Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 

zola Block
This is example content. Double-click here to enter your registry name and display items from your registry. Learn more
           

641 S St NW Suite 200

1.800.833.6243

admissions@yfu.org

Blog

Filtering by Tag: Host

What Family Means to Me...

user

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!

My YFU Experience: Kylie Neidich

user

Interview by YFU Alumnus and Campus Ambassador Ronak Gandhi with YFU Field Director, Host Mother & Area Representative Kylie Neidich

Why do you believe that study abroad programs are not only beneficial, but also crucial for the youth of tomorrow?
I believe that our youth are often unaware of the cultural differences, how different every country is, and I think that studying abroad can help them further in life. It also looks great on college applications and applications for jobs because of that experience.

What was your motivation for volunteering and hosting with YFU?
I wanted my own children to learn about other cultures, while also getting to share our own. We love being able to share the kitchen with our students, as they teach us dishes from their own country. Believe it or not, I am the pickiest eater, but I have changed my eating habits due to my exchange students. When we moved to Texas we were the only family who hosted and I hated that our student couldn’t interact with others, so that got me more involved with volunteering. I’ve helped in planning events and in the growth and expansion of my field!

How has hosting a student impacted you and your family?
We have tasted food from other countries that we would have never been able to otherwise try, and my kids have been introduced to several languages including Thai, French, Swiss, and German! We gain so much through hosting. It truly is life changing.

Can you share some of the best memories and unexpected surprises from your hosting experiences?
The best memories would be watching them grow into sports that they may never have played before (esp. when they end up going to state championships), taking them to professional games, visiting the Alamo, and enjoying new holidays together. I don’t believe I’ve ever had unexpected surprises. YFU has been so VERY supportive and I couldn’t have asked for a better organization.

What Youth For Understanding Means to Me

user

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

A Life Changing Decision

user

Guest post from YFU Volunteer & Host Dad Andy

I was introduced to YFU slowly and without even realizing it. Some good friends of mine, Teresa and Jacob, had hosted several times, and they would have "barn parties" at their home that were always a lot of fun. It was a genius idea looking back--they gathered all of the exchange students in the area they could find, all the the families that wanted to come, and then all of their other friends and had a party. Just add food, drink, a few beers for the adults, a campfire and s'more materials for the teenagers, and it was a surprising amount of fun considering how diverse the group was. After a couple of these parties, I also took my first trip overseas to visit my family in Germany. While not related, the exchange student parties and the trip to Germany opened my mind to the idea that despite our language or cultural differences, we as a people have a lot in common. We love to laugh, to enjoy time with friends, and of course to eat good food. The ingredients were coming together to change my life even though I didn't yet realize it.

The fall after my first trip to Germany, I met Hendrik, Agustin, Sandra, and a slew of other exchange students at the annual party. I struck up a short conversation with Hendrik, the boy from Germany, because Germany is where my family is from and I really enjoyed my time there. I found out that Hendrik lived near the same city as my family and it was really neat for me. Later that year, I saw a message from Teresa asking on Facebook if anyone would be interested in hosting a German boy for the rest of the year. She got my attention, we started messaging, and the next thing you know I'm a host dad. What a trip! In less than a week, I managed to find a dresser, desk, and other things I needed to outfit the spare room. I believe it was 8 days after Teresa posted her message that Hendrik moved in. It felt like an eternity, but then it was off to the races. It was Thanksgiving week, then a trip to Chicago, then Cincinnati, then Christmas.

Then, after nearly 7 months of doing everything we could imagine to do, it was time for Hendrik to go back to Germany. It hurt more than I ever would have imagined. But something so powerful and rewarding has to have a price. Due to some pending “life stuff” that I had to deal with and some travel, I did not plan to host in the Fall of 2015. However, I got a call from Judy Beach asking me if I would be a volunteer and be an area rep for a German boy named Martin. I was immediately interested. It gave me the opportunity to stay involved even though I couldn't host. Later that year I became the area rep for another student from Germany, Patricia. When I would take both of the students I repped out together, I’ll never forget when they mentioned how odd (and cool) it was that they were two Germans but they were speaking English together.

