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YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

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What Youth For Understanding Means to Me



Archived letter from YFU Founder & Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Dr. Rachel Andresen

Youth For Understanding is a dream come true. It is as strong as steel, as delicate as the moonbeam, as fragile as a butterfly wing, and as illusive as a will-of-the-wisp.

It’s built on faith, on hope for the future and love as deep as abiding as life itself.

To be part of it brings out the best in all of us. Each of us who has shared the magic of its being has contributed something bigger than we are.

We have learned to love and be loved, to trust and be trusted, to open our homes and our hearts to all people, everywhere.

Youth For Understanding has been like my own baby. I came to an early realization that here was a people-oriented program with an identity of its own, with tremendous possibilities for developing understanding with an ultimate goal of world peace, given to me to guide and direct through its formative years.

Why me? I will never know. I do know that I was given strength, courage and leadership to create and develop Youth For Understanding. I did not do it alone. There are people by the thousand who have given of themselves to make this dream come true. It became their dream, too.

I want to say “thank you” to students, to host families, to our school principals, superintendents, school counselors and teachers, to community leaders, to churches for their undergirding of the program and the network of staff and volunteers throughout the world.

My own private purpose has been to get the job done and to see that everyone involved grew in the process. Thank you again.

I love you.

-Rachel Andresen


Birthday Celebrations Abroad


Guest post from YFU Alumna and Campus Ambassador, Hollie Nusbaum

This summer, I had three birthdays.

When I realized that I would turn 17 during my six week exchange to Japan, I was thrilled. Having a summer birthday, I was used to my birthday being forgotten and overlooked, so I loved the idea of my birthday getting to be part of a special time. However, I didn’t realize that I’d be celebrating so many times.

My first birthday was at home in the United States. The day before I left, I threw a small going-away party with some of my friends, expecting just a few sad goodbyes. To my shock, they turned it into a fake birthday party, surprising me with gifts and singing me a happy birthday. Even before I left, exchange was showing me just how much my friends at home mattered.

My second birthday was at my host school in Japan. My actual birthday fell during the school’s summer break, so I figured it would go unnoticed by the kids at school. It was my last day of class in Japan, and I was feeling down the entire day knowing that I wouldn’t see my new friends again. As I was saying my final goodbyes and getting ready to leave, one of my friends came running over and was urgently trying to get me to come back to our homeroom. I walked in to find the whole class gathered to surprise me, everybody singing happy birthday at the top of their lungs. They gave me a picture of characters from my favorite movie, Princess Mononoke, and everybody had written me notes. I said goodbye to my class holding back tears, amazed that I was so loved and changed by these people in such a short time.

My third birthday was with my host family. I woke up homesick, not having realized how hard it would be to be away from my family on a day that I usually spent with them. I went downstairs and was immediately greeted by party poppers (scaring the life out of me)! My host dad and sister greeted me with early morning smiles and gifts. We drove to my host grandparents’ home in Kyoto and spent the day feasting at a nearby restaurant. When my host dad brought out a cake with a blazing candle and I heard the birthday song for the third time, I felt truly loved. Birthdays in Japan are usually not as celebrated as they are in the states, so it was touching that so many people had gone out of their way for me.

Birthdays are a way to show who is important in your life. Having so many birthdays this year, even if some of them weren’t the ‘real thing’, showed me how people are making my life better every day. Turning 17 in Japan was one of the best experiences of my life.


Visit to learn more about studying abroad for the summer, semester or even an entire year!

Teaching Global Competence Against a Wave of Anti-Globalism


The 2016 U.S. presidential election, Brexit, and other upcoming elections have raised a lot of questions for those of us working in the field of global education. Ariel Tichnor-Wagner, Ph.D., senior fellow of global competence at ASCD, explores those questions and attempts to answer them.

Read More

A Life-Changing Gap Year



“I made the initial leap and went abroad with YFU, a platform that has allowed me to travel the world and most importantly, discover myself.”

Growing up in the Midwestern United States, I had always been enchanted by the idea of visiting Sweden. However, my reasons were more complex than the usual excuse of having Scandinavian heritage - primarily because I spent my childhood summers learning Swedish at Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota. It was there that the idea of going on exchange was planted in my head, and I eventually chose to take a gap year abroad with YFU after my high school graduation. However, when I first boarded my flight in Madison, Wisconsin at age 18, I would have never guessed that I would have grown to love the country of Sweden so much during my exchange year that I would want to stay.

Graduating with my class in Sweden during my gap year.

Graduating with my class in Sweden during my gap year.

Lund, Sweden - my home

Lund, Sweden - my home

When I finally did arrive in Lund, Sweden, I immediately fell in love with my surroundings. I became very close to my host family and aside from everyday life, I became involved in many different activities outside of school and improved my Swedish immensely. However as the spring semester began to draw to a close, I knew I absolutely did not want to leave Sweden. The country had truly become my home and I knew I had to find a way to stay and live there. However I did not have to look far, because the answer was right in front of me...I could apply to university in Sweden! Lund University is a world-class institution, and after filling out a few forms to have my grades transferred I was accepted into the Bachelor’s program in Development Studies, where I study economics and political science with focus on the developing world. 

