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Filtering by Tag: study abroad

Happy World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development!

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Today, YFU celebrates the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.

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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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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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When is the Best Time to Study Abroad?

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Guest post from YFU Alumna and Campus Ambassador Hollie Nusbaum

When considering studying abroad, something you need to think about is when you want to do it. There is, of course, not a time that is the “best” to study abroad for everybody; it depends on your personality and what you think will work best for you.

For most programs, sophomore year is the earliest you can spend a year abroad. There are a few major benefits to studying abroad in 10th grade. For starters, if you’re concerned about potentially missing major American high school events, this is a great time to go on exchange. Sophomore year in the US tends to be a less eventful year, when it comes to things like prom or standardized test prep, so you can go without the fear of missing out on the American experience. A potential drawback to going this year could be your age and how prepared you feel. As one student who went abroad during his sophomore year, Josiah Jarvenpaa, said, “I think that I was a little bit young and still nervous to be traveling, and as a result I wasn’t quite as confident about stepping up and trying new things in my host country as I probably would have been had I waited a year or two.” Josiah added that, while he felt a little less confident while abroad, by the time he came back he had become much more open to new experiences and was better about taking advantage of all the opportunities he could during the remainder of his high school experience back in the states.

What about going abroad junior year? Eleventh grade provides an option that’s a bit of a middle ground, since you wouldn’t be quite as young as a sophomore but also wouldn’t be missing any of the typical senior year events. The major concern for many, rather, is the fact that a large amount of college prep happens during your junior year. If doing well on standardized testing is extremely important to you, this would be something to consider. Deciding to go abroad your junior year doesn’t mean you have to forfeit your college prep, though. One possible way is to wait until you return home after your exchange and take the tests at the beginning of your senior year. Alternatively, you could get them done at the end of your sophomore year. Some people even decide to take the test in their host country. Lillian Hua, who studied abroad during her junior year, took two of these options. First, she took the ACT a few months before leaving home. Because of this, she was able to go into her exchange without worrying about the test. She decided to give it another shot while abroad, saying that during the year “I figured I may as well give National Merit a shot, so I signed up for an SAT administration near Munich and did a bit of prep beforehand.” By using her free time to study, Lillian managed to make her second standardized test just as stress-free. She is a great example of how even the worrying issue of these tests can be easily avoided if you plan ahead of time.

If neither sophomore nor junior year appeal to you, senior year might be something to consider. By this time, you’ll have had the opportunity to get much of your college prep done beforehand and likely may feel more prepared to navigate life as an exchange student. With some schools it’s even possible to double up on classes junior year and graduate early so you don’t have to worry about getting credit abroad. This does vary by school and host country though. This is a year that would be best for people who don’t feel as attached to high school traditions at home. Going abroad senior year might mean missing out on events like graduation and senior prom. Anyone considering going abroad senior year would have to decide if they are okay with missing these American traditions, or if they would rather go abroad another year. Another important factor to bear in mind if going abroad senior year, is that in some host countries, older exchange students are placed in lower grades since the older local students are focused mostly on preparing for university. This means that it’s possible you could end up being a year or two older than your classmates.

Maybe you don’t want to miss any school in the US but still want the full experience of a year abroad. In this case, a gap year might be your best option. With a gap year, you would study abroad during the year between your senior year of high school and your first year of college, bypassing many of the potential concerns of going on exchange during high school. You could already have your college preparation and applications out of the way, and you wouldn’t have to worry about missing any experiences abroad. Another benefit is that, having already graduated, you wouldn’t have to worry about earning credit for your high school back at home. Doing a gap year can also offer some unique options not typically available during a traditional school year. For instance, with YFU you can participate in a volunteer gap year in Thailand, where you’ll live with a local host family and spend your days volunteering in various community projects.

Doing a gap year does bring its own set of considerations. Just like with going abroad senior year, you would likely be the oldest in your classes overseas, which could be difficult depending on your personality. Doing a gap year could also limit your country options, since some host countries won’t accept students who have already graduated or are over a certain age. A gap year also means that you would have to accept that you will be putting yourself a year “behind” your American peers. Still, many large universities, even Harvard, recommend taking a gap year, and doing a gap year is gradually becoming more encouraged and accepted across the country. This is a great opportunity to think more about what your career path will be and what you might be interested in studying in college!

What if none of these options sound like what you want? You have a couple options. If missing school or taking a gap year is out of the question for you, a summer exchange could be what you’re looking for. There are a few options for summer exchanges, ranging from volunteer trips to language courses to even just a traditional academic experience on a smaller scale, depending on the host country. A student who studied abroad during the summer, Alana Hendy, said that there were several positives, such as how “you don’t have to worry about earning a grade that could potentially ruin your high school career”.. Going in the summer also means summer vacation in many countries, meaning you may have more free time than year-long exchange students to explore the area. Plus, the short stay likely means things like homesickness won’t be as much as an issue. Still, Alana pointed out that going for a shorter period of time means missing out on many things, since when you go on exchange for a year, “you get to learn the language more, will experience holidays and seasons, and you can build stronger relationships with your peers and host family.” Being abroad for a whole year also makes it easier to truly feel like a local.. You would certainly go back to school with the best summer stories in your class.

Another potential alternative would be taking a winter year, which means that rather than leaving in the summer, you would leave in the winter. Not all countries offer this option. This could be a good alternative if you want to avoid a gap year but none of the other school years sound like they would work well. For example, you could leave in the winter of your junior year and return in the winter of your senior year, meaning you could easily get standardized testing out of the way before you leave, yet return in time for events like prom and graduation. Similarly, you could leave in winter of sophomore year and come back in the middle of your junior year, just in time to start preparing for college. The possibility of this option depends on both your school at home and your host country. There is the aforementioned fact that only some countries offer the option of a winter year, so it would limit your choices. If your current school runs year-round classes, this might be a difficult option because you would leave and enter classes halfway through. Just like all the other options, it would be up to you to consider if this is the right choice for you.

In the end, there is no perfect year to study abroad. It’s up to you to weigh the options and decide what is best depending on your preferred host country, your personality, and your school at home. If you’re mature for your age, maybe you’d be better off going sophomore year. Alternatively, if you’d rather be older and don’t care a whole lot about things like graduation or prom, you might be better off going senior year. If you’re looking for something in between, you could try junior year. If none of those work for you, consider a gap year or one of the other alternatives. If you really weigh your options and do your research, you will be able to figure out what would work out best for you and have the time of your life abroad!

