arrive back home. Schools accepted young people because a local citizen wanted to have their exchange son or daughter attend. And technology was most likely referring to a car, not a mobile device.

In today’s hyper-connected world, students have access to volumes of information and can almost in real time gain insights into events and activities that are shaping global cultures. But technology does not provide a filter for bias and misinformation. Only through deep engagement – people to people – can disparate cultures understand one another.

I believe that the most important way we can honor Rachel’s legacy is to double down on finding new solutions to help heal a broken world. So as we celebrate our 65th year, and the very special role that Rachel played, let us recommit to our founding promise.

If we believe that the world’s future depends on interconnected citizens with an ability to see the benefits of different cultures, then we must find ways to allow the next generation to interact with those who may appear as “the other.” We must create vehicles for young people to dialogue and to take those skills into their adult lives when they become heads of state, heads of corporations, head of families or simply every day citizens.

A hyper connected world provides several potential solutions:

1)    YFU has just embarked on its first “Virtual Exchange” program, harnessing the power of social media and technology to provide an asynchronous dialogue among young people of different cultures.  Meeting youth where they most are living, YFU’s program is looking at curating conversations through social media and online platforms, but the pathway of that conversation is being most managed by young people themselves. What are they interested in talking about and how do use that imagination and interest to reduce barriers and increase understanding? Can we break through the packed educational agendas in schools to be a partner in delivering curricular needs through youth dialogue? If so, could this be one avenue for young people to realize they are more alike than different. YFU is starting a pilot program with the poorest school in New York City. The principal there, who also happens to be a YFU Trustee, posited that impoverished children in New York are a different form of “refugee.” We will attempt to link them up with young people in the Middle East and Northern African region, who is experiencing great upheaval and refugee migration of a different kind to explore similarities in hopes that the adult versions of these young people might contribute to a safer planet.

2)    Corporations and individuals must step forward to provide resources to allow increased participation in traditional exchanges. Not only will it create the workforce most needed in an increasing global society, the return on investment is far greater than the cost of training adults in intercultural competencies later on.

3)    Governments must promote a platform of intercultural engagement in societies and schools, encouraging an examination of other cultures to provide greater global security.

4)    And nonprofit organizations that care about intercultural engagement must find new ways to link young people in dynamic dialogue and work in partnership with others to reduce the barrier to entry.

Rachel answered the call after World War II.  In one of her speeches, she recalls being in Amsterdam when the lights were turned on again.  She notes, “The work of YFU is ensure that the lights never go out again.” That must be a shared mission if the next generation has a shot at fulfilling that promise. During this Founder’s Week, let’s celebrate Rachel by finding new and increased ways to celebrate her dream.

11 Tips for First Time Exchange Students

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1. While walking home from school one day, bring home flowers.

Or a cool plant. Or chocolates. Or their favorite food/drink. Whether your exchange is just a month or a year, surprise your host family with a small and simple gift that serves as a nice reminder that you’re grateful for them.

2. ALWAYS ask if you're able to take a shower. This is courteous to do even in the comfort of your own home.

This is especially important if your host family has only one bathroom/one shower in the house. It’s a simple politeness that goes a long way.  

3. "I'm too shy" is NEVER an excuse.

In most cases, you learn and grow from what you do and say. If you’re always too shy to open your mouth and take action, how will you grow?

4. "I don't know what to say" is also not an excuse.

Whenever I had time to myself, I worked on a note in my phone and wrote down every question (in French) that would start an interesting conversation. I would memorize two or three questions before each meal to start up a good conversation. It worked! Conversation flowed long after dinner was served. The more you talk, the more quickly you will get comfortable with your host family.

5. Treat your host room as if you were living in the family room.

Keep it clean. "I was never an organized person" is not an excuse. Even if you have the luxury of having your own room, you must keep it clean. While you’re most likely not required to vacuum every day, keep your things (such as dirty laundry) off the floor. In some households, it's also impolite to eat in one's room as well. Keeping your room clean shows that you appreciate having a room in the first place. So keep it tidy, make your parents proud.

