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YFU

YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Filtering by Tag: Faces of YFU

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Daniel Biaggi: Opera Can Change the World

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Daniel Biaggi

Daniel Biaggi

Interview with Daniel Biaggi by John Favazzo Director of Alumni Engagement

Daniel Biaggi wasn’t interested in music or opera when he was in high school. “I was more interested in athletics after school and art and drawing. For a moment I was actually thinking architecture and even the fashion industry more than music.” said Biaggi. “It wasn’t until after I returned home that I discovered I had a talent for singing.”

Daniel’s family was originally from the Italian part of Switzerland, but he grew up in a French region speaking French and German. He was fortunate to have an internationally oriented family. “We lived in South Africa when I was very little, until about 4-years-old. We traveled a lot. My parents always told us that the world is round and should be explored.”

After arriving in the US, Daniel was surprised how different the US school system was from the academically focused system in Switzerland.  Daniel said, “just walking through the hallways saying hello to everyone and to be with different people in every subject was new for me. I particularly remember engaging conversations in civics class. We didn’t have the same focus on civics and governmental structures in Switzerland and it was really an eye opener to understand I couldn’t fault someone for thinking differently because we grew up with different structures.” He continued, “I’ve always enjoyed looking at certain problems or circumstances from many different angles and that was solidified on exchange.”

Making friends was also a challenge. “Making friends was not always easy for me. I was well-liked as a kid, but I wasn’t necessarily the class clown or most outgoing person. The first day of school in Switzerland was not a pleasant day for me, so being able to repeat that experience and force myself to be in front of new people and challenge myself to make new friends had a great impact on who I am today.”

Daniel uses these skills along with being proficient in five languages to navigate the opera world. “The idea of multinational, cultural exchange happens almost every day in opera.” Attracting top talent from around the globe, Daniel says, “opera continues the work of cultural exchange by putting people in front of an American audience who are not from here. We have Q&A sessions where the audience learns where the performers are from and how that may have influenced their performance.” He continues, “every action in opera is informed by the language in which the work was written. The language informs the conversation we have with the public about cultural differences, the intensity level of the expressions and which words we use when we are really angry in that language or really in love in that language.”

Daniel, still in touch with his host family and friends from exchange, encourages students who are considering exchange to “just do it!” He says, “even if I can’t put my finger on exactly how it shaped me, exchange was one of the most important, most instrumental things I’ve done in terms of opening my eyes to the whole world, putting myself in other people’s shoes and simply being able to connect the dots differently.”

Bobby Petrini: Yacht Week in Croatia

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Guest post from Bobby PetriniAt the time I received my letter of acceptance to the YFU Program in spring of 2000, I couldn’t possibly think past what an amazing summer I had in store. Fast forward fifteen years later and I’ve just returned home after spending the better part of August and September traveling across Europe with my best Italian friend from high school.

Aldo, my YFU host brother, and I spent only three and a half weeks hanging out that summer in Salerno, and yet I would consider him and the members of his family my own. Since graduating college, Aldo and I have managed to travel between Europe and the States at least once a year with each other’s friends. We’ve ventured to two Coachella concerts in the Palm Desert, skied in the Colorado Rockies and visited countless cities across Europe.

From the time Aldo told me ten years ago he had taken a graduation trip to Croatia and that it was one of the most beautiful destinations he had ever visited, I knew I had to see it for myself. It was on our last trip to London for Aldo’s first American football game - my San Francisco 49ers vs the Jacksonville Jaguars – that we decided, as we near the end of our twenties, that we needed to coordinate an epic summer vacation like our original summer in Salerno. We chose The Yacht Week Croatia 2014.

It took no time at all to recruit ten friends from San Francisco for the week long adventure sailing down the Dalmatian Coast. Half of the group had already met Aldo during one of his many visits to California, and the other half were thrilled to have a European with us on our maiden voyage.

The trip began with me and two friends from the Bay Area meeting Aldo in Salerno, relaxing and visiting with Aldo’s friends and family. Returning to Salerno fifteen years later to see the friends I had made during my formative years and now introducing my Californian friends to Aldo’s family was the greatest experience. We sampled fresh pizza and mozzarella from Naples, drank Limoncello from Capri and enjoyed homemade brioche from my favorite ice cream bar that is still as popular as ever. Aldo’s parents and Nonna were just as hospitable and generous as I remember; welcoming my American friends and treating us all like their own children getting sent off to an adult summer camp.

From Italy we reconvened with the larger crew in Dubrovnik, our jumping off point in Croatia.  We spent seven days with forty other boats filled with people from across the globe, sailing by day and partying by night. We explored the islands of Vis and Hvar where we visited The Blue Cave, jumped off cliffs into the Aegean Sea, toured medieval forts and castles, ate fresh lobster and sailed a regatta across the sea on our final day’s route. The trip of a lifetime for us all and one that reminded us to continue the tradition of traveling to a new destination every couple of years.

Bobby Petrini

Bobby Petrini

Caitlynn Upton: Finding My Voice in Germany

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Guest post from Caitlynn UptonI never thought that a boring trip to Parliament in Germany would shape my career path, but life has a way of throwing you curveballs.

I had always been interested in languages and travel so it was logical to study international relations in college in order to work at an Embassy, especially since my parents used to call me their “little diplomat.” Diplomacy seemed like something I might enjoy, but I never felt particularly excited about it.

As a Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange scholar, I was invited along with the other scholars to Berlin during my exchange year in Germany. We were given the opportunity to meet the Ambassador to Germany and have a reception at the US Embassy. One would expect that meeting former Ambassador Phillip Murphy would have been the highlight of my trip, but as cool as he was, it was unexpectedly a visit to parliament that captured my interest.

Caitlynn Upton

Caitlynn Upton

While most of my fellow exchange scholars tried desperately (in vain) not to fall asleep, I was enraptured. On that particular day, the members of parliament were discussing taxes on same-sex couples with civil partnerships. The energy in the room and the passion with which people debated had a lasting impression on me.

In the fall of my return to the US, I started attending the public affairs college (James Madison College) at Michigan State University. One of my required courses was a policy writing course focusing on race, class, gender, and sexuality and I became more and more interested in legislation that effectedtargeted groups in the US, particularly bills pertaining to LGBT people and women. When it came time to declare my major, I knew exactly what I wanted; Social Relations & Policy with a double minor in Gender & Sexuality, and German. I hope to help research and draft policies for the advancement of LGBT peoples and women as a legislative assistant. This is a huge divergence from my original career plan, but it’s a perfect fit.

Over the summer, I was an intern for the Michigan Coordinated Campaign working on campaigns for democratic candidates. Every day of work, I knocked on about 170 doors and walked six miles in order to register voters, inform them about the candidates, canvas their responses, and talk about the issues that were important to their lives.

Some voters were nice, some of them indifferent, and some of them slammed the door in my face, but by this time I was well versed in adapting to different people and environments as I did in Germany. Much like my German friends and family, all of the voters I talked to had different upbringings, different values, and perhaps even different cultures. I couldn’t expect them to hold the same political beliefs as I do.

Before my year abroad, I was a very meek and accommodating person. My family liked to joke that being a “little diplomat” turned me into a metaphorical doormat, but they couldn’t say the same about me when I returned from my study abroad. Having to adapt to a different culture, teach myself a new language, and take on new responsibilities helped me gain the self- confidence that I needed to give presentations in class, talk to all those potential voters, and speak my mind about issues I care about. My exchange year in Germany helped me to not only gain a voice for myself, but also a political voice – all thanks to that “boring” parliament session in Berlin.