Visit yfuusa.org/study to learn more about studying abroad for the summer, semester or even an entire year!

Birthday Celebrations Abroad

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Guest post from YFU Alumna and Campus Ambassador, Hollie Nusbaum

This summer, I had three birthdays.

When I realized that I would turn 17 during my six week exchange to Japan, I was thrilled. Having a summer birthday, I was used to my birthday being forgotten and overlooked, so I loved the idea of my birthday getting to be part of a special time. However, I didn’t realize that I’d be celebrating so many times.

My first birthday was at home in the United States. The day before I left, I threw a small going-away party with some of my friends, expecting just a few sad goodbyes. To my shock, they turned it into a fake birthday party, surprising me with gifts and singing me a happy birthday. Even before I left, exchange was showing me just how much my friends at home mattered.

My second birthday was at my host school in Japan. My actual birthday fell during the school’s summer break, so I figured it would go unnoticed by the kids at school. It was my last day of class in Japan, and I was feeling down the entire day knowing that I wouldn’t see my new friends again. As I was saying my final goodbyes and getting ready to leave, one of my friends came running over and was urgently trying to get me to come back to our homeroom. I walked in to find the whole class gathered to surprise me, everybody singing happy birthday at the top of their lungs. They gave me a picture of characters from my favorite movie, Princess Mononoke, and everybody had written me notes. I said goodbye to my class holding back tears, amazed that I was so loved and changed by these people in such a short time.

My third birthday was with my host family. I woke up homesick, not having realized how hard it would be to be away from my family on a day that I usually spent with them. I went downstairs and was immediately greeted by party poppers (scaring the life out of me)! My host dad and sister greeted me with early morning smiles and gifts. We drove to my host grandparents’ home in Kyoto and spent the day feasting at a nearby restaurant. When my host dad brought out a cake with a blazing candle and I heard the birthday song for the third time, I felt truly loved. Birthdays in Japan are usually not as celebrated as they are in the states, so it was touching that so many people had gone out of their way for me.

Birthdays are a way to show who is important in your life. Having so many birthdays this year, even if some of them weren’t the ‘real thing’, showed me how people are making my life better every day. Turning 17 in Japan was one of the best experiences of my life.

Visit yfuusa.org/study to learn more about studying abroad for the summer, semester or even an entire year!

A Lifetime of Exchange

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Guest post from YFU Alum Meg White Campbell

The idea to participate in an exchange probably began when my family agreed to host a student from France one summer when I was in elementary school. I couldn’t speak French, and Sanou couldn’t speak English, but we managed to communicate through acting and shared hobbies - It turns out French kids love ice cream, too. Then my sophomore year of high school, my mom came across and an advertisement in a brochure – these were pre-internet days – and she passed it along to me. Before long, and courtesy of a YFU and All Nippon Airways scholarship, I was off on an adventure to Japan.   

I absolutely loved Tokyo. My 5’10” felt like 7’10”, but thankfully my gargantuan proportions didn’t prevent my host family from being gracious and hospitable. We laughed a lot together (or perhaps they were laughing at me and I simply joined in). In Tokyo, I saw the coolest things! I remember a man rollerblade-skiing down a busy street, a group of people dressed as Star Wars storm troopers in the shopping district, and an apple (the fruit, not the technology) on sale for the equivalent of $25. I participated in a tea ceremony, met a Koto player (see photo below), and hiked majestic Mt. Fuji.  What struck me the most about the Japanese friends I made, and what I still admire about Japanese colleagues today, is their overwhelming graciousness and kindness. They are forever concerned how the other person is feeling. 

To say the stay in Tokyo was eye-opening for me is an understatement. It broadened my horizons and changed my trajectory both personally and professionally. Since that first foray overseas, I have lived in eight countries and participated in three other exchange programs. As a result of my current Foreign Service posting, my children, whom I call “multicultural minions”, attend a bilingual school in Berlin, where they are reaping the benefits of easily moving between cultures and languages.  

As anyone reading this well knows, exchange helps us see ourselves from the outside. This knowledge is an exceptionally powerful skillset in the world of diplomacy, where sometimes in our effort to do the right thing at the right time, we inadvertently act too quickly or fumble our messages. Sometimes even when we – and our policies – are well-intentioned, they are not always received the way we had hoped they would be. Through exchange we learn to ask better questions, to listen, and that it is ok to trust people who prefer Sarutahiko to Starbucks. 

Exchanges have taught me grit and moxie. I survived high school in Bavaria amidst fast friends and a flurry of flashcards. It was trying, but there was a lasting sense of accomplishment once I had made it to the other side. This persistence means that, even today, when I make mistakes, I dust myself off, chart a new course, and…make all new mistakes. I have better sense of perspective now, too. 
 
Learning foreign languages through exchange has opened my eyes to a new universe of people and possibilities. As my language proficiency increased, I also honed my empathy. I now know firsthand how taxing it is to work an entire day in a foreign language. Nothing is more humbling than spending three hours writing a short blurb in German to then attend a conference, where international colleagues give compelling speeches effortlessly in English.  

Learning another language is a gift we can give each other, but there are other ways to promote intercultural dialogue. We can host international students, donate to YFU, or simply shout from the rooftops how much we love exchange. I have maintained contact with several host family members and friends met during my time abroad. My Japanese host sister stayed with my family in the U.S., and one host family sends my children Christmas gifts signed “your ¾ family”. Thanks to Dr. Rachel Andresen and her continuing legacy through YFU, these lifelong connections have enriched my life and have helped me learn, grow, and succeed.  

If exchange is for you, find a way to make it happen. There will always be people who don’t understand how you could leave and miss Homecoming or basketball season. You have to weigh that for yourself, but you should also consider what you will miss if you don’t go. There’s a whole world out there waiting for you to explore.  Ganbatte, and Viel Spaß!  

 Meg and her multicultural minions (Max Elijah and Milo) with host sister Zita Lettenmeier - taken in Berlin, Feb 2016.

