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My YFU Host Family Experience

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The following entry is submitted by Ankita, a YFU exchange student who spent six weeks in Japan on a Japan-America Friendship Scholarship. 


I didn’t worry much about my exchange in Japan until a few days before my departure, when I paused to think “Oh. I’m going to be staying with complete strangers for six weeks.”

I was terrified.

YouTube became my temporary solace–I began to binge-watch as many “host-family experience” videos as I could find, and eventually stumbled across the horror-story portion of the collection. These videos showed me just how much could go wrong in one exchange experience, and my unease skyrocketed.

To address my numerous concerns, I scrolled through countless “homestay experience” blogs and even completed a homestay tutorial online. I also spoke with a few fellow YFU-ers, who reassured me that my host family wouldn’t reject me right off the bat (in fact, they had volunteered to host an exchange student!!) Despite this, I continued to wonder if I’d be able to get along with my host family, or if there would be friction between us due to the language and culture barriers. Indeed, how could I live for six weeks with people I'd never met before? How long would it take to be treated as a family member–if it ever happened?

Thankfully, these worries were short-lived; I was immediately welcomed into the family. Everyone was extremely supportive–they listened attentively to my broken Japanese and offered help whenever I paused to grope for a word. I was startled at their kindness and constant attentiveness to my needs. I began to appreciate the small interactions we had; even playing cards with my sisters or having dinner as a family of five made me incredibly happy. I felt like a bumbling and culturally-unaware youngest daughter, but a daughter nonetheless.

 Hotpot with my host family (the first time all seven of us gathered for dinner, so a very special moment)

I didn't want to take my family’s kindness for granted, so I made a conscious effort to observe my family members and adjust my behavior to adapt to their lifestyle. Applying the things I had learned in my “research” impressed my family; my host dad told me that the family had worried if the homestay would be a failure, but I sat in “seiza” (a formal Japanese way of sitting) and passed food with the opposite ends of my chopsticks, things Japanese people don't usually do. They laughed about how I was “more Japanese than an actual Japanese person,” and were reassured.

With effort from both me and my family, I was thoroughly assimilated within a few days. I almost got too close to my host sister–we had baths together and slept in the same bed almost every day. Although I observed that my family members didn't show much affection, I installed a system of “oyasumi(good night) hugs,” which everyone loved. My grandmother once commented, “when Ankita is here, the house is bright and warm,” which was really touching.

Leaving broke my heart. My host sister, mom, and me all wept for almost an hour–it was absolutely heart wrenching. My host sister made me a collage of memories we made over the month-and-half, and I cried several more times by just looking at it. Six weeks had truly passed in the blink of an eye. I was touched by the kindness of my family, and felt blessed that I had been given the opportunity to meet such incredible people.

My experience taught me a lot about myself and Japanese culture, and I couldn't be more grateful. I visited my host family the next year for a mere five days, but they sent me home tearful and present-laden regardless. A year apart had done nothing to affect our relationship–in fact, it had strengthened it, as we exchanged text messages, postcards, and gifts that revealed parts of our lifestyles that we were unable to share during my six-week exchange.

 Host family reunion in 2017

Homestay may seem daunting, but it probably will be one of the best decisions you'll make. By placing yourself in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people, you'll learn how you deal with conflict and adapt to change. Cultural misunderstandings are inevitable, but all it takes is the right mindset to overcome them. If you're plagued with worries before your exchange, keep in mind that your host family is looking forward to learning from you as much as you are from them. They also may be as stressed as you are–it's up to them to give you a great experience. As for language and culture differences, have no fear; with time and effort, you can surpass any language or culture barrier. Language, indeed, is one tiny knick-knack in the toolbox of communication, and has no influence on your potential to make lifelong bonds with others.

 The festival with my host sister

Alliance For International Exchange Promotes Exchange Program Support

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INTERNATIONAL EXCHANGE PROGRAMS RECEIVE UNPRECEDENTED SUPPORT

We are former United States Ambassadors to countries across the globe. While we may differ in political ideology, we write today united with one voice to ask that the Senate and House Appropriations Committees support full funding in fiscal year 2018 for the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs,” wrote the ambassadors.