I love working with exchange students, because you never know what they are going to find interesting. Occasionally they can say something that stings a bit (why do you do X, that's dumb), but I've found that usually with exchange students the mundane becomes exciting. Even a trip to the grocery store can be an adventure. Things we take for granted or have long since forgotten we ever liked, such as Pop Tarts and Fruit Roll ups, become new again.

Getting involved with YFU was a life changing decision. There has been some pain along the way, but I think I have learned from it and grown as a result. I didn't realize the capacity I have to care for other people is essentially limitless. I didn't know that I could love an exchange student like a son, even though I don't have a son of my own. I think if more people hosted, if more people experienced cultural exchange, that the world would be a better place.

In late 2015 I found out that I would be a host dad again, this time for Damien from France. I thought hosting the second time would be similar to the first, and it was in a lot of ways, but it was also very different. No two people are the same, and so you start again with a completely new relationship. I quickly learned a lot about Damien and the country he calls home. WeI did a lot in the 5 and a half months he was here, sometimes it is hard to believe all that we managed to do. Going home does mark the end of the special time that is the exchange year, but it marks the beginning of a potential lifetime of friendship and memories.

My heart swells with pride when I think of my two host sons. The relationship isn’t always like a father and son, I’m still a bit young (34) and so sometimes it feels more like big brother and little brother, but it works. When I think of all the great things that I believe Damien and Hendrik will go on to do, I can’t help but be proud of them. I told them both that going on exchange is brave. Putting oneself out there in a foreign country is something I never could imagine myself doing as a teenager, but now I see just how valuable it is.

In the short time I have been with YFU as a host parent and volunteer, I have made some amazing friends both here and in countries around the world. One reason to get involved is definitely because of the exposure you get to the world. Just today, I've chatted with people in France, Germany, and Uruguay, in addition to the USA. However, when people ask me why I host, why I volunteer, or why they should consider hosting, I often will say "because you literally get to make dreams come true". Sometimes I get funny looks, but I think it is the truth. These young adults who want to come to the USA *are* dreaming about it. It is more important to them than almost everything else. They are often times (maybe even most times) delaying school a year to take another year of school. That is a passionate teenager. YFU staff, interns, volunteers, and host families ALL get to take part in turning that dream into reality. That's the good stuff, and that's why I do what I do.

 

A Quick Transition

user

“When he got here, he didn’t like hugging people,” explained Roni Sutton, host mother and long-time YFU volunteer about her exchange student from Jordan, Ahmad. “That was pretty much the opposite when he left.”  

On the last day of his senior year, Roni recalled Ahmad’s emotion as he said goodbye to friends and teachers who had so warmly accepted him into their lives. His good heart and ‘hysterically dry’ humor quickly gained him the respect of his peers in the classroom, and the love and laughter of the Sutton family at home.

“It took a week or so for him to settle in, but we knew he was comfortable when he started to crack his jokes – just like he was really a part of the family.” The Sutton family learned, however, that beneath his ever-smiling face and relaxed attitude was a caring, observant, and humble young man. He was quick to apologize anytime he felt a joke was not received well, and asked many questions to help him learn and better himself for next time.

His caring and adaptive nature did not stop here. During the month of Ramadan, Roni remembers Ahmad’s quiet diligence to follow his prayer, washing, and eating schedule, all while still spending time with the family and his friends.

“Normally, I would leave a plate of food for him in the fridge for him to warm up after it got dark,” she recollected. “The one time I forgot, he was so understanding and asked how he could help make something for himself.”

By the end of the school year, Ahmad had succeeded not only in learning about American society and culture, but also in teaching his own religious and native customs to his peers and host family members. 

Did you know that each year, YFU welcomes scholarship winners from several US Government sponsored programs? Learn more about hosting a YES Scholarship student like Ahmad and meet our incoming class of students today! 

Lifelong Friends in Another Place

user

The Noble-Olsen family welcomed Maan from Saudi Arabia during the 2015-2016 school year to develop what they agreed would be “a lifelong friend in a different place.” Patricia his host mother, explained to us how their multi-generational household was perfect for a transitioning Maan, who was accustomed to living and interacting with his extended family in Saudi Arabia. For the family, this also meant multiple generations’ worth of learning and understanding of the Islamic religion and of Saudi culture.