6. Speak in the host country's language.

You're going to hear this a lot. This isn't a cliche-whatever rule, this is a if-you're-going-to-do-one-thing-right-this-better-be-it rule. Unless it's an emergency, always speak in the host country's language. Don't "try", do it. I asked a lot of questions that I had memorized how to say even though I didn’t understand a lick of the answer I was given. It's always frustrating to not understand and to not be able to express yourself the way you want to, but that's how it is being an exchange student at the beginning of your exchange. And the more you talk, the more you learn and the easier it gets speaking the language. There will come a moment when it will all just “click” for you. It will be glorious.

7. There will be days when it feels like you've been living in your host country for ten years, and days when it feels more like ten seconds.

Make the best out of every minute of it. There will be more embarrassing moments than you can count. Make the embarrassment your friend, not your enemy. Every embarrassing moment will always (and I mean always) become a funny story later on.

8. Excuses don't work here.

Excuses are a popular way to justify failure to do something. This is never a good practice. Your exchange should highlight that. If you have done something wrong or forgotten to do something, like offering to do the dishes, do not to make yourself feel better by mentally feeding yourself excuses (i.e. "I'm too tired," "I didn't know how to say it in x language," "I thought she was going to say no anyways.") Baaaaaaad!

9. Show your gratitude.

You can never say thank you enough. It's better to say thank you too often than too little. If there's one thing you can overdo, it's saying thank you. Merci. Danke. Gracias. Thank you. One of the biggest issues between a host student and a host family is the lack of a display of gratitude. If you don't hear an acknowledgement after saying thank you, say thank you until you get one (as they may not have heard you the first time). For a great exchange, it is vital that your host family knows you're grateful.

10. Suggest to make breakfast for the family one day.

Give them a taste of what it's like to be American - literally! If you want to take it a step further, you could even offer to make a family breakfast on a regular basis. Whether it's weekly or monthly, how often is up to you. Making breakfast for your host family, even if just once, is a great way to assimilate yourself into family life and show that you are eager to participate and become more than just an exchange student in their home - that you want to become a member of their family.

11. There is always free wifi at tourism offices!

Okay, you don’t really need to know this to have a great exchange year. But if you're on the go and in desperate need of a wifi hotspot, tourism offices should have them for free. You don’t even have to go inside, simply standing near the entrance will do the trick.

(*****This knowledge is based off of my experience in Southern France.****)

 

Complete your YFU application today!

 

 

Campus Ambassador Introductions: Grace

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Studying abroad allowed me to become much more independent and self driven as well as gave me a passion for travel and an understanding of the importance of international relations.

As I sit on the curb with my host sister and host aunt, I sing Disney songs quietly to myself to pass the time while waiting for the bus to come to take us home. It is five thirty in the morning and I’ve been up for almost 24 hours consecutively. I am on the verge of an emotional breakdown from exhaustion and culture shock, but in the middle of it I think “Well, this is what you signed up for as an exchange student.”

 I had the opportunity to take a trip up to the mountains of Ecuador during my school vacation. I went up to Lake Quilotoa, a volcano crater lake at more than 12,000 feet, and then hiked 12 km back to the hotel.

 The YFU Ecuador trip to the Galapagos Islands was a great bonding experience with the other exchange students and the sights were spectacular.

This is one of my favorite memories from the ten months I spent in Ecuador because it is such a clear marker of the ways in which my exchange changed me. I had been in country for maybe two weeks when my oldest host sister asked me if I wanted to go with her to a dance that night. It was a Friday so I had gotten up early to go to school and I was already a bit tired. I said yes anyways though because it was a new experience and that is definitely what I got. I had never been to any event even remotely similar and I spent the whole night sitting in a chair on the edge of the dance floor, completely overwhelmed by the intensity of the music and the sheer number of people dancing. I can’t say I enjoyed myself very much on that occasion, but in retrospect I can see it as one of the defining moments of my exchange.

 For an art exam, a couple of my friends and I did a presentation as mimes about the day of friendship.

 In Ecuador, New Year’s Eve is a bigger holiday than Christmas. At midnight they burn paper mache dolls to symbolize the end of the old year and to welcome in the new. The parties last all night with fireworks, dancing and entertainment.