As I am now finishing my third year of living in Sweden, I can say that taking the chance and applying to stay and study in Sweden was the most adventurous yet rewarding decision I have ever made. University life in Sweden is even more fun than being an exchange student, and I have become involved in several different student organizations, which allow me to do everything from playing music to exploring and developing my leadership potential through sending other students abroad on exchanges and internships. This is possible because I made the initial leap and went abroad with YFU, a platform that has allowed me to travel the world and most importantly, discover myself.


Team Vera


A note from YFU USA President & CEO Michael E. Hill0014102339Youth For Understanding USA

At YFU, we believe exchange is for everyone.

When an organization supports more than 2,000 international and American exchange students each year, you hear a lot of stories about kids. Sometimes it’s a story of struggle; other times it’s the story of a remarkable deed. And every so often you hear a story like Vera’s.

I’ll never forget the call from a colleague in Hungary. “I have a perfect exchange student for you. She has great grades. She’s well adjusted. She’s a model member of her family and community.” The lead up was too perfect. “What’s the catch?” I asked. “Vera,” my colleague says, “happens to be blind.”

Vera would ultimately get placed with my former St. Bonaventure University college professor in Olean, NY, a town that I consider my home.

My former professor would explain to me on a later call that he and his wife had been looking for a reason to say no. He had a relatively new job running a health care consortium and had a full family life already, but he also shared that the coincidences were too great: 1) he had raised a blind daughter; 2) his wife had Hungarian roots; 3) he was the past chairman of the local school board and just knew that they would accept her. 

In short, John said, Vera was destined to be their exchange daughter.  

Vera was soon off to Olean, NY, and to her new host family. When she arrived, we soon discovered that Vera’s hearing was also a challenge for her in the classroom. John and his family refused to let any of this stop them. They soon created what they called “Team Vera.” “Team Vera” needed to find a way to keep this remarkable young woman on program, despite her challenges.

The story is a remarkable one. The Olean School District found ways to get extra technology and resources for Vera, and the Vera’s new family made it their personal mission to help her navigate this new experience.  At the end of the day, however, the school informed us that Vera would need a full-time aide if she was going to complete the year. The price tag: $10,000. 

YFU didn’t hesitate to authorize spending the funds to help Vera get the personal support she needed, but, as you might imagine, we don’t usually budget for this level of support. That’s where we hope you can help. We wanted to share Vera’s story with you because it proves that exchange is for everyone.

We are launching a “Team Vera” campaign for #GivingTuesday to raise the funds we need for Vera’s full-time aide. If you are inspired by Vera’s story, we would be very thankful for your assistance in helping us support “Team Vera” and this extraordinary journey she’s on through YFU.

We appreciate any support you might be able to give, and we would love to welcome you to “Team Vera”, ensuring that exchange is for everyone.


YFU Campus Ambassadors: Meet Grace


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 as the world becomes increasingly interdependent it is imperative that everyone respects and appreciates other cultures. Exchange is one of the best ways to do this. ”

Name: Grace

From: Minnesota

Went on exchange to: Ecuador

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My name is Grace and I am a high school junior in Minneapolis. Last year I spent an amazing 10 months in Manta, Ecuador on exchange with YFU. Now that I am back, I enjoy going to school where my favorite classes are chemistry and band. I am also involved in both the gender equity and eco groups along with helping the sound department in the theater program. I also take a few classes at the University of Minnesota: Spanish and literature. My hobbies include playing flute, baking and reading. 


Fun and Free Activities for Host Families


Our host parents come from a wide variety of economic backgrounds, but they are all able to have fun with their exchange students. With students arriving soon, we asked former host parents on Facebook and Twitter about activities that could fit any budget. Here are some of the fun, free activities they’ve enjoyed with their exchange students in the past. Enjoy!Take a hike! There are trails throughout the US ranging in both difficulty and scenery, so chances are there is one perfect for your family somewhere a short drive away. Go ahead, show off what a beautiful country we live in.

Have a picnic! Ditch the dining table and enjoy a change of scenery for one of your meals.  Just bring that food, along with a blanket and maybe a frisbee, to a nearby park. Just like that, your meal has been transformed into an activity the whole family can enjoy!

Bring out the board games! Maybe you’re not the outdoorsy type. Not to worry, there’s plenty of fun to be had in the comfort of your own home. Let your exchange student see your competitive side by playing a board game, or maybe some cards. Who knows, maybe your exchange student can introduce you to a new game.

 Get some culture! Lots of museums don’t charge admission or have select free days, so take your exchange student to one. What better way for them to understand our culture than by looking at our art?

So try these out, and if you have any ideas for fun, free activities, share them on our Facebook Page or Twitter account!

YFU USA Celebrates International Education Week (IEW)


YFU USA is gearing up to celebrate International Education Week November 12-16.  Recognized and promoted by the U.S Department of State, we at YFU hope that you can celebrate this special week with us by promoting YFU and your journey as a volunteer, a student, a host family or supporter of international exchange.

How can I get involved?

  • Make a classroom or community presentation about Exchange and your home/host country

  • Talk to 5 friends about what it is like to be an exchange student

Need more ideas? Visit or email

Youth For Understanding USA ©