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Filtering by Tag: Exchange Student

Welcoming our First Exchange Student!

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My husband and I always wanted to be exchange students but the opportunity never really presented itself. One day while at our local YMCA we were presented the opportunity to host an exchange student. After about 45 minutes of chatting, we took the plunge & before too long we were looking at potential students to come live with us. 

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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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What Family Means to Me...

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Today is International Day of Families, and we wanted to share how one YFU Host Family has expanded because they opened their hearts and their home to an international student. If you'd like to share your story and traditions while discovering a new culture right in your own home, sign up to host with YFU today!

Guest post from YFU Host Mom, Karen Auxter.

Family means embracing others who share no blood, but who entrusted their child into your care.

It means broadening your horizons, learning about differences and realizing being different isn't a bad thing.

Family is finding out how much you are alike, even though you live on different continents and might only be able to communicate through smiles and hugs.

Family isn't always about sharing ancestors....sometimes it's just about sharing Love.

 We have been blessed to add an entire Danish branch to our family!

 When Sebastian's family was getting ready to fly here for graduation, his mom said, When Sebastian's family was getting ready to fly here for graduation, his mom said, "I can't wait to get to meet you!" That really threw me, because I felt like we were old friends from our communication through Facebook and talking some during Sebastian's calls home!

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: 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.

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. 

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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A Family’s Tradition

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Written for The Light by Misha PutnamFamily traditions are founded on novelty and strengthened in iterations. Our family has been intertwined with Youth For Understanding from the very start. It began in 1983, when Tokyo native Tomoko stepped into her new life as a YFU high school exchange student in Colorado. There, she befriended a classmate, Bob, and they remained connected through the years, eventually leading  to their wedding in 1989. Bob and Tomoko’s cultural exchange broadened as they learned more intimately the influence each respective culture had on the other. As he learned Japanese and developed a taste for her cooking, she got her driver’s license and became an American citizen.

Micah Putnam in Japan in 2009

As parents, they started a bilingual family with my older brother, Micah, and later, me. We both grew up with equal doses of Japanese and American cuisine, traditions and travel to familiarize ourselves with the culture of our extended families. Close ties to Japan influenced Micah to spend a semester of his senior year in Yokohama with YFU. As Micah stayed with the Suzuki family, we hosted their son, Yuta, in a yearlong exchange at our New Mexico home. By the time Micah had come home, the two had integrated into the others’ family so seamlessly that we truly felt like siblings. The year Yuta spent with us was a year of laughter and friendship that has kept our two families close.

Misha Putnam

Four years later, it was my turn. I spent my entire sophomore year in Sweden, experiencing all the wonders of an exchange year; right down to the language, the host family and the friends. What separated my exchange from that of my mother or brother was I was able to blog about my experience and came to form indelible bonds among the greater YFU community. Through every camp and orientation, to the individual students and leaders that became important during my year, I fell in love with YFU and the spirit of acceptance and affection, the hilarity, and above all, the sense of an even greater extended family.

As soon as I came home, I began volunteering every chance I got, including convincing my parents to host for a second time this coming year. I am happy to announce our tradition will continue as we welcome Arttu from Finland into our home for the school year. Our ties with YFU have brought more diversity, excitement, and joy into our lives than we ever anticipated. As a family, we are thankful for the global community we are now a part of and even more thankful for the life-long friendships we have formed.

 

From Gymnasium to the State Department

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Written for The Light by Katherine Brown

KatherineBrownI’ve based my entire career on my Youth For Understanding experience 20 years ago as a high school exchange student in Esbjerg, Denmark. I had just turned 16 in August 1994 when I began my semester abroad. I remember the experience being difficult. I struggled with the language and the winter. I was deeply homesick, but I met incredible friends who carried me through the experience and helped me to discover a curiosity about the world and America’s role in it.

My classmates were incredibly worldly; they were active in debating the future of their country and that of Europe just five years after the collapse of Communism. I remember sitting in gymnasium and learning about the war in Yugoslavia and the conflict in Northern Ireland. Both events had been elusive to me as a teenager in Los Altos, California. When questions came up about U.S. foreign policy, heads turned to me. I didn’t know what to say. I remember never wanting to feel that ignorant again and wanting to be part of the conversation, as they were.