Meg White Campbell, a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State, is currently working as an exchange diplomat (Transatlantic Diplomatic Fellow) at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, Germany

65 Years of Vision

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Guest post from YFU President & CEO Michael E. Hill

Great literature has many references to “the ghosts of our past;” so, too, do great organizations. This is the week we celebrate our founding visionary, Dr. Rachel Andresen, and while all “Founder’s Weeks” provide a time to honor a very special woman and to reflect on her vast contributions to Youth For Understanding, this year’s Founder’s Week is particularly special as it marks the beginning of our 65th anniversary year.

When Rachel was called upon to form and support YFU shortly after World War II, there was no recipe for how an exchange program should operate. The founding premise was both much simpler and yet significantly complex: how could we bring young people to the United States in such a way as to have them return to their home countries believing in the hope of a brighter tomorrow? One of the things that we celebrate this week is the tremendous success that Rachel had in answering that question.

As we embark on our 65th year, in some ways, we find ourselves asking this question anew. While it is absolutely the case that our core programs in in-person intercultural exchange remain as powerful as ever, we do know that advances in technology have certainly provided greater access to the world – or at least the perception that this is so. And the evils that Rachel was trying to combat are far different than the ills of today’s world.

Andresen was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for her work in uniting young people and communities. According the Alfred Nobel’s will, which established the recognition, “the Peace Prize shall be awarded to the person who in the preceding year "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

One of the central challenges for today’s youth is that “standing armies” are not the preeminent threat to a peaceful co-existence. And while this is certainly the case, the heart of conflict has not changed all that much: namely conflict and terror exist when people move from a place of fear to a place of hatred to a place of violent action. 

Those who lost their lives in the recent bombings in Brussels are victims of those that believe a way of life is threatened or when values are not shared or at least respected. In this frame, young people are facing a future where conflict is resolved not through traditional methods of discourse and when or if that fails, conventional warfare, but rather are subject to random acts of terrorism, destabilizing the world and causing some to retreat into hyper-nationalist views that impede a much broader agenda for peace.

When Andresen began YFU six decades ago, the world was a simpler place. Students travelled on boats across the ocean to live with host families. There were few rules of engagement then. There were no governmental offices that monitored regulations. Students wrote letters home to update their parents on their experience abroad, and, if they were lucky, called home once during the experience, often to arrange a reunion time for when they would arrive back home. Schools accepted young people because a local citizen wanted to have their exchange son or daughter attend. And technology was most likely referring to a car, not a mobile device.

In today’s hyper-connected world, students have access to volumes of information and can almost in real time gain insights into events and activities that are shaping global cultures. But technology does not provide a filter for bias and misinformation. Only through deep engagement – people to people – can disparate cultures understand one another.

I believe that the most important way we can honor Rachel’s legacy is to double down on finding new solutions to help heal a broken world. So as we celebrate our 65th year, and the very special role that Rachel played, let us recommit to our founding promise.

If we believe that the world’s future depends on interconnected citizens with an ability to see the benefits of different cultures, then we must find ways to allow the next generation to interact with those who may appear as “the other.” We must create vehicles for young people to dialogue and to take those skills into their adult lives when they become heads of state, heads of corporations, head of families or simply every day citizens.

A hyper connected world provides several potential solutions:

1)    YFU has just embarked on its first “Virtual Exchange” program, harnessing the power of social media and technology to provide an asynchronous dialogue among young people of different cultures.  Meeting youth where they most are living, YFU’s program is looking at curating conversations through social media and online platforms, but the pathway of that conversation is being most managed by young people themselves. What are they interested in talking about and how do use that imagination and interest to reduce barriers and increase understanding? Can we break through the packed educational agendas in schools to be a partner in delivering curricular needs through youth dialogue? If so, could this be one avenue for young people to realize they are more alike than different. YFU is starting a pilot program with the poorest school in New York City. The principal there, who also happens to be a YFU Trustee, posited that impoverished children in New York are a different form of “refugee.” We will attempt to link them up with young people in the Middle East and Northern African region, who is experiencing great upheaval and refugee migration of a different kind to explore similarities in hopes that the adult versions of these young people might contribute to a safer planet.

2)    Corporations and individuals must step forward to provide resources to allow increased participation in traditional exchanges. Not only will it create the workforce most needed in an increasing global society, the return on investment is far greater than the cost of training adults in intercultural competencies later on.

3)    Governments must promote a platform of intercultural engagement in societies and schools, encouraging an examination of other cultures to provide greater global security.

4)    And nonprofit organizations that care about intercultural engagement must find new ways to link young people in dynamic dialogue and work in partnership with others to reduce the barrier to entry.

Rachel answered the call after World War II.  In one of her speeches, she recalls being in Amsterdam when the lights were turned on again.  She notes, “The work of YFU is ensure that the lights never go out again.” That must be a shared mission if the next generation has a shot at fulfilling that promise. During this Founder’s Week, let’s celebrate Rachel by finding new and increased ways to celebrate her dream.

Holi – The Festival of Colors

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Guest post from YFU Atlas Corps Fellow, Deepa Khatri

My Homecoming Abroad

This is going to be my first Holi here in the United States, I have been celebrating Holi for past 2 year’s back home in India. I’m honestly, pretty excited to celebrate Holi outside India mostly because over the past couple of decades, it has become such a popular festival globally, that you can always find a little part of India/home almost anywhere.

Context & Origin

In India, we have thousands of gods and stories associated with them, from which we derive some of our values, culture, beliefs and way of life. India is known as a country of festivals – in fact, we pretty much have them weekly – where we come together to live in the moment, celebrating various occasions to spread joy and happiness amongst our communities. For those, who may not be as familiar with my country and this ‘festival of color’ and why it’s celebrated, I’d like share some the Hindu mythology behind its origin.