The holy month of Ramadan, which occurred during Maan’s stay with the Noble-Olsens, naturally came with obstacles that required cooperation and an open-mind from Maan and his new family. Included in these were Minnesota’s long days, during which he had to fast, leading to an eating schedule that was inconsistent with the typical family mealtimes, and in respect to Maan’s religion, the elimination of pork and alcohol from their diet.

Patricia, who has a background in religious studies, thoroughly enjoyed the process of her learning from Maan about Saudi culture and religion, but specified how the extent of learning reached beyond just her and Maan.

“He very much enjoyed talking about religion,” she said. “He presented to his class about Saudi Arabia, and loved to learn about the religion of others.”

In the household, it was clear that Maan’s energy was special, as Patricia recalls finding him in conversation with her 4-year-old granddaughter. 

“My granddaughter adored Maan,” said Patricia when asked of her favorite moment of his stay. “I remember the two of them sitting with each other at the dining room table talking. She reached up to grab his arm and said, ‘I love you,’ to which he said, ‘I love you too.’”

On the night of his departure, Patricia recalled her family’s final dinner for Maan as a heart-breaking experience. As he was leaving very early the next morning, each family member took turns saying goodbye before going to sleep for the night – but Maan had something else planned.

“I woke up the next morning to find a post-it note on the door to our bedroom saying, ‘Love you, Thank you!’ only to realize that there were countless notes around the house expressing Maan’s love and gratitude for individual members of the family. He left 96 notes around the house, and I was still finding them two weeks later,” Patricia reminisced.

The Noble-Olsen family found in Maan a perfect example of how an intercultural exchange program can convey such understanding and compassion in a family while showing a young scholar a world so different from their own.  

Did you know that each year, YFU welcomes scholarship winners from several US Government sponsored programs? Learn more about hosting a YES Scholarship student like Maan and meet our incoming class of students today! 

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

user

 Rie 3

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

user

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.

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.

 

Student Exchange Empowers Young Citizen Diplomats and Fosters Global Understanding

user

Guest blog by Laura AsialaThis article originally appeared in The New Global Citizen and is reprinted with permission. Click here for the original story: http://bit.ly/1vtcPWO.

I was raised in a white bread world, amongst the cherry trees and corn fields of Northern Michigan. In the 1960s, there was nothing global about Elk Rapids, a village of 1,200 where my grandmother’s grandparents had emigrated from Switzerland in the mid-1800s. My parents were well-educated—my father was a physician—but rarely traveled outside their state, much less the country. Still their sense of curiosity, generosity, respect, and hospitality made them the best kind of global citizens. And they were committed to opening the world to our family.

family 1967

I remember like it was yesterday the day in 1967 when my parents first decided to invite an exchange student into our home. My father returned home from his medical practice, entering via the backdoor, which opened directly into the eat-in kitchen where my mother was making dinner. My younger sister and I were coloring at the kitchen table.

“I was at the conference meeting at the hospital this morning, and they mentioned that there was a German exchange student coming to Traverse City who wants to live with a doctor and his family for a year” he said. “I said I thought we could do it.”

My mother looked up from what she was doing. She looked at him for a moment and smiled. “Okay,” she said.

Though she didn’t know it then, the experience that followed would change my life forever.

About two weeks later, we set out in our station wagon on the four-hour journey to collect our exchange student at Detroit Metro Airport. I remember my father glancing alternately at the photo of our expected visitor and at the young women walking down the concourse. Suddenly he spotted her. “There she is!” he exclaimed. My sister and I ran to her, wrapping our arms around her waist from either side. ‘My new big sister,’ I thought. ‘All the way from Bochum, Germany!’ I could not have been more excited to meet her. We christened her “Uli,” because my 2-year-old brother Jeff couldn’t quite manage “Ulrike” (pronounced “Ool-ree-ka”). For all of us, it was love at first sight.

In my current work, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to encourage people to become good global citizens who engage with purpose around the world. In fact, I think first grade may be the best time to convert children into citizen diplomats, which is ironic, because six-year-olds are not really very diplomatic, in the usual sense of the word, and certainly not politically correct. At that age, their language is much more candid and unfiltered. Uli often came to ask me directly about things she didn’t understand, what they were called, how they were used.

