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YFU

YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Filtering by Tag: United States

A Year as a YFU Exchange Student in Germany

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The YFU experience is an open invitation to you. The opportunities are there. It is up to you to make the most of it.

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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.

Help Save CBYX

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The U.S. Department of State has cut funding for the CBYX program by 50% for the 2015-2016 program year, and the program’s future is in jeopardy. To guarantee that CBYX, one of the most prominent German-American exchange programs for the past 30 years, continues to support the 700 German and American participants annually, full funding for the program must be restored.YFU recognizes first hand its importance to our future leaders, as we have proudly helped administer the program, allowing U.S. students the opportunity to become CBYX scholars and placing German CBYX scholars with American host families.

Support for the program is needed from as many people as possible. Please visit savecbyx.org to learn more and share the website and petition with anyone you know whose life has been touched by CBYX or who believes strongly in the German-American partnership.

How can you help?

  1. Sign the petition.
  2. Send a letter to your U.S. Representative and Senator.- Download the Congressional letter template and customize it.- Find the name of your Representative and your two Senators.- Follow the contact links provided, cut & paste your letter into the online forms and submit your letter.
  3. Are you a CBYX alum? Share your testimonial! Let your voice be heard. What impact did the program have on you personally and/or professionally?
  4. Tweet about it. Be sure include #saveCBYX and include @StateDept so that they know this is important to you. 

Dreams Come True

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Guest post from 2013-2014 YES Scholarship Recipient, Rabia While I was in the plane for the first time in my life I couldn’t wait to know what the future would be holding for me. I was ready to start my exchange year, one of the best years in my life.

Michael Hill & Rabia

Michael Hill & Rabia

I am Rabia from Pakistan and was placed in Suffolk, VA. I am 17 years old and got selected to be a cultural ambassador of my country, affiliated to the exchange program known as Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES) and my placement organization is Youth For Understanding USA (YFU).

The excitement to come to USA can’t be expressed. It was the first time that I was going to be away from my family for one year. All the feelings of excitement, nervousness, anxiousness and willingness to explore the world were jumbled up in my mind. On August 13, 2013 I came to America. The first three days that we spent in Washington DC were definitely amazing. I got a chance to meet the President and CEO of YFU which was a great encouragement for me to start my year.

I knew this year was going to be a lot of fun when I met my host mom, Narendra Pleas. She is so loving and amazing woman and helped me a lot to understand American values so I could fit in. I was totally prepared to go to American high school, which I knew would be a whole new experience. I went to Kings Fork High School as a senior. High school is the part which makes the exchange year even more enjoyable, wonderful and memorable. I made lots of friends by giving presentations in my classes and by telling them about my culture. They all got so excited when I introduced Henna Tattoos and it helped me to make more friends. It doesn’t matter wherever you are fashion always brings teenagers close. After my presentation in Chorus class one of the girls came to me and said: “I didn’t really know that much about Pakistan, but after you showed us everything it really changed my point of view about your country and I think it’s pretty amazing.” After another presentation another student talked to me and she said: “I was feeling like I was there (in Pakistan) while you were talking about your country and showing us different things.”

To make this year even more exciting I joined after school clubs and sports. I was selected as the secretary of the international club and I am also a member of key club. We did different projects with both clubs to help our sponsors like fund raising for UNICEF to help orphan kids. I also played Varsity Tennis and became stats and score keeper of Kings Fork Boys’ Basketball team.

I wanted to try all the new things during my stay in America. I joined chorus and Air Force Junior ROTC. Both of these courses were definitely new for me and I loved both of these classes. It’s always fun to try new things. In my ROTC class I earned the cadet of the quarter award for all the four quarters of this year and also the outstanding cadet of the year award was one of my big accomplishments. In chorus I started with the mixed group and made it to the selected chorus group. I will miss both of these classes. They taught me something new and I will take all these memories with me.

My high school year went great, made lots of friends, got involved in different activities and inducted as a National Honor Society member. I will never forget how everyone showed love to me and accepted me as one of them. My friends, teachers and Principal were always there for me. They always tried to make my year wonderful. After the induction ceremony of National Honor Society my principal took me to the cafeteria and surprised me. He put the Pakistani flag along with all the other flags that were already there and told me to go stand with it so he could take a picture. It was all beyond my imaginations. All these people have been an important part of this year and I love them all.

After being inducted into the National Honor Roll Society

After being inducted into the National Honor Roll Society

My exchange year in America gave me a chance to get up and help the community. I did community service at Greensville Volunteer Rescue Squad (GVRS) throughout the year and I was awarded for being a Junior Squad member this year. I also did community service at a church on Thanksgiving. We packed food for homeless people to make them feel that they have someone out there to think about them and to make them a part of their celebrations. I have done 188 hours of community service.

I had the full American experience of Thanksgiving with turkey, Halloween by being a pumpkin, Christmas with all the gifts, super bowl by sitting on a couch and watching the super bowl on TV with some food, I mean lots of American food  and last but not least New Year Eve. All these occasions taught me to be thankful for what we have, be generous and spread happiness.

My year kept getting better and better. I was selected to attend a week long Civic Education Workshop (CEW). It was one of the best parts of this year. I got a chance to visit Capitol Hill and that was an amazing experience to go in to the government buildings and to have meetings with government officials to tell them about our exchange experiences. It gave me a lot of confidence and a great experience to remember.