“In the countries where we have served, we have seen exchange programs help draw emerging political leaders closer to the United States, provide international scholars with critical information and contacts they need in America, and strengthen the appreciation of our country by exposing hundreds of thousands of people to our culture. These are the soft-power results that complemented our direct diplomacy efforts in countries that are critical to our national security,” they continued.

— Ilir Zherka, Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange - Huffpost

READ THE FULL ARTICLE. 

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What Youth For Understanding Means to Me

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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

When is the Best Time to Study Abroad?

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Guest post from YFU Alumna and Campus Ambassador Hollie Nusbaum

When considering studying abroad, something you need to think about is when you want to do it. There is, of course, not a time that is the “best” to study abroad for everybody; it depends on your personality and what you think will work best for you.

For most programs, sophomore year is the earliest you can spend a year abroad. There are a few major benefits to studying abroad in 10th grade. For starters, if you’re concerned about potentially missing major American high school events, this is a great time to go on exchange. Sophomore year in the US tends to be a less eventful year, when it comes to things like prom or standardized test prep, so you can go without the fear of missing out on the American experience. A potential drawback to going this year could be your age and how prepared you feel. As one student who went abroad during his sophomore year, Josiah Jarvenpaa, said, “I think that I was a little bit young and still nervous to be traveling, and as a result I wasn’t quite as confident about stepping up and trying new things in my host country as I probably would have been had I waited a year or two.” Josiah added that, while he felt a little less confident while abroad, by the time he came back he had become much more open to new experiences and was better about taking advantage of all the opportunities he could during the remainder of his high school experience back in the states.

What about going abroad junior year? Eleventh grade provides an option that’s a bit of a middle ground, since you wouldn’t be quite as young as a sophomore but also wouldn’t be missing any of the typical senior year events. The major concern for many, rather, is the fact that a large amount of college prep happens during your junior year. If doing well on standardized testing is extremely important to you, this would be something to consider. Deciding to go abroad your junior year doesn’t mean you have to forfeit your college prep, though. One possible way is to wait until you return home after your exchange and take the tests at the beginning of your senior year. Alternatively, you could get them done at the end of your sophomore year. Some people even decide to take the test in their host country. Lillian Hua, who studied abroad during her junior year, took two of these options. First, she took the ACT a few months before leaving home. Because of this, she was able to go into her exchange without worrying about the test. She decided to give it another shot while abroad, saying that during the year “I figured I may as well give National Merit a shot, so I signed up for an SAT administration near Munich and did a bit of prep beforehand.” By using her free time to study, Lillian managed to make her second standardized test just as stress-free. She is a great example of how even the worrying issue of these tests can be easily avoided if you plan ahead of time.

If neither sophomore nor junior year appeal to you, senior year might be something to consider. By this time, you’ll have had the opportunity to get much of your college prep done beforehand and likely may feel more prepared to navigate life as an exchange student. With some schools it’s even possible to double up on classes junior year and graduate early so you don’t have to worry about getting credit abroad. This does vary by school and host country though. This is a year that would be best for people who don’t feel as attached to high school traditions at home. Going abroad senior year might mean missing out on events like graduation and senior prom. Anyone considering going abroad senior year would have to decide if they are okay with missing these American traditions, or if they would rather go abroad another year. Another important factor to bear in mind if going abroad senior year, is that in some host countries, older exchange students are placed in lower grades since the older local students are focused mostly on preparing for university. This means that it’s possible you could end up being a year or two older than your classmates.

Maybe you don’t want to miss any school in the US but still want the full experience of a year abroad. In this case, a gap year might be your best option. With a gap year, you would study abroad during the year between your senior year of high school and your first year of college, bypassing many of the potential concerns of going on exchange during high school. You could already have your college preparation and applications out of the way, and you wouldn’t have to worry about missing any experiences abroad. Another benefit is that, having already graduated, you wouldn’t have to worry about earning credit for your high school back at home. Doing a gap year can also offer some unique options not typically available during a traditional school year. For instance, with YFU you can participate in a volunteer gap year in Thailand, where you’ll live with a local host family and spend your days volunteering in various community projects.

Doing a gap year does bring its own set of considerations. Just like with going abroad senior year, you would likely be the oldest in your classes overseas, which could be difficult depending on your personality. Doing a gap year could also limit your country options, since some host countries won’t accept students who have already graduated or are over a certain age. A gap year also means that you would have to accept that you will be putting yourself a year “behind” your American peers. Still, many large universities, even Harvard, recommend taking a gap year, and doing a gap year is gradually becoming more encouraged and accepted across the country. This is a great opportunity to think more about what your career path will be and what you might be interested in studying in college!