Studying abroad allowed me to become much more independent and self driven as well as gave me a passion for travel and an understanding of the importance of international relations. The experiences I had in Ecuador were life changing and I want to help to provide this opportunity for many students in the future.

 Manta, Ecuador is located directly on the beach and el Colegio del Pacifico, my school, was a ten minute walk away. One day the juniors and seniors took a field trip down to one of the beaches to do athletic activities.

  The school year on the coast of Ecuador runs from February to May so during the break YFU requires students to complete volunteer hours. I did mine at a daycare center in a classroom with children ages one to three years old. It was one of the most fun parts of my exchange; every day the kids made me smile and laugh. I also know a plethora of children’s songs in Spanish.

 I lived in the commercial center of Manta, Tarqui, a street market. This picture was taken from the window of my host family’s apartment. There was always noise and traffic at every hour of the day, no matter what.

Campus Ambassador Introductions: Emma

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I have a greater understanding of the workings of our society, and I believe that it is vital for youth to learn for themselves the true meaning of exchange.

Some people cite the long plane ride overseas as the beginning of their exchange, while others say it was the first face-to-face meeting with their host family. For me, though, my exchange began the moment I turned away from my family in the airport terminal.

I had been raised to always do things passionately or not at all. My family and I both knew that I was independent enough to survive a semester away from home in the country of Sweden; that I would be driven to craft the best experience possible for myself; that I would persevere through anything that came my way. And so, I faced the future and never looked back.

  Once I left to get on the plane to Sweden, I never looked back, and I am thankful for that every single day!

That didn’t mean that I wouldn’t miss my family, nor did it imply that I wanted to leave behind my life in the United States; in fact, it was quite the contrary. By keeping my gaze fixed on the future, though, I was able to appreciate what I left behind while remaining open towards what lie ahead.

That important realization came into play for the first time when I met my younger host sister in beautiful Stockholm, where YFU held their Arrival Orientation. Light rain drizzled overhead as my host mother, Marie helped me collect my bags, leaving me to talk to 7-year-old Denice, who didn’t know a word of English besides the numbers from one to ten. I used my fragmented Swedish skills to offer her my favorite American candy (Reese’s Pieces). She accepted with a grin. On the first of two train rides home, we chit-chatted as if we were actually sisters, and we drew pictures in a fluffy pink notebook to aid in communication with one another. Denice fell asleep with her head on my shoulder, and I knew then and there that a language barrier would not stop me from making Sweden my home.

  I took this picture with my host sister on the first day that I met my host family.

  Even though we didn’t speak the same language in the beginning, we found a way to communicate and I became an older sister for the first time in my life.

 

Though I struggled with learning Swedish in the beginning,  I was never dissuaded from making friends and learning new information. I specifically remember one instance when I was sitting in chemistry class, determinedly taking notes though I had only an inkling as to what they meant. I smiled to myself, though, first asking my classmates to help me translate them and then understanding that one day, I would be able to read the notebook and understand all of the information inside. I made hundreds of flash cards for words that would prove obscure: gräsmatta, skildhet, orkan. (Lawn, divorce, hurricane.) I studied verb conjugations, I listened to Swedish music, I read my textbooks out loud while I was home alone.

  In Sweden, I studied four science classes, a criminal law class, and three languages - wow! My classmates welcomed me with open arms and helped me understand what it was like to live overseas. Thank you for everything, NA13B!

After a few months had elapsed, it all fell together; I began feeling comfortable being around my friends in school, my Swedish skills had skyrocketed, and I remained in close contact with other exchange students who became some of my best friends.

But YFU prepared me for homesickness and culture shock, too, which I readily accepted as a not-too-distant reality. About midway through my semester in Sweden, I had a very hard decision to make that cultivated in my move to another host family in the area. When I left the home of my first family permanently with a bittersweet wave of emotions washing over me, I turned away and never looked back.

By not looking back, I was able to move forward into bigger and better things. I made mistakes when it came to my first family even though I loved them immensely, but in my missteps I discovered the tools I needed to have a successful relationship with 15-year-old twins Victor and William and my new parents, Paul and Helene.

