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YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Filtering by Tag: italy

Bobby Petrini: Yacht Week in Croatia


Guest post from Bobby PetriniAt the time I received my letter of acceptance to the YFU Program in spring of 2000, I couldn’t possibly think past what an amazing summer I had in store. Fast forward fifteen years later and I’ve just returned home after spending the better part of August and September traveling across Europe with my best Italian friend from high school.

Aldo, my YFU host brother, and I spent only three and a half weeks hanging out that summer in Salerno, and yet I would consider him and the members of his family my own. Since graduating college, Aldo and I have managed to travel between Europe and the States at least once a year with each other’s friends. We’ve ventured to two Coachella concerts in the Palm Desert, skied in the Colorado Rockies and visited countless cities across Europe.

From the time Aldo told me ten years ago he had taken a graduation trip to Croatia and that it was one of the most beautiful destinations he had ever visited, I knew I had to see it for myself. It was on our last trip to London for Aldo’s first American football game - my San Francisco 49ers vs the Jacksonville Jaguars – that we decided, as we near the end of our twenties, that we needed to coordinate an epic summer vacation like our original summer in Salerno. We chose The Yacht Week Croatia 2014.

It took no time at all to recruit ten friends from San Francisco for the week long adventure sailing down the Dalmatian Coast. Half of the group had already met Aldo during one of his many visits to California, and the other half were thrilled to have a European with us on our maiden voyage.

The trip began with me and two friends from the Bay Area meeting Aldo in Salerno, relaxing and visiting with Aldo’s friends and family. Returning to Salerno fifteen years later to see the friends I had made during my formative years and now introducing my Californian friends to Aldo’s family was the greatest experience. We sampled fresh pizza and mozzarella from Naples, drank Limoncello from Capri and enjoyed homemade brioche from my favorite ice cream bar that is still as popular as ever. Aldo’s parents and Nonna were just as hospitable and generous as I remember; welcoming my American friends and treating us all like their own children getting sent off to an adult summer camp.

From Italy we reconvened with the larger crew in Dubrovnik, our jumping off point in Croatia.  We spent seven days with forty other boats filled with people from across the globe, sailing by day and partying by night. We explored the islands of Vis and Hvar where we visited The Blue Cave, jumped off cliffs into the Aegean Sea, toured medieval forts and castles, ate fresh lobster and sailed a regatta across the sea on our final day’s route. The trip of a lifetime for us all and one that reminded us to continue the tradition of traveling to a new destination every couple of years.

Bobby Petrini

Bobby Petrini

First Hand Gap Year Experience


Nikole Hampton Photo 2 - Graduation“Most kids from my hometown either went straight to work or straight to college.” This may have been true for many students in Harrisville, Michigan, but Nikole Hampton wanted more after she graduated in 2008, so she decided to take a gap year between high school and college to attend high school in Sweden. “It was the best experience of my life and forever changed me for the better,” Nikole says of her year. She had been unsure of her future plans, but she was sure of one thing: she was looking for the adventure of a lifetime and she got it.

“My parents were more in support of me going to college immediately, until they looked into gap year programs with me and realized that I was really motivated to do this. I deferred my acceptance to the University of Michigan, so they were happy to know I didn’t lose this opportunity either, and then they really started to support me.” Nikole got the best of both worlds with her gap year. She was able to take a giant leap out of her comfort zone and find out what she was made of, then attend college the following year.

Nikole Hampton Photo 3 - Art ClassNikole lived with a host family outside of Stockholm and attended Nacka Gymnasium as a third year (or a senior). In Sweden, students attend school until they are around 19 years old, which meant that her classmates were the same age, which was very important to Nikole. Despite the fact that she was the same age as most of her classmates, Swedish school took some getting used to. “Swedish high school is set up more like American colleges, with weekly schedules and classes that met twice per week.  We also had the majority of classes with our ‘class,’ or about 20-30 students studying the same track.  Mine was social science and art, so that is what my classes were mostly about except for our electives.” Her classmates quickly became her closest friends. “We were like a family!” She also made friends with kids on her track team and became close with her host sister who often invited her to hang out with her friends even though they went to different schools.

One of the best memories she has was the vacation she took with her host family. “My favorite was going on a road trip with my host family and skiing! It was so beautiful and we got to spend a lot of quality time together, cooking and playing cards and such.  School and life gets crazy busy sometimes, so it was relaxing to have some time off and just spend time with each other. And be in the outdoors of course!” It is times like these that really characterize an exchange. Although Nikole’s family’s English was near perfect, eventually they only spoke Swedish to her so she could practice. “They helped me with homework and taught me lots of words before school even started! They also got me a library card too, and I spent a lot of time reading which was another good way to learn a language.”

Nikole Hampton Photo 1 - Family VacationNot only did she get the opportunity to bond with her host family, but she was also able to bond with her natural family as well! “I visited family that lived in the south of Sweden and got to learn more about my heritage and experience a very different region. I also had some family living in the Stockholm area, so I met up with them occasionally too!”

Because Nikole joined her class during their last year of school, she was able to graduate with them! “Graduation was completely different than in the U.S. We had what was called an ‘utspring’ at school after an assembly, where they called out each class and we ran out of school and looked for a poster of us that our families secretly made (I realize this sounds strange...). Then our family put presents and letters on necklaces around our necks and we went home with them, changed out of our nice clothes, and then met up with our class again on a giant flat-bed truck that went all around Stockholm and blasted music.  After that, we go home again, and our families and friends were all over for a dinner and such in honor of the new graduate.”

Nikole Hampton Photo 5 - Class PhotoNikole took a risk and challenged herself and it paid off immensely. She learned a new language, made incredible friends, even ate reindeer! Now, she is finishing up a bachelor’s degree in social work at the University of Michigan. As a graduation present to herself, she is traveling back to Sweden this summer to visit her friends and host family, that she hasn’t seen in four years, to relive all of the wonderful memories she had there. This experience for her was unforgettable and transformative. She came back from Sweden motivated, confident and ready to continue with the ideas that ignited her passion for social issues while abroad.

Written by Zoe ColtonQuotes from Nikole Hampton

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