The story behind Holi is a story of a prince and how his devotion depicted the victory of good or evil. Prahlad was the prince of Multan and his father Hiranyakashipu had been gifted with a blessing that made him virtually indestructible. He grew arrogant, thought he was God, and demanded that everyone should only worship him. Whereas, his own son, Prahlad was devoted to Lord Vishnu (one of the 3 main gods in Hindu Mythology who created the universe). This infuriated Hiranyakashipu and he subjected his own son to cruel punishments; none of which affected the boy or his resolve to do what he thought was right. Finally, Holika - Prahlada's evil aunt - tricked him into sitting on a pyre with her. Unbeknown to Prahlada, Holika wore a cloak that made her immune to injury from fire, while Prahlada had nothing. As the fire roared, the cloak flew from Holika and encased Prahlada. Holika burned, Prahlada survived. Seeing this, Hiranyakashipu, unable to control his anger, smashed a pillar with his mace. There was a tumultuous sound, and Lord Vishnu appeared in the form of Lord Narasimha and killed Hiranyakashipu.

The date for celebrating Holi, changes each year because rather than being tied to a specific calendar date, it is celebrated at the approach of the vernal equinox, on the Phalguna Purnima (full moon). The festival signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring and end of winter, and for many, serves as a day to celebrate good harvests as well to meet others, play, laugh, practice forgiveness and repair broken relationships.

The celebration starts on the night before Holi with a ‘Holika bonfire’ where people gather together to sing, dance and party. The bonfire is a reminder of the symbolic victory of good over evil, of Prahlada over Hiranyakashipu, and of the fire that burned Holika. The next day when the fire cooled down, people apply ash to their foreheads, a practice still observed by some. Eventually, colored powder came to be used to represent this ash and celebrate Holi. The next morning is a free-for-all carnival of colors where participants play, chase and color each other with dry powder and colored water – some participants even carry water guns and colored water-filled balloons for their water fight. It’s a super fun festival for people of all ages, which is one of the primary reasons for its increasing popularity.

Power of Festivity in the Modern World

In today’s fast paced world, cultural traditions often become overlooked. I personally believe that these festivals and their festivities play an integral role in reminding us of the importance of coming together, celebrating our differences and similarities, and helping us to live every moment to the fullest. Irrespective of where they come from or which ethnicity one belongs to, Holi brings people together to share and celebrate a culture, a tradition, a history, a community.

By immersing oneself in another culture, you can begin to truly understand differences, a unique way of life, and to learn from one another. What you find is that it all boils down to one simple thing which is we all are humans and we share the same human emotions. There is no difference that puts one race above or below another; the mere difference is, how you treat your fellow human beings.

YFU and Cultural Exchange

This year I’ve had the opportunity to work at YFU and contribute to the vision of increasing intercultural understanding, mutual respect and social responsibility through educational exchanges for youth, families and communities. And what could be better than inviting everyone to experience Holi, the festival of color, love and joy this year with me. I encourage you to immerse yourself in my culture for a better understanding of the differences and similarities of the human race, to gain mutual trust & respect and to stand for one race called the human race and for its development.

Bura Na Mano, Holi Hai! ("Don't Mind, It's Holi!")

 

 

11 Tips for First Time Exchange Students

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1. While walking home from school one day, bring home flowers.

Or a cool plant. Or chocolates. Or their favorite food/drink. Whether your exchange is just a month or a year, surprise your host family with a small and simple gift that serves as a nice reminder that you’re grateful for them.

2. ALWAYS ask if you're able to take a shower. This is courteous to do even in the comfort of your own home.

This is especially important if your host family has only one bathroom/one shower in the house. It’s a simple politeness that goes a long way.  

3. "I'm too shy" is NEVER an excuse.

In most cases, you learn and grow from what you do and say. If you’re always too shy to open your mouth and take action, how will you grow?

4. "I don't know what to say" is also not an excuse.

Whenever I had time to myself, I worked on a note in my phone and wrote down every question (in French) that would start an interesting conversation. I would memorize two or three questions before each meal to start up a good conversation. It worked! Conversation flowed long after dinner was served. The more you talk, the more quickly you will get comfortable with your host family.

5. Treat your host room as if you were living in the family room.

Keep it clean. "I was never an organized person" is not an excuse. Even if you have the luxury of having your own room, you must keep it clean. While you’re most likely not required to vacuum every day, keep your things (such as dirty laundry) off the floor. In some households, it's also impolite to eat in one's room as well. Keeping your room clean shows that you appreciate having a room in the first place. So keep it tidy, make your parents proud.

6. Speak in the host country's language.

You're going to hear this a lot. This isn't a cliche-whatever rule, this is a if-you're-going-to-do-one-thing-right-this-better-be-it rule. Unless it's an emergency, always speak in the host country's language. Don't "try", do it. I asked a lot of questions that I had memorized how to say even though I didn’t understand a lick of the answer I was given. It's always frustrating to not understand and to not be able to express yourself the way you want to, but that's how it is being an exchange student at the beginning of your exchange. And the more you talk, the more you learn and the easier it gets speaking the language. There will come a moment when it will all just “click” for you. It will be glorious.

7. There will be days when it feels like you've been living in your host country for ten years, and days when it feels more like ten seconds.

Make the best out of every minute of it. There will be more embarrassing moments than you can count. Make the embarrassment your friend, not your enemy. Every embarrassing moment will always (and I mean always) become a funny story later on.

8. Excuses don't work here.

Excuses are a popular way to justify failure to do something. This is never a good practice. Your exchange should highlight that. If you have done something wrong or forgotten to do something, like offering to do the dishes, do not to make yourself feel better by mentally feeding yourself excuses (i.e. "I'm too tired," "I didn't know how to say it in x language," "I thought she was going to say no anyways.") Baaaaaaad!

9. Show your gratitude.

You can never say thank you enough. It's better to say thank you too often than too little. If there's one thing you can overdo, it's saying thank you. Merci. Danke. Gracias. Thank you. One of the biggest issues between a host student and a host family is the lack of a display of gratitude. If you don't hear an acknowledgement after saying thank you, say thank you until you get one (as they may not have heard you the first time). For a great exchange, it is vital that your host family knows you're grateful.

10. Suggest to make breakfast for the family one day.

Give them a taste of what it's like to be American - literally! If you want to take it a step further, you could even offer to make a family breakfast on a regular basis. Whether it's weekly or monthly, how often is up to you. Making breakfast for your host family, even if just once, is a great way to assimilate yourself into family life and show that you are eager to participate and become more than just an exchange student in their home - that you want to become a member of their family.