Brown speaking in her new role as Executive Director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy

I currently serve as the Executive Director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy at the State Department, which serves as a watchdog and an advocate for the role public diplomacy plays in U.S. national security. Luckily for me, the work is meaningful. In all of my work travels – from Vietnam to Afghanistan to Kenya – I carry my original exchange experience with me in big and small ways. I always aim to project the sense of humility and openness I felt so profoundly as a teenager. When legislators and policy makers ask why exchanges are worthy of investment, I can deliver the data and tell the stories with personal conviction.

I hope one day to return to Denmark, as I remember the warmth of the culture, the magic of the winter holidays, and the transformative friendships I made.

 

I AM YFU

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Written for The Light by Daryl Weinert

In 1979, a Youth For Understanding volunteer walked into my Spanish language classroom at East Detroit High School and began to speak, changing my life forever. I headed home that day with excitement in my heart and a map of the world in my pocket. The map depicted the many countries where YFU had programs. That night, and for weeks to follow, I perused the  map and pondered the possibilities.

I chose to apply for a program in Spain. One June day in 1980, scared, I flew to Madrid and moved in with my Spanish family. My Spanish was halting and limited, but their hearts were big. They shared their country with me, from Castilla to Valencia, from Galicia to Murcia (where they had a summer home on the Mediterranean Sea).

Weinert in Spain in 1980

It was heady stuff for a Midwestern boy whose foreign travel until that point had consisted of a few trips across the Detroit River to Windsor, Ontario. My time in Spain opened the world to me, a world of diverse cultures and scenery, but perhaps more importantly, a world of possibilities.

Following my YFU exchange, I attended the University of Michigan, earning degrees in Engineering and Economics. After graduating in 1986, I returned to backpack across Europe. In February of 1987, I left for a two and a half year assignment with the Peace Corps in Nepal. Not having had enough of intercultural living,I volunteered for a Department of Energy sponsored program in Hungary in 1992.

How did my YFU experience affect me? Three things stand out: First, living and surviving outside my home country filled me with self-confidence; second, it forced me to challenge assumptions about myself and my culture; and finally, it instilled me with a potent mixture of humility and empathy. All of this has made me a better professional, a better citizen, a better spouse, and a better parent.

Since that summer in Spain I have kept in touch with YFU. At first, by simply sending a modest annual donation, but more recently, I have been volunteering my time as a member of YFU’s Board of Trustees. Since 2012, I’ve had the honor of serving the organization as Board Chair. Through this work, I hope YFU can continue to offer students and families life changing experiences leading to global understanding.

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A Unique Summer with Rie: How Exchange Impacted Both a Blind Student and Her Host Family

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Guest blog by YFU USA Host Mom Lisa HudgensMy family's very first hosting experience was with a blind girl from Japan. She was the only student who was coming for a 6-8 week summer program that had not been chosen by a host family. We learned about Rie when someone posted flyers at a neighborhood event. My own children were 6 and 10 years old at the time. We had a large dog and lived in a ranch-style house in Novi, Michigan.

Rie was 17 years old when she came to us. She had lost her sight at age 3 due to cancer in her eyes. I learned that, by in large, Japan does not, "embrace" or make many accommodations for people with disabilities in their culture/environment. Blind children do not mainstream into the local schools, so they are sent away to live in a dormitory-style boarding school with other blind children when they become school-aged at about 6 years old. Rie was able to see her parents who lived in Kyoto on some weekends and during her vacations from school.

Rie had very good English, much better than the other exchange students, maybe because she was so focused on using her hearing to navigate her new world. She picked up the idiosyncrasies of the language better than others and she had a greater need to communicate in order to understand her new environment and culture. She was full of questions and absorbed and remembered everything she heard.

When Rie first came to our house, she asked that my 6 year old slowly walk her around so that she could feel the layout of the house with her hand and my daughter would tell her what each room was. She said that she was painting a map in her mind of our house and she counted the steps between rooms etc. To our amazement, she only needed to orient herself once. She would occasionally bump into a wall if she was in a hurry, with no harm done. Rie used a white fold-able cane when navigating herself only when she went outside of the house. She liked to hold the crook of someone's bended arm if we were navigating rough terrain or a very busy/congested area. She was up front about this with us and always told us how we could best help her in particular situations where she needed help - and we appreciated that.

