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YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Filtering by Tag: family

A Look Back at the 2017-2018 USA Exchange Year


Some of our favorite moments from the 2017-2018 YFU USA program year.

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An Exchange Experience


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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What Family Means to Me...



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A Quick Transition



002016-06-22T14:14:00Z2016-06-22T15:12:00Z12401411Youth For Understanding USA257164414.0Normal0falsefalsefalseEN-USJAX-NONE/* Style Definitions */table.MsoNormalTable{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;mso-style-noshow:yes;mso-style-priority:99;mso-style-parent:"";mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;mso-para-margin-top:0in;mso-para-margin-right:0in;mso-para-margin-bottom:8.0pt;mso-para-margin-left:0in;line-height:107%;mso-pagination:widow-orphan;font-size:11.0pt;font-family:Calibri;mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}“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! 

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


Rie 3

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

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.

Her exchange was 47 years ago, but still is very much a part of her


Story By Janelle Holt, State Coordinator of QueenslandAs a YFU volunteer I am often asked, “What will I get out of traveling overseas” or “Why should I host a foreign student?”  Those questions do not leave me stumped because, to me, the answer is as natural as breathing. “You will gain another family.”

Forty-seven years ago I travelled to Finland as a YFU exchange student. I was seventeen and had never been far from my Michigan farm or my family. June 1968 I boarded a plane in Detroit and flew into the unknown. I felt excitement, but also angst. I asked myself, “What have I gotten myself into?”

My home was in Rovaniemi, Finland with Olavi and Kerttu Lahtinen. I became their fifth child, as they had four of their own, Kirsti (18), Veikko (15), Ritva (11) and Heikki (8). Rovaniemi is located just ten kilometers south of the Arctic Circle. This far north never gets completely dark in summer nor light in the winter.

The early days of exchange I was terribly homesick and in 1968 there was no internet and long distance telephone calls were expensive. The only connection with home were letters that arrived by post. To ease my homesickness, my host mom climbed the stairs to my room each morning to bring my letters and a cup of tea. Years later I came to understand just how pampered I had been.

Early in my exchange, my senses were on overload. As summer wore on I became familiar with the sights, sounds, and smells of my new home. I woke each morning to the aroma of Karjalan Piiraka (Karelian Rice Pies). My mom made them to sell at the local markets. It was a foreign smell to me at first, but as summer progressed I came to love waking to the smell of those pies. Now if I smell of those pies baking, I’m transported to my days in Kerttu’s kitchen.

Kerttu and Olavi spoke no English and I did not speak Finnish. We learned to communicate with hand gestures, looks, or in other ways. One day Olavi was eating clabbered milk. It is a soured, unpasteurized raw milk that was left in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. It looks thick and elastic, similar to hot mozzarella cheese. Never having liked milk, I found this particularly disgusting. My father, generously, offered me a taste. I wrinkled my nose and shook my head. His loud voice boomed, “Hyvää”, which I knew to be the word for 'good’. I again shook my head and said, “no hyvää” and we both laughed.To this day I have never forgotten that word, or my ‘conversation’ with my host father.

Summer passed, and I was more and more comfortable in my adopted home. I felt truly cared for and part of the family. They seemed to enjoy having another child in their midst. As the day of my departure neared, I felt a tugging on my heart. It was such a bittersweet feeling. I wanted to return home to my friends and family, but I also didn’t want to leave.

One day I received a package. In it was a videotape that the family had made for me. Each family member spoke to me and showed me their homes and their families. Time had changed how everyone looked, but their hearts were still connected to mine. I cherish that video because it was the last that I would ever see my father, Olavi. He passed away before I could return to visit.

The connection has stayed strong for nearly thirty years now. I have visited my family several times. I have gone to celebrate birthdays and participated in the Christenings of my great niece and great nephew. I took my son there when he was eight to meet Kerttu, his ‘mummo’ and the rest of the ever-growing family. My son and mother communicated without words and it was magic.

Through the years my four siblings grew and had children. I now have two brothers, two sisters, two nieces, five nephews, five great-nieces and three great-nephews. My family keeps growing and filling my heart with joy.

One of my most special memories, though, was when Kerttu, Kirsti, and Ritva travelled from Finland to Florida to celebrate my 50th birthday.  Kerttu was 75 years old and had never been to the U.S! The fact that they went to so much effort and expense to spend that time with me made it the best birthday I’ve ever had!

YFU exchange is not just about the spending months overseas, learning another language or getting to see sights you’ve only read about. Exchange is about opening your heart, taking in new sights, sounds, and smells, sharing another language, and living a life different than your own.

For this reason, when asked “why go on exchange”, or “why host an exchange student”, I speak from the heart.

“It will help you grow.  It will enrich your mind.  It will change your life.”

YFU Family Goes for Gold at Triple Play Family Fitness Finale


This week, YFU exchange student, David (Joon-Youb) from South Korea, joins his host family, The Brodsky’s of Lake Orion, Michigan in representing the US Army Garrison -Detroit Arsenal Boys and Girls Club at the Triple Play Family Fitness Finale Competition in Los Angeles, California.The Brodsky's (a family of six) plus David were one of five families chosen from across the country to compete in this finale based on their participation over the past six weeks in the first two phases of the challenge, which encompassed the Mind, Body, and Soul concept that Triple Play represents. "Mind" being nutrition and eating right, "Body" being fitness and exercise, and "Soul" being focused on spending quality time together and strengthening the family bond.

The family will be competing in a physical fitness obstacle course, have their nutrition knowledge put to the test in a round of trivia, and perform a skit showcasing all they’ve learned throughout the course of the challenge. They'll even be meeting former Olympian and BGCA alum, Jackie Joyner Kersey and her family at the event!

Before heading off to compete in the finals, Fox News Detroit welcomed David and the Brodsky’s for a live on-air interview! Check it out.

We hope you’ll join us in congratulating them on this amazing opportunity to represent their community, the Army, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the YFU family. Good luck Team Brodsky!

David & Brodsky Family

David & Brodsky Family

Host parents, Teresa and Patrick Brodsky with their four young children, along with a family friend and their YFU son David.