With me, she knew she could always count on a straight answer. I wasn’t shy about asking her questions, either, tagging along at every opportunity. She told us stories we had never heard, sang new songs, made unusual foods, and shared German traditions with us. We especially loved the Advent calendar she made that December. But most importantly, she gave us a window to the world and a profound understanding that there was far more out there than we knew in our tiny corner of the American Midwest. We learned that different wasn’t necessarily about right and wrong; different could be right, fun, and good.

Uli lived with us for a year, during which time she graduated from our local high school and my youngest brother was born. Over the next twenty years or so, my parents hosted or facilitated the hosting of a dozen other students through various programs—from South America, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Europe. In turn, my parents traveled to visit them, and enabled their children’s international education and travel as well, encouraging us to visit our exchange ‘siblings’ and discover the world on our own.

Laura and Ui

I called Uli as I was getting ready to write this post. I wanted to make sure that my memories matched hers. We had a wonderful conversation, reminiscing about our nearly half century friendship.

“When you lived with us, did you ever think the day would come that my children would hold your granddaughter?” I asked.

“No,” she laughed, and then grew serious. “But what I learned with your parents and your family was a different way of being with people, a much more easy-going and open way people in the U.S. got along with each other. For example, when you had a party, everyone helps in the kitchen after dinner, and you didn’t have to set the ‘perfect table.’”

She paused for a moment, remembering.

“In Germany, it was so much more formal, everything had to be done a certain way, which required a lot of work and preparation, and so we didn’t do it very often because it was so much work. Getting everyone together, having an open and friendly home, this is something that I have tried to carry with me in my life—to open my house, to accept everyone.”

The day Uli left is still clear in my mind. We had gone to my grandparents’ house for lunch afterchurch. Afterwards, my aunt and uncle would drive her to New York, where she would board a ship with other European students who had spent the year in the U.S., and travel home.

I always knew that she would return to Germany. I knew that she could only stay with us a year. But at six-years-old, a year felt like an eternity. The reality that she would leave did not hit me until the moment the car pulled away from the curb. I ran down the sidewalk after the car, crying.

sisters 1 2010

“You were on the outside of the car crying; I was on the inside of the car crying,” she said. “That was really terrible.” Forty-seven years later, we both choked up remembering that day.

Uli arrived just another German girl in the middle of Detroit. She left my big sister forever. Because of her experience, she maintained a commitment to student exchange throughout her life. She has been an exchange mom three times.

She sent her son to California as an exchange student through Youth for Understanding, an organization that has enabled the exchange of nearly 250,000 students who have gained skills and perspectives necessary to meet the challenges and benefits of the fast-changing global community, the same organization that helped her come to America so many years before.

He married a fellow Youth for Understanding alumna and together they have already hosted an exchange student. At this point, Uli is a glorified student exchange grandmother—and aunt.

It was natural—nearly a foregone conclusion—that my own life would cross borders. Because I was interested and curious about the world and its people, I pursued a career in international business. Before I knew there was such a thing as ‘global competence’—a requirement for the jobs of the 21st century—I was learning it at home.

My ability to interact across cultures gave me confidence socializing, working, problem-solving, and finding new ways to communicate with diverse colleagues and friends. My experiences from my earliest childhood informed that work.

Here are six lessons in citizen diplomacy I learned in first-grade. These continue to serve me well.

  1. Ask if you don’t understand something. Be curious, not judgmental, and never assume motive based on behavior. Encourage other people to ask, too.
  2. Explain using simple language. Give straight answers and explicit instructions, and explain why you are doing something and what your expectations are.
  3. Share your own story and your own traditions. It’s not only generous, it also makes you more mindful and appreciative.
  4. Listen The stories people share about their lives and families are one of the most important ways to learn, not only intellectually, but emotionally.
  5. Invite An open home is in and of itself generous hospitality, and creates the opportunity for deep and lasting bonds. There is rarely perfect timing. The unexpected guest—can be a great blessing.
  6. Love Though it’s rarely discussed in these terms, tolerance and mutual respect are actually ways of loving people. A six-year-old and a sixteen-year-old from different countries and different cultures can learn early on that it is possible to love people who are different from them.