  After dozens of attempts, my friends Lisa from Austria, Léa from France and I finally got a picture we were satisfied with! That is what exchange is about - working hard to see some spectacular results.

I could tell quirky anecdotes about my exchange all day if I had the opportunity, but more important are the lessons that I learned abroad. For one, I began to comprehend the significance of self-confidence. Without high self esteem, I could have never ventured out into the Swedish public with only enough skills to ask where the bathroom was. Nor could I have ordered my coffee in Swedish, traveled on public transportation alone, or even walked home two miles from the train station.

Perhaps the most valuable piece of advice I can pass along is to take advantage of every opportunity that is given to you. Fear can hold a person back or propel them forward, and though it was scary at times, I allowed myself to take risks. I never let something as petty as fear stop me from accomplishing my dreams. In short, I carpe’d the heck out of that diem.

  As an exchange student in Sweden, I learned how to take advantage of exciting opportunities. Just smile, relax, and live your life to the fullest - that’s what I did!

The number of lessons I have learned since going on exchange is infinitely large, so I can only hope to scratch the surface through this blog post. But I know now that my exchange experience will always be a part of me.

Now, as a Campus Ambassador with YFU, I get the chance to give the community a little glimpse into what my life was like in Sweden. I was a meager teenager on the asking end of the questions once, too, and being able to impart my wisdom onto the YFU community helps me relive the best moments of my exchange. Being able to live overseas affected me in a way that I could have never predicted. I have a greater understanding on the workings of our society, and I believe that it is vital for youth to learn for themselves the true meaning of exchange.

I sit in front of my computer screen over a year later, reminiscing on the five wonderful months I spent living in Sweden, and I am glad that I never looked back.

Campus Ambassador Introductions: Misha

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Studying abroad provided me with a second home and a new set of eyes through which to see the world.

The realization of a dream is a surreal sensation.  Reminiscing now, the memory of that realization is made of various fragments - the feel of a YFU lanyard around my neck, the travel pouch resting in my lap; the numbness in my toes after long hours of sitting; the melody of the song I was listening to when it happened.

 This photo was taken of me by a fellow exchange student from Germany after a long and magical first day in Sweden.  It was the first night of the On-Arrival Orientation, so the sun set at 11:30 made it feel like the wonderful day would go on forever.

Sweden seemed like a very abstract concept, merely a dream, until I first looked out the window of the airplane as I descended into Stockholm.  Looking out over the beautiful archipelago, it hit me full force - I was about to spend ten months living in this foreign country.  The song “I Can See the Pines Are Dancing” by A.A. Bondy came up on my shuffle and a feeling of awe transformed my small airplane seat into a holy place.  Reverently I let my eyes trace the cobalt curves where the water hugged the land.  My worries and fears quieted as the peace I felt told me I was where I was meant to be.

It was the first of many similarly momentous realizations.  My entire exchange year was a series of eye-opening experiences.  Every day was a new adventure filled with discovery; boredom only meant I wasn’t making the most of my time.  I learned about the wide array of food the Swedes enjoy, everything from surströmming (pungent fermented herring) to kanelbullar (cinnamon buns).  Not to mention the rules - like how one mustn’t stir the porridge, or how anything that fits on a piece of bread can be called a sandwich.  I learned to be more reserved in public like a Swede, but similarly just as warm and welcoming in close quarters.  I was adopted into an incredible family I love with all my heart.  I discovered a love for the people, for my beautiful city Göteborg, for the culture and for the language.

 The last day I spent with my host family was so bittersweet, I still remember their last words to me as I boarded the train.  They were the best part of my exchange and I'm so excited to see them in a few months!

 Famous Swedish Midsommar (Midsummer) celebrations always include these flower/wreath crowns, handmade with fresh picked wild flowers.  Participating in the traditions of the culture is one of the greatest privileges of being an exchange student.

 The YFU Sweden camps were always such amazing times.  Staying up all night, bonding over the wonderful little cultural differences we discovered, teaching one another that friendship is a universal language.  I can now honestly say I have friends in several different countries, eager to meet again in the future - despite whatever length of time has separated us.