Rie had technological tools to help her including a computer and keyboard that had adaptions so she could read and write using her braille keyboard. (Note: Cell phones and the internet were not available to the general public in mass yet.) We were fascinated that she was having to translate Japanese braille to English braille. I called around and we were able to check out English braille books from the Farmington Public Library for her and my girls watched intently as she used her fingers to read. She would read aloud to them and tried to teach them how to read English braille with their fingers.

Rie visited as a special guest to our Girl Scout troop where she showed the girls how to do origami. (She could feel which side of the paper was colored and which was white!) She would have the girls give her the different origami papers and try to trick her, but she always got it right. She built elaborate and complicated origami creations and encouraged the girls to ask her questions about life in Japan and her life as a blind person.

Rie was very neat and organized so she could easily find her things. Our family had to take care not to leave things on the floor so she wouldn't trip on something unexpected, which was a great reason to encourage my kids to keep things picked up. Although Rie had her own bedroom with a twin bed, she sometimes preferred to sleep on the floor as she was accustomed to sleeping on a mat on the floor in Japan. My girls thought this was very odd. We had to be mindful to turn off her bedroom light at night and the kids always had to knock before entering the bathroom because she didn't need a light and you couldn't tell the bathroom was occupied. She preferred to bathe each night and always cleaned the tub afterward. I'm not sure if the girls' bathroom was ever kept so clean on a regular basis! Rie loved to set the table, load the dishwasher and hand wash and dry dishes, she helped plant in the garden and take the dog for a walk accompanied by someone else. She liked to bake and just needed a little help with measuring. She liked to help at the grocery store and she held on to the cart and loaded and unloaded the items. She loved to brush the dog on the patio.

We took Rie on excursions where she could  be hands-on or use her hearing. Her favorite was a petting farm where she interacted with many animals for the first time and she loved music events where she always clapped to the beat or tried to get the girls to dance with her. She liked the hands on science museum, too. We took her to the Woodward Dream Cruise and she listened to the loud cars, went to a Fourth of July parade and fireworks and was so excited to go camping for the first time. She rode on the back of a tandem bike at Mackinac Island and was thrilled with the boat ride.

She liked bowling with friends, who were sure to steer her in the right direction. She enjoyed going to the local park and swinging for hours. She liked being with the family on movie night and we tried to help her understand what was going on.

 Rie 4

Her favorite thing of all was meeting new people wherever she went. A bonfire with the neighbors was a special treat. She had never experienced a bonfire or roasting marshmallows and s’mores. A good friend of ours had a very good friend of theirs, Jerry, who was also blind. We got the two of them together for some of our excursions. He loved having Rie teach him Japanese as he already knew 3 other languages and he, in turn, tried to teach her to play the guitar. We provided her with a small musical keyboard in her room and she practiced piano daily.

In true Japanese form, Rie was never without her camera and would ask you to help her point it in the direction or sometimes take the picture for her as she always wanted a picture of herself with the new people that she met. She was creating a scrapbook to show her family and friends. She liked creating paper arts and beading bracelets. She looked forward going to church with our family, she liked the music, the prayers that were repeated aloud each week and she would try to say them, too. Her family was Buddhist, but she found the Catholic mass very interesting. She requested that we give fairly precise times when we needed her to leave the house so she could be 100% ready because she didn't like to be late.

Rie made a few good friends who helped her at exchange student outings and looked out for her. She was so very appreciative of everything; she experienced and showed so much gratitude. I think having young girls was great for her. They were uncomplicated and loving toward her and being an older sister gave her confidence that she could be helpful to them and they looked up to her. At the same time, my girls also loved being needed by Rie, helping to guide her and explaining the things that we saw to her. They felt empowered that they were helpful to someone older than them. Because "seeing" her new environment wasn't part of her experience, connecting to people in her new culture was her focus.

Rie was respectful, kind, helpful and appreciated the love of a family. She was not used to being hugged and shown much physical affection, but my girls got her used to it quickly. They liked to snuggle with her on the couch. The only rule was that they had to give Rie warning before giving her a hug so they didn't knock her off balance.

We had a wonderful time hosting Rie for a summer and it had an amazing impact on our family, especially our girls and everyone who met her. Everyone was in awe and also inspired by her bravery and gumption. She chose to become an exchange student at 17, came to a foreign country where she knew no one, and learned a new language and culture; all of this without her sight.

