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YFU

YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Filtering by Tag: exchange is for everyone

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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Seven Months into My Exchange Year!

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I learned how to be more independent, how to face challenges alone, and how to be strong in situations that can make me feel really weak. I learned how to convert my weakness into strength, and yes, I learned never to give up.

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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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The beauty of Sweden is something I never got over.

Team Vera

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A note from YFU USA President & CEO Michael E. Hill0014102339Youth For Understanding USA

At YFU, we believe exchange is for everyone.

When an organization supports more than 2,000 international and American exchange students each year, you hear a lot of stories about kids. Sometimes it’s a story of struggle; other times it’s the story of a remarkable deed. And every so often you hear a story like Vera’s.

I’ll never forget the call from a colleague in Hungary. “I have a perfect exchange student for you. She has great grades. She’s well adjusted. She’s a model member of her family and community.” The lead up was too perfect. “What’s the catch?” I asked. “Vera,” my colleague says, “happens to be blind.”

Vera would ultimately get placed with my former St. Bonaventure University college professor in Olean, NY, a town that I consider my home.

My former professor would explain to me on a later call that he and his wife had been looking for a reason to say no. He had a relatively new job running a health care consortium and had a full family life already, but he also shared that the coincidences were too great: 1) he had raised a blind daughter; 2) his wife had Hungarian roots; 3) he was the past chairman of the local school board and just knew that they would accept her. 

In short, John said, Vera was destined to be their exchange daughter.  

Vera was soon off to Olean, NY, and to her new host family. When she arrived, we soon discovered that Vera’s hearing was also a challenge for her in the classroom. John and his family refused to let any of this stop them. They soon created what they called “Team Vera.” “Team Vera” needed to find a way to keep this remarkable young woman on program, despite her challenges.

The story is a remarkable one. The Olean School District found ways to get extra technology and resources for Vera, and the Vera’s new family made it their personal mission to help her navigate this new experience.  At the end of the day, however, the school informed us that Vera would need a full-time aide if she was going to complete the year. The price tag: $10,000. 

YFU didn’t hesitate to authorize spending the funds to help Vera get the personal support she needed, but, as you might imagine, we don’t usually budget for this level of support. That’s where we hope you can help. We wanted to share Vera’s story with you because it proves that exchange is for everyone.

We are launching a “Team Vera” campaign for #GivingTuesday to raise the funds we need for Vera’s full-time aide. If you are inspired by Vera’s story, we would be very thankful for your assistance in helping us support “Team Vera” and this extraordinary journey she’s on through YFU.

We appreciate any support you might be able to give, and we would love to welcome you to “Team Vera”, ensuring that exchange is for everyone.

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