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Je Suis YFU: One Staffer's Experience in Paris Reinforces Her Calling

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Guest post from Jennifer Heusted-McKendree, YFU Marketing Manager who was exploring Paris on January 7, 2015.When I started at YFU, it was September 10, 2001. Thirty minutes into my second day on the job, I watched the Twin Towers fall with my new YFU colleagues in the Bridgeport, MI Office. Just like all of my fellow Americans, we wondered what would happen next. The world was changing before our eyes and the impact of that date on everyone had changed who we were and how we related to others across the globe.Two weeks after 9/11, I was talking to a classroom full of students about why they should embark on an exchange. The first question asked of me after my presentation was, “Why should I go?“ My answer was simple: So that events like 9/11 don’t happen again. It was then that I realized that I had my own power to make a difference.

Forward 13 1/2 years later. I’ve been in Paris for twodays on my first international trip with YFU. I’m standing with my Director and traveling companion, Erin Helland, in the main train station awaiting the rail to Tours after hearing briefly of some kind of terrorist attack just prior to leaving our hotel. As we stood at the station, we began to realize the scope of the day's attack. To comprehend that the city you are visiting is potentially under siege is surreal at the very least. It is a feeling like no-other. The station was very quiet and empty with the exception of soldiers patrolling. I believe at this time most had heard the news; that there were 12 dead, the terrorists were at large and that there may be more to come. We quickly made our contacts home to assure everyone that we were safe and made our way to Tours and the safety of the YFU conference.

The next day, I sat with 22 of my colleagues from around the globe monitoring the events as they unfolded, and as I have multiple times during my YFU tenure, I felt the power of the organization yet again. During our short, yet productive time together, we felt connected through the same emotions, joys and challenges that the conference presented. I made several new friends that week, including Rami, a Muslim woman from Indonesia, who thanked us all for accepting her, even though she felt like others outside of the organization may not. We took the time to listen to her and work with each other, and by doing this, we came to understand that our similarities are greater than our differences.

Most people have a career, but I have a calling. I firmly believe that youth exchange has the power to make us citizens of one world, and the events in Paris and my experience there at that time proved it yet again for me. In my over 13 years with YFU, I have witnessed the power of youth exchange first hand. What starts with one student and one family grows to impact an entire high school and community, bonding those who share the experience through their lifetime. Those students who go on exchange grow to become adults equipped with the tools to make a true impact on the world because of the qualities they learned from their time abroad. We help these students and families to appreciate the differences and embrace their similarities, and thus, break down the barriers and stereotypes of the world.

Will the recent events stop me from traveling? No. However, they have served to strengthen my beliefs that what I do everyday matters. From Saginaw MI, I try to change the world; one student and one family at a time.