What if none of these options sound like what you want? You have a couple options. If missing school or taking a gap year is out of the question for you, a summer exchange could be what you’re looking for. There are a few options for summer exchanges, ranging from volunteer trips to language courses to even just a traditional academic experience on a smaller scale, depending on the host country. A student who studied abroad during the summer, Alana Hendy, said that there were several positives, such as how “you don’t have to worry about earning a grade that could potentially ruin your high school career”.. Going in the summer also means summer vacation in many countries, meaning you may have more free time than year-long exchange students to explore the area. Plus, the short stay likely means things like homesickness won’t be as much as an issue. Still, Alana pointed out that going for a shorter period of time means missing out on many things, since when you go on exchange for a year, “you get to learn the language more, will experience holidays and seasons, and you can build stronger relationships with your peers and host family.” Being abroad for a whole year also makes it easier to truly feel like a local.. You would certainly go back to school with the best summer stories in your class.

Another potential alternative would be taking a winter year, which means that rather than leaving in the summer, you would leave in the winter. Not all countries offer this option. This could be a good alternative if you want to avoid a gap year but none of the other school years sound like they would work well. For example, you could leave in the winter of your junior year and return in the winter of your senior year, meaning you could easily get standardized testing out of the way before you leave, yet return in time for events like prom and graduation. Similarly, you could leave in winter of sophomore year and come back in the middle of your junior year, just in time to start preparing for college. The possibility of this option depends on both your school at home and your host country. There is the aforementioned fact that only some countries offer the option of a winter year, so it would limit your choices. If your current school runs year-round classes, this might be a difficult option because you would leave and enter classes halfway through. Just like all the other options, it would be up to you to consider if this is the right choice for you.

In the end, there is no perfect year to study abroad. It’s up to you to weigh the options and decide what is best depending on your preferred host country, your personality, and your school at home. If you’re mature for your age, maybe you’d be better off going sophomore year. Alternatively, if you’d rather be older and don’t care a whole lot about things like graduation or prom, you might be better off going senior year. If you’re looking for something in between, you could try junior year. If none of those work for you, consider a gap year or one of the other alternatives. If you really weigh your options and do your research, you will be able to figure out what would work out best for you and have the time of your life abroad!

Visit yfuusa.org/study to learn more about studying abroad for the summer, semester or even an entire year!

Birthday Celebrations Abroad

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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 yfuusa.org/study to learn more about studying abroad for the summer, semester or even an entire year!

Teaching Global Competence Against a Wave of Anti-Globalism

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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

What Not To Do As An Exchange Student

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I've had my fair share of living in the house of strangers abroad, whether as an exchange student or as a guest, ever since I was fourteen, and even today, I still makes mistakes. So while various people will make suggestions as to how you should behave or what you should do to make a good impression, I will provide you with my top warnings as to what habits you should avoid committing when living in a guest's house and interacting with students.

Remember: YOU ARE A GUEST.

This is arguably the most important point I will make in this entire blog, the idea which encompasses all the ideas I will state further. My family hosted a Chinese girl for two years, and she fitted into our family so perfectly. When my family recalls back to those days, we were impressed with how she managed living in another person's house. Though she was like a sister to me, she constantly maintained a degree of politeness

Don't assume things.

Always check with your host family when making a plan. Ask before you eat that bowl of pasta (Though I'm not saying you need to confirm everything you eat, but use common sense). You may know their schedule, but sometimes they may forget to mention a doctor's appointment that will result in you being picked up late. Most importantly, ask whether or not something you want to do is okay with them. 

Don't be a picky eater.

If you're vegan, that's fine. If you have a shellfish allergy, that's fine. If you have any reasonable excuse as to why you can not eat certain foods, then you should not worry about imposing on your host family's typical meal plan. However, if you don't want to eat the family's cooking because they included mushrooms, you're least favorite food, then there's nothing I can tell you. If you go into a country avoiding any foods you don't like or not trying anything new, then you will be missing out on a vital, and delicious, part of the culture, and you're here precisely to experience a new culture.

Do not complain/gossip about your host family, especially to people they know. 