 Friendships made while on exchange are both enduring and life changing.

 I will always be so grateful to my classmates for welcoming me into their school.

Studying abroad provided me with a second home and a new set of eyes through which to see the world.  I learned more about myself and became my own favorite travel companion as I navigated the emotional rollercoaster that is an exchange year.  It was a transformative period in my life and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have studied abroad with YFU.  My experience made it apparent to me once I returned home to the States that I had a responsibility to help other students get the chance to learn and grow the way I did, if for no other reason than to remember that sacred feeling of seeing Sweden for the first time from thousands of feet above ground.

 The beauty of Sweden is something I never got over.

Campus Ambassador Introductions: Crystal

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Were it not for YFU, I would never had been able to live a second life, even if only for a fraction of my time.

My real homestay experience began two days after initially arriving in Japan, in which I was greeted by my host mother, grandmother, and sister at the train station after I had just taken my first 'shinkansen', or bullet train. Following lunch at a typical family restaurant, in which my culture shock ensued instantaneously upon seeing our tiny drinking glasses, we drove to my host grandmother's home, a stereotypical Japanese home nestled in a tight row of houses on a road so narrow, you wondered how there were no accidents in that area, with the homes creating a sort-of barrier between the main road and the endless miles of clean lime green rice fields. They led me to the living room, and I remember the awe I felt as I took in my settings: the low table and sofa with pillows to sit on, the room next door with the tatami mats and sliding paper walls with painted landscapes, and the screen door leading to a ledge where the wooden staircase was so steep and narrow that it took me three weeks to be able to walk up it without clutching the rail with both hands. Inside, me and my host mother – a tiny English teacher – engaged in small talk for some time before I heard a car door slam, and seconds later a ten-year old boy, one of my two host brothers, stumbled into the room, grinning, panting, and carrying a plastic bag filled with Japanese ice cream treats. The father followed in a slower manner to greet me - a tall, lanky figure - but as I would learn later, a very kind man who would attempt (and knowingly, but humorously, fail) to speak English. We all sat around that table, with the kids watching some children's anime they adored, and in an effort to combat my jet lag, I continued to tell many stories about my life in Kentucky, and I remember, in a blur, all of us eating a delicious dinner and laughing at anecdotes I can't even recall.

  This was me in my host grandmother's house trying on my new yukata! I lived in my grandmother's house for the duration of my stay, and by living in a traditional home with tatami mats and sliding screen doors, I really felt like I was living in Japan.

  In this photos is my host father, two of my three siblings, and my host grandmother. My host father here is wearing the souvenir t-shirt I brought from home.

During my time in Japan, I would visit numerous temples, each incredible in their own right, attend high school and make close friends with whom I would stay in contact, wear a yukata, and watch a real firework festival. Yet I chose this moment to introduce you all to my life in Japan because of how at that moment, the time when I began to understand my trip had begun, I knew that I had only witnessed a single snippet of what I was to later experience. I visited many sites with friends and tried many things I would never have been able to do in America, but many of the golden moments I remember most vividly came from the beautifully mundane aspects of my everyday life living with strangers who decided to take me in simply to learn about a new culture and become my second family. Were it not for YFU, I would never had been able to live a second life, even if only for a fraction of my time. As a university student, I found that studying abroad in high school has helped me in so many ways, and I truly wish that more students could experience what I had. For those reasons, I am excited to be involved helping other students become a part of the YFU community.

  I spent several days attending high school, and despite not being able to say a word in Japanese, I loved every minute of it. Many students would come up and would either try to talk to me or ask for a photo, and we compared how we posed for photos (I'm doing the 'J  apanese pose' here).

  I was very shy on the first day of class, but these girls came up, and we became very close afterwards. They'd have me help them with their English homework, and I'd shared any American snacks with them. We still keep in touch to this day.

YFU Campus Ambassadors: Meet Emma

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As we celebrate International Education Week, YFU is excited to announce the launch of our new Campus Ambassador Program (CAP). Following a competitive application process, five YFU young alumni were selected from across the country to serve as our inaugural class of Campus Ambassadors. As a continuation of their exchange experience, they will mentor prospective study abroad and international students, and share YFU exchange opportunities within their schools and communities across the country. Stay tuned throughout the week as we introduce these student leaders. 