11. There is always free wifi at tourism offices!

Okay, you don’t really need to know this to have a great exchange year. But if you're on the go and in desperate need of a wifi hotspot, tourism offices should have them for free. You don’t even have to go inside, simply standing near the entrance will do the trick.

(*****This knowledge is based off of my experience in Southern France.****)

 

Complete your YFU application today!

 

 

Campus Ambassador Introductions: Emma

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I have a greater understanding of the workings of our society, and I believe that it is vital for youth to learn for themselves the true meaning of exchange.

Some people cite the long plane ride overseas as the beginning of their exchange, while others say it was the first face-to-face meeting with their host family. For me, though, my exchange began the moment I turned away from my family in the airport terminal.

I had been raised to always do things passionately or not at all. My family and I both knew that I was independent enough to survive a semester away from home in the country of Sweden; that I would be driven to craft the best experience possible for myself; that I would persevere through anything that came my way. And so, I faced the future and never looked back.

  Once I left to get on the plane to Sweden, I never looked back, and I am thankful for that every single day!

That didn’t mean that I wouldn’t miss my family, nor did it imply that I wanted to leave behind my life in the United States; in fact, it was quite the contrary. By keeping my gaze fixed on the future, though, I was able to appreciate what I left behind while remaining open towards what lie ahead.

That important realization came into play for the first time when I met my younger host sister in beautiful Stockholm, where YFU held their Arrival Orientation. Light rain drizzled overhead as my host mother, Marie helped me collect my bags, leaving me to talk to 7-year-old Denice, who didn’t know a word of English besides the numbers from one to ten. I used my fragmented Swedish skills to offer her my favorite American candy (Reese’s Pieces). She accepted with a grin. On the first of two train rides home, we chit-chatted as if we were actually sisters, and we drew pictures in a fluffy pink notebook to aid in communication with one another. Denice fell asleep with her head on my shoulder, and I knew then and there that a language barrier would not stop me from making Sweden my home.

  I took this picture with my host sister on the first day that I met my host family.

  Even though we didn’t speak the same language in the beginning, we found a way to communicate and I became an older sister for the first time in my life.

 

Though I struggled with learning Swedish in the beginning,  I was never dissuaded from making friends and learning new information. I specifically remember one instance when I was sitting in chemistry class, determinedly taking notes though I had only an inkling as to what they meant. I smiled to myself, though, first asking my classmates to help me translate them and then understanding that one day, I would be able to read the notebook and understand all of the information inside. I made hundreds of flash cards for words that would prove obscure: gräsmatta, skildhet, orkan. (Lawn, divorce, hurricane.) I studied verb conjugations, I listened to Swedish music, I read my textbooks out loud while I was home alone.

  In Sweden, I studied four science classes, a criminal law class, and three languages - wow! My classmates welcomed me with open arms and helped me understand what it was like to live overseas. Thank you for everything, NA13B!

After a few months had elapsed, it all fell together; I began feeling comfortable being around my friends in school, my Swedish skills had skyrocketed, and I remained in close contact with other exchange students who became some of my best friends.

But YFU prepared me for homesickness and culture shock, too, which I readily accepted as a not-too-distant reality. About midway through my semester in Sweden, I had a very hard decision to make that cultivated in my move to another host family in the area. When I left the home of my first family permanently with a bittersweet wave of emotions washing over me, I turned away and never looked back.

By not looking back, I was able to move forward into bigger and better things. I made mistakes when it came to my first family even though I loved them immensely, but in my missteps I discovered the tools I needed to have a successful relationship with 15-year-old twins Victor and William and my new parents, Paul and Helene.

  After dozens of attempts, my friends Lisa from Austria, Léa from France and I finally got a picture we were satisfied with! That is what exchange is about - working hard to see some spectacular results.

I could tell quirky anecdotes about my exchange all day if I had the opportunity, but more important are the lessons that I learned abroad. For one, I began to comprehend the significance of self-confidence. Without high self esteem, I could have never ventured out into the Swedish public with only enough skills to ask where the bathroom was. Nor could I have ordered my coffee in Swedish, traveled on public transportation alone, or even walked home two miles from the train station.

Perhaps the most valuable piece of advice I can pass along is to take advantage of every opportunity that is given to you. Fear can hold a person back or propel them forward, and though it was scary at times, I allowed myself to take risks. I never let something as petty as fear stop me from accomplishing my dreams. In short, I carpe’d the heck out of that diem.

  As an exchange student in Sweden, I learned how to take advantage of exciting opportunities. Just smile, relax, and live your life to the fullest - that’s what I did!

The number of lessons I have learned since going on exchange is infinitely large, so I can only hope to scratch the surface through this blog post. But I know now that my exchange experience will always be a part of me.

Now, as a Campus Ambassador with YFU, I get the chance to give the community a little glimpse into what my life was like in Sweden. I was a meager teenager on the asking end of the questions once, too, and being able to impart my wisdom onto the YFU community helps me relive the best moments of my exchange. Being able to live overseas affected me in a way that I could have never predicted. I have a greater understanding on the workings of our society, and I believe that it is vital for youth to learn for themselves the true meaning of exchange.

I sit in front of my computer screen over a year later, reminiscing on the five wonderful months I spent living in Sweden, and I am glad that I never looked back.

Campus Ambassador Introductions: Crystal

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Were it not for YFU, I would never had been able to live a second life, even if only for a fraction of my time.

My real homestay experience began two days after initially arriving in Japan, in which I was greeted by my host mother, grandmother, and sister at the train station after I had just taken my first 'shinkansen', or bullet train. Following lunch at a typical family restaurant, in which my culture shock ensued instantaneously upon seeing our tiny drinking glasses, we drove to my host grandmother's home, a stereotypical Japanese home nestled in a tight row of houses on a road so narrow, you wondered how there were no accidents in that area, with the homes creating a sort-of barrier between the main road and the endless miles of clean lime green rice fields. They led me to the living room, and I remember the awe I felt as I took in my settings: the low table and sofa with pillows to sit on, the room next door with the tatami mats and sliding paper walls with painted landscapes, and the screen door leading to a ledge where the wooden staircase was so steep and narrow that it took me three weeks to be able to walk up it without clutching the rail with both hands. Inside, me and my host mother – a tiny English teacher – engaged in small talk for some time before I heard a car door slam, and seconds later a ten-year old boy, one of my two host brothers, stumbled into the room, grinning, panting, and carrying a plastic bag filled with Japanese ice cream treats. The father followed in a slower manner to greet me - a tall, lanky figure - but as I would learn later, a very kind man who would attempt (and knowingly, but humorously, fail) to speak English. We all sat around that table, with the kids watching some children's anime they adored, and in an effort to combat my jet lag, I continued to tell many stories about my life in Kentucky, and I remember, in a blur, all of us eating a delicious dinner and laughing at anecdotes I can't even recall.