Uli and Laura's families continue to visit each other-whether on the shores of Lake Michigan and or in Germany.

Through the years, our friendship never waned. Uli and her husband Teddy came to visit periodically during our family’s summer vacations on the shores of Lake Michigan and we traveled to Germany to visit them several times over the years. In the summer of 2009, Uli and I sat together on the beach of Lake Michigan. “I always thought I would host an exchange student someday,” I said. “But the time never seemed right.”

My youngest daughter Caroline was about to enter her junior year of high school. Uli glanced over at me, smiled knowingly, and said: “If you’re ever going to do it, you’d better do it right now. There will never be a better time.”

Laura's daughter, Caroline, holds Uli's granddaughter.

I met her gaze, and our years of history as sisters and friends half way around the world rushed through my mind. And in that moment, I decided exactly what I would do next. I stood up, brushed the sand off my rear end, and headed back to the house to submit a YFU application. Three weeks later, we welcomed Dai Chuan—known to us as “Clark”—from Tian Jin, China. Clark was as excited as we were for his arrival in central Michigan.

At 16, he was the Bay City Central High School math star and a swim team stalwart. He was on time for school every single morning (which never rubbed off on his American sister, I’m sorry to say), and made many American friends. On the weekend before he returned to China, I cooked hamburgers for 90 teenagers who flooded our home to say good-bye and wish him well.

Clark is my only son and my daughters’ only brother. I hope to see the day he holds my daughters’ grandchildren, adding one more link to my family across borders.

 

This article originally appeared in The New Global Citizen and is reprinted with permission. Click here for the original story: http://bit.ly/1vtcPWO.

I Like Exchange Students

user

Reblogged guest post from YFU Host Mom AprilThree years ago about this time Steve & I made the decision to host our very first exchange student. It was a little scary and exciting all at the same time considering it had been just us two since we tied the knot over 10 years ago. Now we are happy to say our little international family consists of three lovely European daughters… TessaJule and Iitu.

It’s been over a month since Iitu returned home to Finland and her exit was definitely not without tears… but it didn’t start out that way. Iitu was the first girl we hosted that let us know being an exchange student wasn’t necessarily her idea. This made me a little nervous about our upcoming year together, but it wasn’t long until she stole our hearts with her silliness, seriousness and her full rainbow of other characteristics in-between.

So when it came to creating a going-away gift, this quote leaped off my Pinterest page. I’m all for carefully plotting out safe and secure plans, but sometimes when a wise person suggests you make a right turn down a road you’ve never been on before… that’s often when your trip gets more interesting… more rewarding… more rich… more memorable.

That’s why I like exchange students.  What do you like?

You don’t need to have teenagers live with you for 10 months to make that right turn (but if that does interest you… check out YFU).  This inspiring book and website is jam packed with loads of simple stories that change the direction of your normal routine. A quote from the book reads, “When we choose to give, we change, and the people around us change. When we move from awareness to action, miracles happen. When we allow giving to be our idea, a world of possibilities opens up before us, and we discover new levels of joy.”

And I definitely can attest to that. This summer, both of our German daughters came to visit and I enjoyed some fantastic times I would have never experienced if they were not here.

I know I’m in the business of selling gifts, but I’ve found that often giving is one of the best gifts you can receive.

Remember When…

user

Cowboy James with jack-o-lanternDo you remember your first Halloween? The hours spent cutting, sewing, taping and painting to create your BEST costume ever? The anticipation of trick-or-treating and costume parties? Then of course there’s always the candy set aside (or should we say ‘covert snatching’) for the parental ‘safety check’.

How would you like share this unique tradition with an international teen? No tricks here, there’s still time to welcome an exchange student into your home this fall!

There are currently students on program who have been adjusting to US life with arrival families. These families have been helping to bridge the gap between the student’s home cultures and ours as they prepare for the remainder of their academic stay with a permanent host family.

FallFun

Prepare to share your family’s version of American holiday traditions from Halloween to Thanksgiving to ringing in the New Year and everything in between. Apply today and get ready for a life-changing opportunity!