I admit, I've committed this mistake a few times, regardless that my complaints were minor. You don't know who your host family knows, and whatever you may say can come back full circle to your host family, to your deepest chagrin. This is not only a host-family-related behavioral habit but also a general life-decree you should follow. That being said, if you have a real problem, don't keep quite. Which brings me to my next point:

If you have Genuine problems with your host family, seek to resolve it immediately.

Maybe your host mother hates you. Maybe your host sibling did something to make you uncomfortable. Whatever it is, if something makes you feel upset, find someone to talk to immediately, whether it be a trusted adult, your family, or a program advisor. If this is an immediate problem, your program probably has a 24-hours hotline. Don't compromise your comfort for the sake of being polite. 

 

These are only a few issues I've touched upon, but these are issues I find to be the most important. To summarize, use your common sense, keep an open mind, and always be on your best behavior. Do these, and your host experience is sure to be a fantastic one.

 

 

How Studying Abroad in High School Benefits You in College

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When first deciding to study abroad, I was confronted with the typical question, "Why don't you wait and study abroad when you're in university?"  The reasons for waiting are strong; colleges encourage, and in some cases expect, students to study abroad and already have programs that work with a student's schedule; you're typically mature enough to go study abroad as a college students then you are as a high schooler; you can find plenty of grants and scholarships to study abroad in university. 

Going abroad as a high schooler does present its challenges, as many can attest. There's the fear studying abroad will affect your grades, especially during your junior year, and therefore hinder your chances of getting accepted into universities. There's also the trouble of translating credit for your international courses into your school's credit. Furthermore, you have to know if you are prepared to pick up and create a new life for yourself, whether it be for a semester or a year, in another foreign country. 

But despite all of these challenges, I still say that studying abroad in high school was one of the best choices I've ever made, and I regret not being able to go abroad for a full year. Why do I say this? Well, there are all the reasons everyone discusses, such as how it takes you out of your comfort zone and gives you another perspective of the world. Of course, there's the undeniable element that it looks great on a college application, something I took great note of as a rising senior. 

Studying abroad  teaches you necessary life skills.

While you will be living with a family, you may have to do more chores than you had to do back home. For me, while my mother would normally do the laundry, I had to learn how to work a washing and drying machine in Japanese. And while you're there, help around with the cooking and learn some new recipes you can take back with you to your home and college. When I was there, I wanted to make lots of American dishes for my host family to try and in the process honed my cooking abilities.

Studying abroad teaches you a foreign language.

This is an obvious benefit of being abroad, but in a world where speaking another language is a highly sought-after ability, you can market that trait in your application for a job and for university.

Studying abroad gives you a sense of what you want after high school.

Sometimes when you come back from your exchange, you realize that you still crave the adventure and culture more than what you got. You intend on going to college someday, but maybe you need a break from all that to see the world, enjoy life, and - forgive me for the cliché - find yourself. If that's the case, maybe a gap year is what you need. Many universities allow - and even encourage - students to spend a semester or a year abroad, sometimes offering university programs, and when you come back, you'll start college refreshed and a little more mature. 

(Applying for) Studying abroad helps you with the college application.

This has less to do with studying abroad, but it still serves as a side benefit. I can attest that completing the YFU application to study abroad helped me when it came time to start filling out the CommonApp. The application is reminiscent of the college applications I filled out so many times, save for the doctor forms and additional papers I had to fill out, and the essays took almost as much time an consideration as my college essays did. 

Studying abroad gives you a sense of what you want after college.

This statement here is applicable to both high school and university. You're still young with your entire life ahead of you, but quite often after coming back from an exchange trip, you may find that you want to continue traveling and living abroad for the rest of your life. In my case, after returning from Japan, I wanted to pursue extensive travel in the future, and so I began looking into careers involving international service. You're only exploring at this point, but taking a step out of your environment and discovering yourself will provide you with a sense of what you want to do or study.

Studying abroad proves how capable you are of being able to take care of yourself.

If you manage to last an entire year, even a semester, being able to live with another family, attend a foreign school whose courses are taught in another language, navigate a new city, make friends across cultures, and find genuine happiness while on your trip, then there's no way you won't be able to do the same in a college setting.

Studying abroad teaches you more about yourself.