My girls still tell me today, ten years later, that they think of Rie when they have to get up the courage to do something that scares them. I am proud that we decided to take the chance and say YES to hosting Rie. The experience itself and all of the lessons we learned from each other have been immeasurable.

A Unique Summer with Rie: How Exchange Impacted Both a Blind Student and Her Host Family

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Guest blog by YFU USA Host Mom Lisa HudgensRie 3My family's very first hosting experience was with a blind girl from Japan. She was the only student who was coming for a 6-8 week summer program that had not been chosen by a host family. We learned about Rie when someone posted flyers at a neighborhood event. My own children were 6 and 10 years old at the time. We had a large dog and lived in a ranch-style house in Novi, Michigan.

Rie was 17 years old when she came to us. She had lost her sight at age 3 due to cancer in her eyes. I learned that, by in large, Japan does not, "embrace" or make many accommodations for people with disabilities in their culture/environment. Blind children do not mainstream into the local schools, so they are sent away to live in a dormitory-style boarding school with other blind children when they become school-aged at about 6 years old. Rie was able to see her parents who lived in Kyoto on some weekends and during her vacations from school.

Rie had very good English, much better than the other exchange students, maybe because she was so focused on using her hearing to navigate her new world. She picked up the idiosyncrasies of the language better than others and she had a greater need to communicate in order to understand her new environment and culture. She was full of questions and absorbed and remembered everything she heard.

When Rie first came to our house, she asked that my 6 year old slowly walk her around so that she could feel the layout of the house with her hand and my daughter would tell her what each room was. She said that she was painting a map in her mind of our house and she counted the steps between rooms etc. To our amazement, she only needed to orient herself once. She would occasionally bump into a wall if she was in a hurry, with no harm done. Rie used a white fold-able cane when navigating herself only when she went outside of the house. She liked to hold the crook of someone's bended arm if we were navigating rough terrain or a very busy/congested area. She was up front about this with us and always told us how we could best help her in particular situations where she needed help - and we appreciated that.

Rie had technological tools to help her including a computer and keyboard that had adaptions so she could read and write using her braille keyboard. (Note: Cell phones and the internet were not available to the general public in mass yet.) We were fascinated that she was having to translate Japanese braille to English braille. I called around and we were able to check out English braille books from the Farmington Public Library for her and my girls watched intently as she used her fingers to read. She would read aloud to them and tried to teach them how to read English braille with their fingers.

Rie visited as a special guest to our Girl Scout troop where she showed the girls how to do origami. (She could feel which side of the paper was colored and which was white!) She would have the girls give her the different origami papers and try to trick her, but she always got it right. She built elaborate and complicated origami creations and encouraged the girls to ask her questions about life in Japan and her life as a blind person.

Rie was very neat and organized so she could easily find her things. Our family had to take care not to leave things on the floor so she wouldn't trip on something unexpected, which was a great reason to encourage my kids to keep things picked up. Although Rie had her own bedroom with a twin bed, she sometimes preferred to sleep on the floor as she was accustomed to sleeping on a mat on the floor in Japan. My girls thought this was very odd. We had to be mindful to turn off her bedroom light at night and the kids always had to knock before entering the bathroom because she didn't need a light and you couldn't tell the bathroom was occupied. She preferred to bathe each night and always cleaned the tub afterward. I'm not sure if the girls' bathroom was ever kept so clean on a regular basis! Rie loved to set the table, load the dishwasher and hand wash and dry dishes, she helped plant in the garden and take the dog for a walk accompanied by someone else. She liked to bake and just needed a little help with measuring. She liked to help at the grocery store and she held on to the cart and loaded and unloaded the items. She loved to brush the dog on the patio.

We took Rie on excursions where she could  be hands-on or use her hearing. Her favorite was a petting farm where she interacted with many animals for the first time and she loved music events where she always clapped to the beat or tried to get the girls to dance with her. She liked the hands on science museum, too. We took her to the Woodward Dream Cruise and she listened to the loud cars, went to a Fourth of July parade and fireworks and was so excited to go camping for the first time. She rode on the back of a tandem bike at Mackinac Island and was thrilled with the boat ride.

She liked bowling with friends, who were sure to steer her in the right direction. She enjoyed going to the local park and swinging for hours. She liked being with the family on movie night and we tried to help her understand what was going on.