Studying abroad helps to strengthen bonds between cultures and nations.

Name: Emma
From: New Jersey
Went on exchange to: Sweden

Emma is a 17-year-old YFU alum and is absolutely thrilled to be a part of YFU's Campus Ambassador Program! A senior in high school, Emma spent her exchange on the southern coast of Sweden for a semester in 2014-15. She has since caught the travel bug, continuing to study multiple foreign languages in her free time. Aside from traveling, Emma is an aspiring journalist, performer, and lover of all things sports. If you ever need someone to go to IKEA with, Emma will never deny the opportunity for köttbullar and lingonsylt!

I believe in exchange because it teaches the world to be accepting of cultural differences and varying traditions.

YFU Campus Ambassadors: Meet Crystal

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As we celebrate International Education Week, YFU is excited to announce the launch of our new Campus Ambassador Program (CAP). Following a competitive application process, five YFU young alumni were selected from across the country to serve as our inaugural class of Campus Ambassadors. As a continuation of their exchange experience, they will mentor prospective study abroad and international students, and share YFU exchange opportunities within their schools and communities across the country. Stay tuned throughout the week as we introduce these student leaders. 

I believe in exchange because it allows you to realize just what you are capable of accomplishing.

Name: Crystal
From: Washington, DC
Went on exchange to: Japan

My name is Crystal, and I am a freshman attending American University in Washington D.C., majoring in International Relations and Political Science. I adore traveling, and my hobbies include drawing, reading, golfing, playing piano, and exploring new places. I studied abroad with YFU the junior year of high school over summer vacation in Nagoya, Japan.

YFU Campus Ambassadors: Meet Miranda

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As we celebrate International Education Week, YFU is excited to announce the launch of our new Campus Ambassador Program (CAP). Following a competitive application process, five YFU young alumni were selected from across the country to serve as our inaugural class of Campus Ambassadors. As a continuation of their exchange experience, they will mentor prospective study abroad and international students, and share YFU exchange opportunities within their schools and communities across the country. 

Studying abroad helps to inspire students to think about their upbringing under the influence of a certain culture and the cultural imprints that have contributed to a large part of their personal identity.

Name: Miranda
From: Chicago
Went on exchange to: Germany

Hi, I'm Miranda! I'm 17 years old and a high school senior from Chicago. I spent my sophomore year of high school in Germany with YFU on the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange Scholarship. I'm currently fluent in German and am working on advancing my French. I hope to one day speak eight languages fluently. I have a deep appreciation for languages and their culture and hope to apply this passion to a major in International Relations and potentially a career in the Foreign Service. My favorite food is gyoza. :-) 

I believe in exchange because it is one of the most powerful ways in which a student can foster kindness, curiosity, and creativity in an increasingly globalized world.

Studying abroad helps to inspire students to think about their upbringing under the influence of a certain culture and the cultural imprints that have contributed to a large part of their personal identity. 

YFU Campus Ambassadors: Meet Misha

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As we celebrate International Education Week, YFU is excited to announce the launch of our new Campus Ambassador Program (CAP). Following a competitive application process, five YFU young alumni were selected from across the country to serve as our inaugural class of Campus Ambassadors. As a continuation of their exchange experience, they will mentor prospective study abroad and international students, and share YFU exchange opportunities within their schools and communities across the country. Stay tuned throughout the week as we introduce these student leaders. 

I believe in exchange because it creates a global community that fosters understanding and compassion.

Name: Misha
From: Virginia
Went on exchange to: Sweden

My name is Misha, I am currently finishing up my last year of high school in Arlington, VA.  I spent my sophomore year abroad in Gothenburg, Sweden, where I found a second family and another home. My exchange year has been the most significant thing I've done in my life thus far, and I have been happy to get the chance to continue my connection with YFU through volunteer work since my return to the States. It's exciting to get the opportunity to focus all efforts in an established program, so I am looking forward to being able to participate with fellow alumni to make a difference in the organization.  