This is probably the most important thing I want you to take out of your exchange. When you're isolated from your friends and family back home with the opportunity to do something with your life you've never done before, you'll find that you will make choices that you normally never would when you're back at home.  I experienced something similar to this. Before studying abroad, I was reserved and serious, rarely participating in any activities I regarded as frivolous and silly. But when I got to Japan, I didn't want to come off as standoffish and unapproachable to others, so I started doing things I never did before. I joked around, became more outgoing, and tried new things I never would have though twice about doing back at home, so I quite literally came back a new person. 

But now that I've given you reasons to study abroad, here are a few reasons that you shouldn't consider when studying abroad. Don't study abroad to use your experience as a padder for your application to appear more cultured. I encourage everyone to study abroad. I absolutely do. But I encourage people who want to gain an enriching experience out of this through exploration and immersion, not people who lack extracurriculars and need an extra something to boost their image. You'll gain something from exchange no matter where you go, but you need to go in with the right mindset to do so. Go because you want to see the world while you're young and learn more about yourself. You'll gain so much. I promise. 

A Life-Changing Gap Year

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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.

 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

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A note from YFU USA President & CEO Michael E. Hill

 

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

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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 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

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. 

55 and Counting

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Written for The Light by John Hansen

It’s been 55 years this summer since no less than Dr. Rachel Andresen herself came to my high school and announced my selection for the summer exchange to Berlin. I certainly had no idea I would be on my way back 55 years later, but here I stand, ticket in hand, for yet another visit. I will again be sleeping in the very same bedroom I used in 1960.

My host brother Dirk and I have stayed close through all these years, helped considerably by his job as a pilot for Lufthansa. We have daughters the same age and they carried on the tradition when Sonja spent her senior year with us. Our girls attended each others’ weddings and now each have sons that are 5-years-old. It looks like their exchange year will be about 2027 and I hope YFU will be there to help make it happen in whatever manner exchanges occur then.

Hansen with long-time friend and host brother, Dirk

It has been 40 years since my family hosted our first exchange student, Lena from Sweden. Over time, we have had many visits with her and her family. We don’t host any more, but we do serve as a ‘port-in-the-storm’ for assorted exchange students who need a place to stay for a few days while their host family attends a funeral or has business in another city. We also send our modest check to the YFU Annual Fund every year in remembrance of the fact that my trip would not have been possible without some ‘extra’ help.

My Mom sent a boy to Germany, but the person who returned to her was a young man. A young man who was no longer consigned to the waiting factory job in my industrial city, but focused on being the first in the family to attend college. Exchanges can be truly transformational experiences. They may not all endure as long as mine, but this one is still paying dividends today.

Hansen’s son-in-law and daughter Eric and Claire Robinson with future YFU alumnus, Alex

Faces of YFU: Meet Kevin Princic

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Faces of YFU: Meet Kevin Princic kevin 2

Kevin traveled to Japan in 2010 as a Japan-America Friendship Scholar. He has since volunteered as an alumni assistant at the Japanese Pre-Departure Orientation in 2012.

“Studying abroad really helped me come out of my shell in high school. I was always rather quiet and shy around people I did not know. While I am still an introvert my YFU exchange helped me become a much more outgoing person,” said Princic.

Kevin

The middle of three boys, Kevin was excited to apply his three years of Japanese language study. As part of the Shimomura family in Nishinomiya City, the experience was life-changing.

“I am still in contact with my host family. After completing my time in Japan, my host brother, Keitaro Shimomura, came to America and stayed with me for 10 months. Just last year I returned to Japan for college study abroad and I visited my host family again. It was like I never even left,” said Princic. “Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience, seize the opportunity if you can. You will learn so much and it will be an experience you will never forget.”

When Kevin applied for his exchange, he wrote “ am very enthusiastic about learning the Japanese culture and language. I will learn things that I would never learn in a classroom in the United States. I am also very excited about meeting new people and learning about their experiences.”

After having a few years to reflect back, Kevin mentioned, “my favorite memories from my exchange are the evenings I would spend with my host family just chatting or watching television. I truly felt like I was a member of the family. I also enjoyed helping my host mother with cooking or even going on random family excursions. I enjoyed family activities the most.”

Now a University of Mount Union student, Kevin’s high school aspirations have evolved. “My experience in Japan helped me decide that I wanted to pursue a degree in Japanese. After learning so much about the culture first-hand I realized that I would love to study the language, history and culture further. This decision also encouraged me to begin studying international affairs and even another foreign language, Mandarin Chinese,” said Princic.