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Her favorite thing of all was meeting new people wherever she went. A bonfire with the neighbors was a special treat. She had never experienced a bonfire or roasting marshmallows and s’mores. A good friend of ours had a very good friend of theirs, Jerry, who was also blind. We got the two of them together for some of our excursions. He loved having Rie teach him Japanese as he already knew 3 other languages and he, in turn, tried to teach her to play the guitar. We provided her with a small musical keyboard in her room and she practiced piano daily.

In true Japanese form, Rie was never without her camera and would ask you to help her point it in the direction or sometimes take the picture for her as she always wanted a picture of herself with the new people that she met. She was creating a scrapbook to show her family and friends. She liked creating paper arts and beading bracelets. She looked forward going to church with our family, she liked the music, the prayers that were repeated aloud each week and she would try to say them, too. Her family was Buddhist, but she found the Catholic mass very interesting. She requested that we give fairly precise times when we needed her to leave the house so she could be 100% ready because she didn't like to be late.

Rie made a few good friends who helped her at exchange student outings and looked out for her. She was so very appreciative of everything; she experienced and showed so much gratitude. I think having young girls was great for her. They were uncomplicated and loving toward her and being an older sister gave her confidence that she could be helpful to them and they looked up to her. At the same time, my girls also loved being needed by Rie, helping to guide her and explaining the things that we saw to her. They felt empowered that they were helpful to someone older than them. Because "seeing" her new environment wasn't part of her experience, connecting to people in her new culture was her focus.

Rie was respectful, kind, helpful and appreciated the love of a family. She was not used to being hugged and shown much physical affection, but my girls got her used to it quickly. They liked to snuggle with her on the couch. The only rule was that they had to give Rie warning before giving her a hug so they didn't knock her off balance.

We had a wonderful time hosting Rie for a summer and it had an amazing impact on our family, especially our girls and everyone who met her. Everyone was in awe and also inspired by her bravery and gumption. She chose to become an exchange student at 17, came to a foreign country where she knew no one, and learned a new language and culture; all of this without her sight.

My girls still tell me today, ten years later, that they think of Rie when they have to get up the courage to do something that scares them. I am proud that we decided to take the chance and say YES to hosting Rie. The experience itself and all of the lessons we learned from each other have been immeasurable.

 

Greetings from the Khumbu!

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andrew update

First update from Andrew Towne from The Khumbu Valley who is climbing Mt. Everest to raise money for YFU. Click here to read more about how Andrew became interested in climbing the world's tallest peaks

Dear Friends,

Here's the brief update:

  • We are five days into the trek to Everest base camp, acclimatizing well and enjoying good weather.
  • The Khumbu Valley and its Sherpa people are inspiring.  I've never seen such magnificent mountains and such kind, balanced, and strong people.

Here's the longer update:

It's hard to believe that I've already been in Nepal for a week. We spent our first day in Kathmandu, organizing our gear and visiting the ancient Boudhanath stupa. The next morning, we flew to Lukla, which at 9,300' is at the base of the Khumbu Valley and the head of the ~30 mile trail to Everest base camp. The airport is perched half way up the mountain, with the tail of the runway hanging off a cliff and the head of the runway going directly into the side of a mountain. They say that if the 2,000' of runway isn't enough for a plane to takeoff, pilots just glide over the edge of the cliff and hope to catch an updraft before hitting the valley floor half a mile below. We met the team of Sherpas that is helping us climb the mountain, and after getting our yak caravan organized, we walked a few miles down the trail to Phakding for the night.

On our third day we climbed to Namche Bazaar (11,286'), which is the trading center of the Khumbu Valley. I was amazed to see digital camera dealers and Mountain Hardware outfitters in a place where yaks always have the right of way. Day four took us up to Khumjung village (12,000') and our first view of Mt. Everest. On day five we moved up to Tengboche Monastery--the oldest monastery in the Khumbu, Tengboche served as base camp for Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary's first ascent in 1953. One of the staff at the lodge was a teenager at the time and described to us their intrepid siege of the mountain. Today we climbed a short ridge to aid our acclimatization before attending a Buddhist meditation session at the monastery.