  This was me in my host grandmother's house trying on my new yukata! I lived in my grandmother's house for the duration of my stay, and by living in a traditional home with tatami mats and sliding screen doors, I really felt like I was living in Japan.

  In this photos is my host father, two of my three siblings, and my host grandmother. My host father here is wearing the souvenir t-shirt I brought from home.

During my time in Japan, I would visit numerous temples, each incredible in their own right, attend high school and make close friends with whom I would stay in contact, wear a yukata, and watch a real firework festival. Yet I chose this moment to introduce you all to my life in Japan because of how at that moment, the time when I began to understand my trip had begun, I knew that I had only witnessed a single snippet of what I was to later experience. I visited many sites with friends and tried many things I would never have been able to do in America, but many of the golden moments I remember most vividly came from the beautifully mundane aspects of my everyday life living with strangers who decided to take me in simply to learn about a new culture and become my second family. Were it not for YFU, I would never had been able to live a second life, even if only for a fraction of my time. As a university student, I found that studying abroad in high school has helped me in so many ways, and I truly wish that more students could experience what I had. For those reasons, I am excited to be involved helping other students become a part of the YFU community.

  I spent several days attending high school, and despite not being able to say a word in Japanese, I loved every minute of it. Many students would come up and would either try to talk to me or ask for a photo, and we compared how we posed for photos (I'm doing the 'J  apanese pose' here).

  I was very shy on the first day of class, but these girls came up, and we became very close afterwards. They'd have me help them with their English homework, and I'd shared any American snacks with them. We still keep in touch to this day.

YFU Campus Ambassadors: Meet Emma

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As we celebrate International Education Week, YFU is excited to announce the launch of our new Campus Ambassador Program (CAP). Following a competitive application process, five YFU young alumni were selected from across the country to serve as our inaugural class of Campus Ambassadors. As a continuation of their exchange experience, they will mentor prospective study abroad and international students, and share YFU exchange opportunities within their schools and communities across the country. Stay tuned throughout the week as we introduce these student leaders. 

Studying abroad helps to strengthen bonds between cultures and nations.

Name: Emma
From: New Jersey
Went on exchange to: Sweden

Emma is a 17-year-old YFU alum and is absolutely thrilled to be a part of YFU's Campus Ambassador Program! A senior in high school, Emma spent her exchange on the southern coast of Sweden for a semester in 2014-15. She has since caught the travel bug, continuing to study multiple foreign languages in her free time. Aside from traveling, Emma is an aspiring journalist, performer, and lover of all things sports. If you ever need someone to go to IKEA with, Emma will never deny the opportunity for köttbullar and lingonsylt!

I believe in exchange because it teaches the world to be accepting of cultural differences and varying traditions.

Team Vera

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A note from YFU USA President & CEO Michael E. Hill

 

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.

 

YFU Campus Ambassadors: Meet Crystal

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As we celebrate International Education Week, YFU is excited to announce the launch of our new Campus Ambassador Program (CAP). Following a competitive application process, five YFU young alumni were selected from across the country to serve as our inaugural class of Campus Ambassadors. As a continuation of their exchange experience, they will mentor prospective study abroad and international students, and share YFU exchange opportunities within their schools and communities across the country. Stay tuned throughout the week as we introduce these student leaders. 

I believe in exchange because it allows you to realize just what you are capable of accomplishing.

Name: Crystal
From: Washington, DC
Went on exchange to: Japan

My name is Crystal, and I am a freshman attending American University in Washington D.C., majoring in International Relations and Political Science. I adore traveling, and my hobbies include drawing, reading, golfing, playing piano, and exploring new places. I studied abroad with YFU the junior year of high school over summer vacation in Nagoya, Japan.

YFU Campus Ambassadors: Meet Miranda

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As we celebrate International Education Week, YFU is excited to announce the launch of our new Campus Ambassador Program (CAP). Following a competitive application process, five YFU young alumni were selected from across the country to serve as our inaugural class of Campus Ambassadors. As a continuation of their exchange experience, they will mentor prospective study abroad and international students, and share YFU exchange opportunities within their schools and communities across the country. 

Studying abroad helps to inspire students to think about their upbringing under the influence of a certain culture and the cultural imprints that have contributed to a large part of their personal identity.

Name: Miranda
From: Chicago
Went on exchange to: Germany

Hi, I'm Miranda! I'm 17 years old and a high school senior from Chicago. I spent my sophomore year of high school in Germany with YFU on the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange Scholarship. I'm currently fluent in German and am working on advancing my French. I hope to one day speak eight languages fluently. I have a deep appreciation for languages and their culture and hope to apply this passion to a major in International Relations and potentially a career in the Foreign Service. My favorite food is gyoza. :-) 

I believe in exchange because it is one of the most powerful ways in which a student can foster kindness, curiosity, and creativity in an increasingly globalized world.

Studying abroad helps to inspire students to think about their upbringing under the influence of a certain culture and the cultural imprints that have contributed to a large part of their personal identity. 

YFU Campus Ambassadors: Meet Misha

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As we celebrate International Education Week, YFU is excited to announce the launch of our new Campus Ambassador Program (CAP). Following a competitive application process, five YFU young alumni were selected from across the country to serve as our inaugural class of Campus Ambassadors. As a continuation of their exchange experience, they will mentor prospective study abroad and international students, and share YFU exchange opportunities within their schools and communities across the country. Stay tuned throughout the week as we introduce these student leaders. 

I believe in exchange because it creates a global community that fosters understanding and compassion.