As Kevin immerses himself in his senior year, he says, “I am still making plans for after graduation, but for now I intend to apply for a Fulbright. If accepted I would spend 10 months in Japan researching and attending language courses at a graduate school. My other options are pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Relations focusing on Asian Relations. Ultimately, I hope to end up in the State Department or maybe even Foreign Service.”

Interested in learning more about the Japan-America Friendship Scholars (JAFS) program? Visit our website for scholarship details and requirements. Applications for next year are being accepted through December 1, 2014!

Happy Founder's Day

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A note from YFU USA President, Michael HillIsaac Newton, the great physicist and astronomer, said, "If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Rachel AndresenThis week at YFU, we celebrate Founders’ Week, honoring most significantly the work of Dr. Rachel Andresen, YFU’s Founder and longtime Executive Director. Shortly after I was appointed President & CEO of YFU USA, I stopped by the physical office that I would occupy. My predecessor had left me a file with Dr. Andresen’s written memoirs, which I took for some reading materials to prepare for my new assignment. The modern novel has nothing on the heroics found in the novel of Dr. Andresen’s life. In those pages were stories of determination, compassion, a great love for students and all the traditional “stuff” that goes with being a non-profit CEO: worrying about where the money would come from to continue offering programs, issues with staff and boards … and the list goes on and on.

As my colleagues and I work to ensure that that the next 60 years of YFU’s life is as robust as its first, I so often think of the stories of the pages from Dr. Andresen’s life. The parallels are uncanny. She welcomed a group of German students after World War II to try to ensure a more peaceful world. We welcome young people from countries where our government struggles politically today. Both times the desire outcome was the same, and in both cases, our students left changed. Dr. Andresen talks about caring volunteers who ensured that young people on exchange had a transformative experience. Our 1,200-plus volunteers in the US still carry on that legacy with the same determination, grit and tenacity of their forebearers. In her days, schools were sometimes reluctant to open their doors to a temporary visitor, and like today, they did, and their communities were richer for it.

Dr. Andresen had a deep passion for this work, and because of it, she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. One of my favorite quotes from her says,

“Youth For Understanding is built on faith, hope for the future and love as deep and abiding as life itself. To be a 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.”

Those words are still true today. As we attempt to carry on the legacy of our Founder, let me offer some simple words of my own in her honor: "We change the world when we change... One person at a time.” Dr. Andresen, thank you for changing our world for the better. We celebrate you most by carrying on your mission, and I personally thank all of you joining us in this mission.

Join us in celebrating Founder's Day and commemorating Rachel's birthday by making a gift in her honor to YFU. Support Rachel's legacy of youth exchange and intercultural understanding.

YFU – Our Mission Still Matters

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Recently, we were reminded that what YFU does remains just as relevant today as at the time of our founding. In the wake of World War II, 75 German teenagers were invited into American homes to build bridges of tolerance and understanding. More than 60 years later, the tradition continues as we welcome students from all around the world, including those from misunderstood and misrepresented countries.This past July, members of the Northern York County School Board in Pennsylvania questioned accepting one of YFU’s YES Scholar’s into their school district. The student in question was Rami, a young man from the West Bank. There had been concern regarding his religious and political affiliation, some even fearing he could bring anti-American beliefs to the region.

YFU President, Michael Hill was a fierce advocate for Rami, stating, "There are two potential responses to conflict. One is to shy away from that which you don't understand and hope that it leaves you alone in life. The other is to actively engage it and to try to have an understanding, to have a better world overall."

Students, teachers and community members joined the debate. After thoughtful discussion, including communications with YFU regarding the application, screening and selection process, we were thrilled to hear that the school board unanimously voted to accept Rami!

Stories like Rami’s remind us of the courage of the young people from post-war Germany whose intercultural journey represented a first step toward peace. Rami, his fellow YFU YES scholars, and all of our students are ready and willing to be a part of this legacy of public diplomacy.

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YFU President, Michael Hill and Rami at YES Scholar orientation in Washington, DC.

Here’s what the media had to say:

YFU advances intercultural understanding, mutual respect and social responsibility through educational exchanges for youth, families and communities.

Fun and Free Activities for Host Families

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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!