The entire region is incredible; I think because of its people. The Sherpa migrated to the Khumbu from Tibet between 300-600 years ago and make their home in the shadows of the world's tallest peaks. Renowned for their strength and mountaineering prowess, most Sherpa are Buddhist, which may contribute to their tolerance of so many Westerners who lack their mountain skills. The valleys are so steep that "roads" in the Khumbu are hand made trails in valleys and along mountain sides, all shared by humans, yaks and wild animals. I have a great deal of respect for the work it must take to survive at these altitudes, and I am impressed by how global the community is. Many have studied abroad and speak a foreign language. I am proud to be climbing for Youth For Understanding, so that more cultures can learn to view the world through others' eyes.

All in all, the expedition could not be off to a better start. There are 5 others on the trip who will attempt the summit, plus an additional 11 who are just trekking to base camp. We've been enjoying each other's company and playing games / comparing notes on the mountain. When I write again in a week or two, we should be at base camp!

Sincerely, Andrew

Support alumnus Andrew Towne as he attempts to summit Mt. Everest to promote intercultural exchange and raise scholarship funds for YFU!

Andrew holds up a YFU flag atop Carstensz Pyramid, the tallest mountain on the continent of Oceania; July 2011.

Greetings from the Khumbu!

user

First update from Andrew Towne from The Khumbu Valley who is climbing Mt. Everest to raise money for YFU. Click here to read more about how Andrew became interested in climbing the world's tallest peaksandrew update

Dear Friends,

Here's the brief update:

  • We are five days into the trek to Everest base camp, acclimatizing well and enjoying good weather.
  • The Khumbu Valley and its Sherpa people are inspiring.  I've never seen such magnificent mountains and such kind, balanced, and strong people.

Here's the longer update:

It's hard to believe that I've already been in Nepal for a week. We spent our first day in Kathmandu, organizing our gear and visiting the ancient Boudhanath stupa. The next morning, we flew to Lukla, which at 9,300' is at the base of the Khumbu Valley and the head of the ~30 mile trail to Everest base camp. The airport is perched half way up the mountain, with the tail of the runway hanging off a cliff and the head of the runway going directly into the side of a mountain. They say that if the 2,000' of runway isn't enough for a plane to takeoff, pilots just glide over the edge of the cliff and hope to catch an updraft before hitting the valley floor half a mile below. We met the team of Sherpas that is helping us climb the mountain, and after getting our yak caravan organized, we walked a few miles down the trail to Phakding for the night.

On our third day we climbed to Namche Bazaar (11,286'), which is the trading center of the Khumbu Valley. I was amazed to see digital camera dealers and Mountain Hardware outfitters in a place where yaks always have the right of way. Day four took us up to Khumjung village (12,000') and our first view of Mt. Everest. On day five we moved up to Tengboche Monastery--the oldest monastery in the Khumbu, Tengboche served as base camp for Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary's first ascent in 1953. One of the staff at the lodge was a teenager at the time and described to us their intrepid siege of the mountain. Today we climbed a short ridge to aid our acclimatization before attending a Buddhist meditation session at the monastery.

The entire region is incredible; I think because of its people. The Sherpa migrated to the Khumbu from Tibet between 300-600 years ago and make their home in the shadows of the world's tallest peaks. Renowned for their strength and mountaineering prowess, most Sherpa are Buddhist, which may contribute to their tolerance of so many Westerners who lack their mountain skills. The valleys are so steep that "roads" in the Khumbu are hand made trails in valleys and along mountain sides, all shared by humans, yaks and wild animals. I have a great deal of respect for the work it must take to survive at these altitudes, and I am impressed by how global the community is. Many have studied abroad and speak a foreign language. I am proud to be climbing for Youth For Understanding, so that more cultures can learn to view the world through others' eyes.

All in all, the expedition could not be off to a better start. There are 5 others on the trip who will attempt the summit, plus an additional 11 who are just trekking to base camp. We've been enjoying each other's company and playing games / comparing notes on the mountain. When I write again in a week or two, we should be at base camp!

Sincerely, Andrew

Support alumnus Andrew Towne as he attempts to summit Mt. Everest to promote intercultural exchange and raise scholarship funds for YFU!

Andrew holds up a YFU flag atop Carstensz Pyramid, the tallest mountain on the continent of Oceania; July 2011.

 

On Top of the World

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Kicking and screaming, 13-year-old Andrew Towne protested his father’s proposal for the family to spend six months in Northern Italy while pursuing a Fulbright Scholarship. After all, Towne would miss the all-important transition to 7th grade, moving from class to class rather than being stuck with the same teacher all day! Six months later, Towne protested even louder, not wanting to come home.This introduction to an unknown place opened Towne’s eyes to the idea of exchange. When his sophomore-year German teacher suggested he apply for the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) scholarship, it didn’t intimidate him. Towne knew he wouldn’t be able to go on exchange without a scholarship, but when faced with the prospect of studying abroad, he said “it sounded like a great adventure.”