Name: Misha
From: Virginia
Went on exchange to: Sweden

My name is Misha, I am currently finishing up my last year of high school in Arlington, VA.  I spent my sophomore year abroad in Gothenburg, Sweden, where I found a second family and another home. My exchange year has been the most significant thing I've done in my life thus far, and I have been happy to get the chance to continue my connection with YFU through volunteer work since my return to the States. It's exciting to get the opportunity to focus all efforts in an established program, so I am looking forward to being able to participate with fellow alumni to make a difference in the organization.  

How to Make a Family in Just Six Weeks

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My host parents brought up my going to college, and asked how I planned to pay off student loans. I said that among other things, I would consider military service. The conversation continued, but I soon noticed my host mother hiding her tears. My host father’s eyes welled up as well, and he said that while enlisting would help cover the cost of education and serve my country, they couldn’t stand for me to be in danger... I then realized that I was not a guest in their house. I was their son.

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Cuba: Day 6

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Michael Hill, President & CEO of YFU USA, just returned from Cuba, one week before the normalization of diplomatic relations. Here he shares a day by day recounting of not only YFU’s first-ever exchange to this unique island nation, but also first-ever adult exchange program.  

Day 6 – Thursday, July 16

Esperanza.

No word could greater symbolize our voyage to Cuba during this historic time than the Spanish word for “hope.” That emotion would come crashing down on us like a ton of brinks on Day 6, as we visited Convento de Nuestra Senora de Belen, an 18th century convent in the middle of Old Havana, which now houses a senior center with a health clinic and pharmacy, physical therapy for the elderly, services for youth with disabilities, an eye care center, a location for meals for those in need, support for single mothers, occupational training and an onsite daycare for workers.

Welcome

We were told that GMCW would sing for a group of senior citizens but that they had also prepared musical and dance numbers for us. As we walked into the central courtyard, more than 200 senior performers met us – they were in full costume and cheering loudly as we arrived.

I was invited to greet the group as YFU’s President and said that our journey so far had me drawing one simple conclusion: two peoples with so much to give to one another should no longer be kept apart. The audience erupted into applause, and I filled up with tears. To see hundreds of faces that had remembered life before our two countries stopped diplomatic relations was a stirring thought. What had these men and women seen over 50 years, and what esperanza did they have for this new future?

Esperanza

The Cuban performers were entrancing, throwing their entire hearts into a series of welcome performances. As GMCW concluded its set, many of the Cuban seniors joined them on stage, and then the entire audience broke out into a song for us again.

day 6_1

To hear hundreds of voices sing to us with tears running down their faces struck the most powerful chord of the week. One woman came up to me after the exchange, screaming “El Presidente! El Presidente!,” with tears rolling down her cheeks. Through an interpreter, she shared with me, “We’ve been waiting for you for 50 years!” – the time period of the embargo.

The senior citizens shared so many stories with us that day: stories of pain and loss, of children that had left for the United States, of relatives who still hoped to reunite, of a deep hope that perhaps a new day had dawned. It was the perfect scene to summarize so much of what we had seen. Esperanza indeed.

Later that day, we had a chance to walk around the city without guides. It was somewhat surreal to see a replica of our own Capitol Building, built originally as the site of the Cuban Parliament by Batista. Even more ironic, it is going through a similar renovation to its dome as is our own Capitol in Washington, DC. Starting this year, it will again be used as the seat of Parliament in Cuba, the first time since Castro’s Revolution in 1959.

Capitol replica

After our walk, we would visit the Museo de Bellas Artes, dedicated exclusively to Cuban artists from the mid-16th century through the modern day. I have always believed that the arts capture moments in history better than any other medium. To see the story of the Cuban people play out on canvas and in sculpture was among the best history lessons one could get in an hour.

Lennon

Cuba is a nation shrouded in history. Ever since Spanish occupation, there has been a special nightly celebration from the 18th century San Carlos de La Cabana fortress, a tradition evoking the announcement of the closing of the gates of the city and of the channel at the entrance to the city’s bay. What a stunning view of Havana and another window into her soul.

day 6_2

We ended the evening at a quaint jazz café, taking in even more music. The city and the country breathes its music.

As the day concluded, I found myself wondering about all the people of this island nation had seen and the genuine hope they’d expressed for the future. So many have asked what I think will happen once diplomatic relations are normalized. I’ll share those thoughts in my last blog post about Cuba. I ended this day just praying that the hope that we had seen on the faces of the senior citizens would be realized. They had indeed waited for 50 years. Could our two nations deliver on the promise? As President Clinton once famously said, “I still believe in a place called Hope.”

The Day’s Takeaways: 

  • It is indeed possible to have a flash mob/dance party with 200 senior citizens!
  • Our seniors often possess the greatest wisdom. Through their eyes, I understood the true meaning of hope.
  • Art tells a story that other media cannot. What would the canvases of the Cuban artists of tomorrow say about this time?
  • All of us on the trip wanted desperately to believe in the promise of esperanza. Could our governments fulfill the wish?

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Cuba: Day 4

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Michael Hill, President & CEO of YFU USA, just returned from Cuba, one week before the normalization of diplomatic relations. Here he shares a day by day recounting of not only YFU’s first-ever exchange to this unique island nation, but also first-ever adult exchange program.  Day 4 – Tuesday, July 14

By Tuesday we had had some intense experiences and were grateful for a day that was mostly educational. At this point, the Chorus had sung so many formal and informal concerts; they were ready to let their voices rest.

We left our hotel at 8:30 am to travel to Las Terrazas, a rural experience of a sustainable development project in a mountain area located within the Sierra del Rosario biosphere reserve in a newly named province of Artemisa (created when they split the greater Havana area into a new set of provinces).

Signage

The area’s history is fascinating. Once serving as a coffee plantation, it was decimated after the fall of the Soviet Union took out much-needed resources. The Las Terrazas Community Project was developed to restore the area while providing jobs, and creating a new industry of “eco-tourism” for that part of Cuba.

UNESCO named it a world heritage site in 1985 in acknowledgement of the success of the effort.

We started our day with a presentation on the reserve and its importance as an economic driver for the region. What an exquisite and lush landscape, and what a contrast to Havana!

day 4_1

After a brief bus trip through the reserve, we were fortunate enough to be able to take a brief swim in a sulfur water area. Crossing the footbridge, we got a chance to see why this was a popular eco-tourist hot spot. From a hotel nestled into the trees to smaller and more primitive huts, visitors to the area could swim, zip line or go hiking. Farm animals were raised in nearby houses to provide food for residents and tourists alike. It was stunning!

day 4_2

It turns out that the Gay Men’s Chorus wouldn’t get a complete break, as they gave a mini-concert from a tree-tophutto those swimming with us.

