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YFU

YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Filtering by Tag: michigan

Lifetime YFU Friendships

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At first, we were just exchange students…

Jeanne and Laurie were both exchange students from Michigan, the original heart of YFU. Jeanne went from the cornfields of central Michigan to the vineyards of southern France in 1982-83, learning to ski in the Alps. Laurie stretched her mother’s apron strings – but only for a summer – to the far north of Norway in 1982. When Laurie was invited to be on an alumni panel at a volunteer training weekend in the fall of 1983, Rachel Andresen told the regional director “That girl needs to go again!” – and so she did, as a gap year student to Uruguay in 1984-85.

Both of us felt our exchange experiences were the most amazing (and educational!) experiences we’d ever had, but little did we know we would still be involved over 30 years later, or the tremendous friendships we would develop over the years, not only with each other, but many others as well.

And then we were invited to events….

In the 1980s, YFU had an amazing Regional Director in Michigan named Diana Follebout. She believed that the exchange experience doesn’t end when a student arrives back home, but it is part of them forever. She also believed that young YFU alumni can (and should) be part of the volunteer base. She starting having Jeanne (and then Laurie) attend events, putting them to work in the regional office and Pre-Departure orientations.

And then we were volunteers….

Somewhere along the way, we were both became full-fledged volunteers; Jeanne was the first Alumni Coordinator for Michigan, organizing social events, fundraisers and orientations. We kept running into each other at events, and even though we went to rival universities, we hit it off. Soon Jeanne had dragooned Laurie into almost everything, and the two of us were quite a pair! Our YFU volunteering was an important part of our college experience, and the camaraderie that developed amongst our alumni group was like our own fraternity. We went on ski weekends together, did fundraisers for American YFU students, did presentations, and organized and conducted American student Pre-Departures and Homecoming orientations. When Jeanne moved to Illinois to work for the YFU Regional Office there, Laurie took over as the Alumni Coordinator.

And then we were friends….

The connections we developed during those college years – working together to achieve goals and laughing along the way – have kept our friendship strong, even though we haven’t lived in the same state for over 25 years.  When Jeanne was married, Laurie was one of the bridesmaids, and when Laurie (finally!) recently got married, Jeanne was right there to help her celebrate. When Jeanne moved to Illinois and Laurie went in the Army, we didn’t connect as often as we had, but when Jeanne called Laurie to tell her about the National Alumni Council that was being formed, we picked right up where we had left off. Remember, this was before cell phones or email were common, and so YFU has helped us stay connected as friends. It unites us and gives us common ground, even though we are now so deeply connected that we are friends in all aspects of our lives.

Laurie on the left, Jeanne on the right

Laurie on the left, Jeanne on the right

And there’s always YFU…

Why do we stay involved? What motivates us to continue working with exchange students? For both of us, we especially enjoy working with volunteers, particularly young alumni, who are working with exchange students or promoting the exchange experience. We have gotten to do so many wonderful things in YFU, for YFU, for students, that we love to see it when others can have similar experiences. The development of the National Pre-Departure Orientation a few years ago has been a dream come true for us.  Not only do we get to spend three days providing year and semester American students with skills and knowledge to help them have the best year of their lives, but we are also training the next generation of volunteers. We feel it is our turn to encourage and coach young alumni who will take our place, never forgetting the faith and hope that Diana Follebout once had in us.

YFU for Life: The Vintage Magical Tour 2015

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In September, YFU USA will be welcoming ten alumni from Argentina who completed exchanges to the U.S. in 1971. The group will be recreating their steps, visiting the high schools they attended nearly 45 years ago and speaking to students and community members about the impact their exchange experience had on their lives.

Juan Carlos De Marco

Juan Carlos De Marco

Tour Coordinator Juan Carlos De Marco stated, “We all feel great appreciation for the program that changed our lives so many years ago.” He continued, “We gathered in Buenos Aires three years ago to celebrate our 40th anniversary where we enjoyed reviving the memories of our exchange. This is when the idea of returning began – we still felt very useful and mobile, and thought ‘why not give back to YFU and contribute to universal understanding?’”

They are calling themselves the YFU Vintage Magical Tour and plan to rent a 15-passenger van to travel together from school to school throughout Michigan and Northern Ohio. The group hopes to expose students to the benefits of intercultural exchange. De Marcos said, “We are grounded in our own experience.  After almost 45 years, not only have we maintained life-long connections with each other, we are totally and absolutely convinced that the experience was perhaps the most important of our lives.” He continued, “This is not a tourist trip – we are convinced that increased understanding between youth is the basis of a better world.”

Meet the other members of the YFU Vintage Magical Tour and learn why they are excited to return after so many years!

Graciela Szczesny

Graciela Szczesny

Graciela Szczesny“In my teens, I always dreamed of being a traveler, to be open to explore other cultures more deeply.  YFU helped me realize this dream – the experience has marked my life forever, encouraging personal and spiritual growth. Now, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation with students who are considering the amazing journey of intercultural exchange.”

Fernando Rovetta

Fernando Rovetta

Fernando Rovetta Klyver“In 1971, I went from an all-boys school of 600 in Tucumán to a public school in Denby, MI of 3,500 students. Going on exchange exposed me to another culture and helped me value equality despite the differences of sex, race, language and religion. I hope that our return will strengthen ties across nations and the exchange of ideas, working toward a greater goal of ensuring human rights and peace.”

Maria Cecilia Torres

Maria Cecilia Torres

María Cecilia Torres“Just a teenager, only 15 years old, I landed in Michigan - too cold, too much snow, frozen lakes – an unusual winter landscape for a girl used to an extremely hot climate. Everything was different for me – from the public school bus, band, parades, cheerleaders, and no uniforms to being able to choose what subjects we wanted to study. In civics class, I learned about Russia and the Politbureau – the Cold War still was a subject in those years.  One could breathe the hippie spirit of the '70s everywhere. Looking back, I could not imagine my life without the magical experience of YFU. We may no longer be youth, but the understanding we gained has lasted a lifetime. Thank you, YFU!”

Alida

Alida

Alida Abad“Is it possible to be an exchange student at the age of 60 or more? Well…in some ways it is. Being an exchange student changed our lives forever. Despite living in different cities and in some cases different countries, our connection through exchange brings us together and helps our friendships thrive. What would I say to a teenager today? Dare to join us in our dream.  Share with us our Vintage Magical Tour, and be part of something big. The experience of being an exchange students lasts forever! Try it!”

Oscar Cabrera

Oscar Cabrera

Oscar R. Cabrera    “When I arrived, a 17-year-old only child with little experience outside my home, everything was new – not unintelligible, just strange and different. Joyce, my mom in the USA told me I would always be remembered as one of their kids. Frank, my father taught me not to push like a bull and encouraged me be more humble. With our return, I hope our young audiences will listen to our history and wish to emulate our experiences, building a transgenerational legacy by way of improving understanding between different peoples, cultures, continents and communities. To become closer to our unknown neighbors, different, but at the same time so similar to ourselves.”

Student Exchange Empowers Young Citizen Diplomats and Fosters Global Understanding

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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.

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.

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.

“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.

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.”

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.