Paired with YFU, Towne experienced the depth of support and learning for which YFU is known. “The first month, I was in East Germany, nine years after the wall fell, living with a farmer in a village of 150 people learning German.” He remembers profound conversations with his East German host father. “My host father had been a young boy when World War II ended. He remembered being greeted by US soldiers when they crossed the Elbe River. When I asked what he thought about ending up under Soviet rule, he shrugged and said, ‘sometimes you get unlucky.’”

Towne learned that he and his host father had another connection. “For the entire time he was living behind the Communist wall, he was grateful that he was close enough to West Germany that he could pick up Johnny Cash on the radio. He loved the fact that my grandfather in Vermont was also a Johnny Cash fan.” Towne reflected, “he took it all in stride. That type of perseverance through 50 years of communism was a real eye-opener.”

Towne credits YFU for challenging him to think critically through facilitating very deep, personal conversations. One such conversation occurred during the week-long, mid-year orientation that is a staple of the YFU experience. Together with fellow U.S. and German exchange students, an alumnus described being assaulted by Neo-Nazis. “He was heartbroken, not so much by the beating, but more by the fact that so many onlookers who could have stopped the fight would look on without doing anything.” Towne continued, “he was a 16-year-old at the time, just like me. He looked us all in the eye and quoted Nietzsche, saying ‘those who are but half-and-half spoil every whole.’” The alumnus challenged his audience to consider action in the face of adversity. “I never forgot this story. It was real. It was tragic. I heard it first-hand.”

The exchange experience changed Towne’s life trajectory from music to foreign affairs. However, his experience returning home fundamentally changed the way he lived his life. “All I wanted to do was talk everybody’s ear off about this great experience I had, but I quickly realized that among teenagers, perhaps no one really wants to see your vacation photos.” Towne began bottling up his great experiences and wondered what others held inside. “I really try to approach everybody with a curiosity about what they are passionate about.” He continued, “Everyone has something — I love finding those things that really light people’s fire. And I attribute that to my exchange year.”

This summer, Towne will summit Mt. Everest to raise money for YFU.

Andrew holds up a YFU flag atop Carstensz Pyramid, the tallest mountain on the continent of Oceania; July 2011.

“My biggest fear is of heights. Period,” Towne said. “A friend of mine, while I was an exchange student at the University of Nairobi — a choice that was motivated 100% from my YFU exchange year — asked if I wanted to climb Mt. Kenya, the second tallest mountain in Africa.” Towne thought about the physical challenge and considered the opportunity to confront his fear of heights and responded, “that sounds like a great idea!” At that moment, his addiction to climbing began.

Towne’s interest in endurance sports started in Germany. He said, “Before Germany, I thought I would become a professional musician. While there, I started jogging recreationally. And then in college, I walked onto the rowing team.”

Rowing proved to be very challenging from an endurance perspective, and Towne considered quitting many times. Through perseverance, “I learned to trust myself – that when faced with a tough challenge, I wouldn’t give up in the face of pain or difficulty. I grew to relish opportunities to prove that to myself over and over again.”

Now an accomplished mountaineer, having climbed the tallest mountain on five of the seven continents, Asia’s Mount Everest is his next challenge. When asked about the dangers of climbing the world’s tallest peaks, Towne said, “every mountain poses certain risks. On Mount Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in South America, our expedition actually had to step over a body on the trail. Five people died during the two weeks I was on that mountain. On Mt. McKinley, two people died during my second climb. When you are on these mountains, everyone is cognizant of death.” He continued, “I am a very conservative mountain climber. I strongly believe the mountain will always be there, so when it comes to decisions that involve weather or conditions, a lot of climbers get themselves into trouble by pushing themselves when conditions suggest they shouldn’t. I don’t make decisions like that.”

Towne took on his first mountain, Mount Kenya, because “it provided an opportunity to accomplish an endurance feat that involved conquering my fear of heights.” Now he continues to climb “because I love the way it takes me to remote parts of the globe. Mountaineering, like YFU, makes the world feel smaller.”

everest