Dr. Andresen’s book will be the story of the growth and development of programs, “with emphasis on students and families. YFU is students and families. You can’t have one without the other. We are always keeping in mind why we’re doing this,” says Dr. Andresen, looking back on the years when the kitchen table in her home, or in the home of any host family, was where problems were talked out.
“Whenever problems arose with students or families, the first thing we would do is review – ‘Why do we do this? Why did you bring a student into your home?’ And to the student, ‘Why are you here? Why did you want to do this?’ When you asked these questions, the problems were not so great. Many problems are solved by reviewing the basics.”
It is in the home, says Dr. Andresen, that people share everything and discover who they are. “It’s the 1001 things that go on in a family every day that say who we are and what we believe. There are no secrets in the family. It’s pretty real.”
Discovery involves all members of the family, but it is perhaps most profound for the exchange student.
“I think the greatest thing that happens to the student is that he will gain a new appreciation for who he is, what his special talents are and what things he has to offer.”
“When he goes through the experience, he learns to stand on his own two feet, he has to make decisions for himself, perhaps for the first time. It does wonderful things for a person,” says Dr. Andresen.
Dr. Andresen says her life has been influenced and enriched by the many people who she has met and worked with over the years. In fact, her own experiences with people worldwide parallels the experience of exchange students.
“I have made lifelong friends all over the world. The people, families and students I have met have all been special to me, “says Dr. Andresen. Although her father was a tremendous influence in her life, so were her “teachers.”
“My teachers were students and families. Everyone you meet in life, everyone who teaches you something, is special,” she says.
For the exchange student, the actual experience of living with a family is short, “but all your life, after an experience like this, you recall those situations and people that have influenced your life and your thinking.”
“Decisions we make are personal ones, but they are based on a wide variety of learning and experiences,” says Dr. Andresen.
Rachel Andresen looks at YFU as an organization that grew from the strong interest in the family. The exchange program spread from family to family and from community to community and around the world.
YFU has succeeded as a family-based organization, as well as a volunteer based organization, “because giving and sharing is close to the hearts of people. Families initially take students to give something, and then they receive so much more than they give. Their family life is enriched, their knowledge of the world expanded and their appreciate of another country and of its people increased,” says Dr. Andresen.
Of YFU volunteers, Dr. Andresen says they are part of the organization “because they love people and have a real concern for others. The people involved in the program are on a real grassroots level of the operation, and they are an invaluable resource.
“Idealistically, it’s a peaceful world we’re working towards. A world in which people can live together, play together, do things together…and learn and know about each other in a very real way.”
“Volunteers are basic to YFU, its operation and its continuation. We couldn't operate our program without volunteers not one day in the year.”
No matter what role one plays in the youth exchange experience, the opportunities are shared by everyone, according to Dr. Andresen. “This program is an opportunity for an expression of the idealistic part of our own mind. It’s an opportunity for us to give the very best of what we are and to share that with somebody else.”
YFU Founder Rachel Andresen has received decorations and citations from the governments of West Germany, Mexico, Finland and Brazil, among others, for her contributions to international understanding and cultural exchange.