I always wanted to go to different places in America and learn more about it. I got a chance to participate in YFU's Southeast District contest to win a trip to Hawaii. I participated in the contest. I gave several presentations in my host community and high school about YFU and exchange programs which are affiliated to YFU, distributed informative flyers and put up information about YFU at different public places to spread the word. All this hard work earned me that trip to Hawaii. I was the happiest person on Earth. The trip to the islands was a completely different experience and I got to know about a different culture in America. The beauty of that place was breathtaking.

No doubt, my exchange year went great. I have had lots of fun. It was unbelievable for me that I was selected as YES student of the month for the month of April. My host mom told me this great news and I literally screamed because I couldn’t believe that I was the one out of 900 students. It was a great achievement and I was so happy that day.

This year is not just a year in my life, it is more than that. It gave me an opportunity to present the true Pakistani culture. I got a chance to remove the misconceptions between two countries and to build long lasting ties. During the last days in my high school, I took small interviews from some of my teachers and classmates. My English teacher said: “I never had a Pakistani student before, but it was a very good experience to know about different culture. I think it’s really important to have exchange programs because exchange students come to class with a lot of things to offer which American students really like to learn.“ My French teacher said: “I think exchange programs open up many possibilities and encourage people to be more tolerant, more aware, give them a broader perspective and make people understand about other cultures.” She also said: “I was very pleased and surprised with how outgoing you are. You are so polite and very accepting of other people.” These people have had always been an encouragement for me to do even better.

My year is ending, but all the things I learned and all the experiences I had will always teach me new things and will definitely help me in future. The special relationship I have developed with my host family and host community will never end. Thank you YES and YFU for giving me such a great year!

A snapshot of Rabia's year in the US.

A snapshot of Rabia's year in the US.

Inspired by Rabia? Meet some of our incoming YES scholarship recipientsand welcome one of these future leaders into your family this fall!

Anna Enjoys a Gap Year in Sweden

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Ready for adventure, Anna deferred her college admission for a year and traveled to Sweden on exchange to fulfill a lifelong dream. Here's what Anna's written about her experience thus far:

"I have deferred my university admission and will be taking a gap year in Sweden for the next eleven months!” This was my usual response when asked about my future plans throughout my senior year in high school, which was usually met with dropped jaws and amazed expressions from my family and friends. As a current YFU gap year exchange student, I can wholeheartedly say that taking a gap year has been the most adventurous decision of my life to date. However it has also been my best and most life-changing decision!

This whole exchange student experience began quite some time ago - before I was born actually! My father was an exchange student in Sweden when he was in high school. Although that was back in the 80′s, I grew up knowing about his exchange experience and hearing about Sweden, along with learning about the Swedish ancestry in my family through several of my family members. So I think I had always had some sort of interest in Sweden.

Anna Wangen_US to Sweden_Gap 2013

Anna Wangen_US to Sweden_Gap 2013

Now, speed forward several years to me at age twelve. Here come the Swedish camp years. My family had known about Concordia Language Villages for several years, but had always been a little afraid of shipping me off to camp where I didn’t know the language. So somehow during those years as a Swedish student at camp, I got the crazy idea that I wanted to be an exchange student myself. I had learned about many different exchange programs and opportunities, and did much research on my own. Still, many people balked at the idea at first. It seems most unusual and culturally unacceptable to take a gap year between high school and college to most Americans, although it is absolutely normal here in Europe. I soon discovered Youth For Understanding and their arts exchange program in Sweden. It couldn’t have been more perfect, and I filled out an application to do a gap year last August. Simultaneously, I prepared an audition repertoire and visited many colleges in order that I could defer my admission for a year at the music college of my choosing.

Needless to say, everything has worked out unbelievably smoothly and I am now enjoying an amazing year abroad in Sweden! YFU has a wonderful network overseas, and this year has been full of cultural and life lessons. From learning to ALWAYS wear my rain pants when bicycling in the rain to singing in a Santa Lucia choir, I have been able to absorb Swedish culture while simultaneously sharing American traditions such as Thanksgiving. My host family definitely enjoyed both the joyful companionship and the pumpkin pie of our classic American holiday. I cannot wait for what the rest of my exchange year has in store!

Would you like to share your YFU Story? Please submit your stories and pictures!

5 Tips for Host Parents

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Exchange students are arriving soon. To help new host parents prepare, we’ve drawn from the wisdom of past parents by asking for advice on Facebook and Twitter. Below are 5 tips from host parents to help make sure your student’s arrival goes smoothly.1.  Figure out what your exchange student is going to call you. You can have them call you mom or dad or by your first name. Whatever it is you’d like them to call you, be sure to tell your exchange student what that is. This is a good way of opening up communication among the family and making yourself approachable to your exchange student.

2.  Be clear about the expectations of the house. In fact write down any house rules and go through them with your exchange student. The students are in a totally new situation, and some structure will help them adjust to it.

3.  Privacy! These students will be a part of your family in no time, but everyone needs privacy, even--and sometimes especially--with their family. This can be done in very simple ways such as, giving them some time to themselves each day, and making yourself available without hovering over them. A little privacy can go a long way in building trust.

4.  Don’t plan too much for them, at least not when they first arrive. We know you’re excited and they are too. But they’ve also just arrived in an unfamiliar place after a long trip, so give them a little time to adjust. You’ll have plenty of time for activities once the jet lag has worn off.

5.  They’re new here, so be patient. Yes, they’ve studied English, but they’ll still need some time to get used to speaking it outside of their classroom. The students will also need time to get used to aspects of American life that most of us take for granted. Of course you’re there to help guide them through it, but some things just have to be experienced. They’ll be comfortable in no time, so just be patient.

Have any tips yourself? Share them on our Facebook page or Twitter account!

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