Thea conducting

After lunch, we visited an area near the old coffee plantation and took in a studio of a local landscape artist. All in all, it was a nice diversion to what had been some deep thinking about Cuba-US relations the days before.

Later that night we would go to a local club and restaurant for dinner (and, of course, some more singing!). As we settled into the evening meal, the club’s local performer came out. This would become a moment when this being a YFU-sponsored trip would come in handy. As the performer entered the dining area, you can see the shock of many of our delegation. While the performer, herself, was black, her exaggerated makeup made her look as if she had come out in “black face.”

We had several African American delegates on our trip, and it created an atmosphere of some confusion. Some in our delegation left the restaurant for the hotel. The next day we were able to discuss with our Cuban guides the history of this type of performance in their country and to learn about some very different connotations. This gave us a chance to talk about YFU’s training called “Colored Glasses,” where we talk to exchange students about seeing a culture not through our own lens but of that of the host country being visited. I was proud of the dialogue and reminded that exchange is challenging even when the two nations don’t have as difficult a past as Cuba and the US. This would not be the first or the last of the culture shock on our trip!

The Day’s Takeaways:

  • Nature is never so far gone that something beautiful cannot emerge from the ashes.
  • Interpreting culture is never easy. We bring so much of our own history and experiences into our travels. It’s not easy but so vital to try to see a people through their own lens as much as we do through that of our own. This is why YFU exists! 

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Cuba: Day 2

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Michael Hill, President & CEO of YFU USA, just returned from Cuba, one week before the normalization of diplomatic relations. Here he shares a day by day recounting of not only YFU’s first-ever exchange to this unique island nation, but also first-ever adult exchange program.  Day 2 – Sunday, July 12

We tell all YFU students that there is an arch to their exchange experience, with the first days being the “honeymoon” period. You spend so much time planning for and thinking about an exchange experience that you almost can’t believe you’re actually in your destination country. That was certainly my experience on our first full day in Cuba.

We started our very balmy morning with a tour of “Old Havana,” the historic center of the city first built up during the period of colonization from Spain. UNESCO declared this area of town a World Heritage site in 1982, and it was easy to see the reasons. The architectural landscape of Old Havana is a case study in extremes. Recent efforts had some of the historic structures brought back to life while others looked as if one slight touch of a hand could topple them down.

Day 2 Cuba_archetecture

The City Historian’s office has been spearheading a building-by-building renovation of the historic structures. This was also the first moment that the Cuban Revolution and its history struck me. We were told by our incredible guide, Elisio, that a famous visual artist had struck a deal with the early Castro government to spend her own money to renovate a major mansion as long as she could live in it until her death. This was the only deal struck, as we were told, it went against the ideals of the Revolution.

Old Havana, in many ways, encapsulated a history of this nation: from colonization of the Spanish and British to the period when Fulgencio Batista first served as the elected president of Cuba and later held it as a dictator until the Cuban Revolution. You could see the triumphs and the scars etched into the buildings, with each facade telling some part of the story of this remarkable nation.

Day 2 Cuba_Mural, Trumpeter

After lunch, we traveled by bus en route to Casa de La Amistad (House of Friendship), where we would present the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC for their first concert. On our way over, we stopped at one of the Cuban Revolution’s most signature monuments in Revolution Square. The equivalent of our Washington Monument, the square is dominated by a tribute to Jose Marti, a poet and journalist who is seen by many as the “Founding Father” of Cuba. Opposite to that monument is Cuba’s Ministry of Defense, which is emblazoned with the image of Camilo Cienfuegos. Although he officially stepped down as Cuban President in 2008, Castro is omnipresent in Cuba. Speeches refer to him as simply “Fidel,” with a messiah-like connotation. Everyday Cubans we got a chance to speak to believe nothing significant will change in Cuba until after his death. It was a stark reminder of the impact – for better or for worse – that one human being can have on a society. I found it chilling.

Day 2 Cuba_fidel, monument

The story of Case de La Amistad is one of love and scandal. For our delegation that day, it was only the former. There we shared a concert with Mariana de Gonitch Chorus, a group of young Cuban artists who had prepared an entire set for us in English. I had a chance to address the crowd, talking about the importance of this trip at this moment in history. Throughout the trip, we had a profound sense of the importance of being in Cuba in this specific week: one week before the normalization of diplomatic relations. It would play significantly in our experience. The Mariana de Gonitch Chorus immediately blew us away with their talent and warmth, no more so than when they broke into song with our US National Anthem immediately following a performance of their own. Tears rolled down our delegations’ face, as we knew that singing the US anthem would have been unheard of in year’s past. Throughout the next two hours, we shared songs of our respective countries and ended up singing “We Are the World.” One couldn’t help but wonder if the promise of the lyrics would hold true for the relationship between our two nations after so many years of division.

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 1.28.14 PM

We tell YFU students that they should take advantage of a country’s iconic culture when visiting. Later that night we concluded our day with a performance by the Buena Vista Social Club at El Tablao de Pancho restaurant. Many of the lead singers of the group have been performing with it since before the Cuban Revolution. I couldn’t help but imagine what they had seen over the past 50 years and what they would hope to see as our two nations tried to find a way back together. We were even invited to share the stage with them.

Day 2 Cuba_BVSC

It is said that art, in its many forms, is the quickest way to the truth. I ended Day 2 wondering what further truths I would find by sharing our music, our struggles and our stories.

Q.A

The Day’s Takeaways:

  • Architecture can be one of the most objective storytellers in a country.  Battles and triumphs often find a way to etch themselves into buildings in a society.
  • One person has the potential – for better or worse – to forever alter the lives of thousands.
  • Language barriers are surmountable when we share culture from the heart. It’s amazing what hearing one’s own national anthem sung by another people can do to erase feelings of isolation and division.
  • Art and artists are sometimes the best ambassadors. Sharing culture through song, even if you don’t understand the meaning of the lyrics, finds a way to stretch out a hand to another human being.

 

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