How to Make a Family in Just Six Weeks

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My host parents brought up my going to college, and asked how I planned to pay off student loans. I said that among other things, I would consider military service. The conversation continued, but I soon noticed my host mother hiding her tears. My host father’s eyes welled up as well, and he said that while enlisting would help cover the cost of education and serve my country, they couldn’t stand for me to be in danger... I then realized that I was not a guest in their house. I was their son.

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The Summer of 66

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Written by YFU Alum Alicia Pond for The Light

“If I can’t be sure of the actual events any more, I can at least be true to the impressions those facts left. That’s the best I can manage.”  -- Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

 AliciaPondProfile

I had been on an airplane only once before the departure of the 50 member, 1966 YFU Chorale to Latin America. During the 60’s, air travel was out of  reach for most people. No shorts or pajama bottoms on board; flying was so noteworthy you dressed in your best. There were no check-in lines, TSA agents, wands, x-rays, or limits on your luggage.

In order to reach the first city of our tour, Santiago, Chile, our flight itinerary started in Detroit and included stops in New York, Trinidad, Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Mendoza, and finally Santiago. There were many unforgettable experiences en route, like the lay-over in New York’s Eero Saarinen-designed TWA terminal – a dramatic, curvaceous and futuristic structure. Saarinen himself described it as “a building in which the architecture itself would express the drama and specialness and excitement of travel.” Another memory was the amazingly “sympatico” Argentine pilots who invited us to visit them, one by one, in the cockpit for a tour. Those were innocent times.

The most unsettling memory was the pilot’s announcement that there had been a military coup in Argentina while we were in the air. Neither the airline crew nor our group of parochial Michigan teens knew exactly what to expect when we landed in Buenos Aires. At the bottom of the stairs we filed off the plane and were met by a gauntlet of soldiers with rifles and bayonet tips. After gawking at our armed “hosts,” we were allowed to continue on to Santiago.

The Andes had me transfixed when we traveled to Sewell – a copper mining town no longer inhabited but is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We were at an altitude of almost 8,000 feet, a dizzying statistic for Midwest flatlanders. It seemed as though I was standing on top of the world surrounded by jagged, snow covered peaks– in June!

I recall a concert in the coastal town of Valdivia because only six years prior, Valdivia had suffered from the world’s worst recorded earthquake (a magnitude 9.5) and rubble was still visible. I was interviewed in Valdivia by the local press about the Chorale and my photo appeared on the front page equal in size to that of Salvador Allende, President of the Chilean Senate and soon to be elected President of Chile.

We went on to sing in Uruguay. In a suburb of Montevideo, I stayed with a family who had a teenage son who remained my pen-pal for years. My family here wanted to gift me with a custom-made suede ladies’ suit (fine leather products were a source of pride to Uruguayans). They took me to a dressmaking shop where I was given a pile of fashion magazines and told that I need only select a style I liked from the magazine and it would be recreated for me in just two days. I was rather flustered when I had to strip down to my slip in front of the male tailor, but was further mortified as the entire family joined me in the fitting room. Standards of behavior in the US were rather different in 1966.

 Pond in Guatemala on a medical mission earlier this year

Our final stop was Rio. The friendship I developed with my host family has turned out to be one of the most consequential and durable of my life. So much of that stay in Rio de Janeiro is seared into my mind, so many firsts and so many lasting impressions. Forty-nine years later, we Skype frequently, my husband and I are godparents to one of my host-sister’s sons, we visit each other frequently and I consider myself to have one of the best Brazilian music collections in the Midwest!

It’s not as though the music-making and the Chorale did not leave wonderful impressions, but getting out of my comfort zone, opening myself to all that was new and different during those nine weeks, led to enduring friendships, heightened insights and new paths in life. It made me the person who has built homes in Tajikistan, performed election work in the Ukraine, Macedonia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo and Russia; visited Bhutan, India, New Zealand, Botswana, Japan and more. There is no doubt much of what is “me” can be traced to the experiences from the summer of ’66.

Many Chorale items have been donated to and are now archived with the Library of Michigan. To search the archives, go here. If you have stories, journals, pictures you would like to share, please contact John Favazzo directly at jfavazzo@yfu.org.