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YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Filtering by Tag: youth exchange

Welcoming our First Exchange Student!


My husband and I always wanted to be exchange students but the opportunity never really presented itself. One day while at our local YMCA we were presented the opportunity to host an exchange student. After about 45 minutes of chatting, we took the plunge & before too long we were looking at potential students to come live with us. 

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It was the Summer of '70...


YFU was the beginning of my lifelong love of travel, which continued at Stanford-in-France and in my career as a journalist and international media trainer. Except for my dad's service in World War II, I was the first person in my family to travel overseas since our ancestors came from Europe. The YFU experience literally changed the direction of my life because I was able to experience possibilities beyond the boundaries of my home country, community, and upbringing.

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Happy World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development!


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

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My YFU Experience: Kylie Neidich


Interview by YFU Alumnus and Campus Ambassador Ronak Gandhi with YFU Field Director, Host Mother & Area Representative Kylie Neidich

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Our Founder, Our Inspiration


Article reprint from 1986 interview with Rachel Andresen


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Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 1.06.54 PM

Her home in South Lyon, Michigan, is likened to Grand Central Station. She says that if her kitchen could talk, “boy, what stories it could tell.”

The home – and the kitchen – of Rachel Andresen is where Youth For Understanding began in 1951, and it continues today to be the center for memories, memorabilia and the inspiration which has served YFU for 35 years.

Rachel Andresen changed her life that year as she agreed to help locate families to host 75 German and Austrian youths invited by the State Department to live in the United States. World War II was over and efforts were aimed at reconstructing not only cities and governments, but friendships and human relations as well.

In 1951, when Dr. Andresen founded YFU, youth exchange was still an experiment. Her response was immediate and the results were dramatic.

“When I was asked to help place the first group of 75, I said ‘yes, I would help.’ It was the turning point in my life,” says Dr. Andresen, who has since seen the exchange experiment become one of the world’s most effective ways of promoting world peace and international and intercultural understanding.

“Sometimes I wonder, what if I had said no.” The more than 100,000 alumni who have participated through the years are glad she didn’t say no!

"I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned first of all about myself. Then I’ve learned about people. It has made my life much richer and fuller than I had ever anticipated.”

Dr. Andresen was, at that time, executive director of the Ann Arbor/Washtenaw Council of Churches in Michigan and had been working for many years with numerous community and church organizations. She was suddenly faced with two full-time jobs.

“When you are building an organization, you are looking for what I call the grape-vine system. I have a firm belief that every community is so rich in resources, that if you follow your trail, it will eventually lead your to the people you need,” according to Dr. Andresen.

Beginning her trail with the overseas families of the first international students who arrived in 1951 and the families of the first American students who went abroad in 1955, Dr. Andresen paved her way to the development of an international network for YFU programs. By 1964 she had formally established YFU as an independent, non-profit organization which is, today, one of the world’s largest international student exchange organizations.

“Everything I’ve ever done in the past, I was able to use. It made the work that I was doing, not a job, but something I loved to do. I worked with people in so many different ways,” recalls the founder and honorary president of YFU.

“It wasn't just work, but a living experience, a tremendous one. Developing exchange programs was an exciting and stimulating experience.”

Although she retired from her position as YFU Executive Director in 1973, Dr. Andresen has since been a continuing source of strength, support and inspiration for the further development of YFU programs.

Recalling the more than 35 years of YFU history, from the exchange program’s conception through its growth and to its maturity, is one of Dr. Andresen’s current projects. She is writing a book about the early years of YFU, which she hopes to finish this year.

“It is a first-person narrative, a history and a story about people at YFU,” says Dr. Andresen.

Dr. Andresen admits that there were few directives for YFU’s growth. “We’ve just developed. We wrote out own directions to ourselves, discarding some, of course,” she says, stressing that there are lessons to be learned from such an approach.

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Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 1.07.15 PM

Dr. Andresen’s book will be the story of the growth and development of programs, “with emphasis on students and families. YFU is students and families. You can’t have one without the other. We are always keeping in mind why we’re doing this,” says Dr. Andresen, looking back on the years when the kitchen table in her home, or in the home of any host family, was where problems were talked out.

“Whenever problems arose with students or families, the first thing we would do is review – ‘Why do we do this? Why did you bring a student into your home?’ And to the student, ‘Why are you here? Why did you want to do this?’ When you asked these questions, the problems were not so great. Many problems are solved by reviewing the basics.”

It is in the home, says Dr. Andresen, that people share everything and discover who they are. “It’s the 1001 things that go on in a family every day that say who we are and what we believe. There are no secrets in the family. It’s pretty real.”

Discovery involves all members of the family, but it is perhaps most profound for the exchange student.

“I think the greatest thing that happens to the student is that he will gain a new appreciation for who he is, what his special talents are and what things he has to offer.”

“When he goes through the experience, he learns to stand on his own two feet, he has to make decisions for himself, perhaps for the first time. It does wonderful things for a person,” says Dr. Andresen.

Dr. Andresen says her life has been influenced and enriched by the many people who she has met and worked with over the years. In fact, her own experiences with people worldwide parallels the experience of exchange students.

“I have made lifelong friends all over the world. The people, families and students I have met have all been special to me, “says Dr. Andresen. Although her father was a tremendous influence in her life, so were her “teachers.”

“My teachers were students and families. Everyone you meet in life, everyone who teaches you something, is special,” she says.

For the exchange student, the actual experience of living with a family is short, “but all your life, after an experience like this, you recall those situations and people that have influenced your life and your thinking.”

“Decisions we make are personal ones, but they are based on a wide variety of learning and experiences,” says Dr. Andresen.

Rachel Andresen looks at YFU as an organization that grew from the strong interest in the family. The exchange program spread from family to family and from community to community and around the world.

YFU has succeeded as a family-based organization, as well as a volunteer based organization, “because giving and sharing is close to the hearts of people. Families initially take students to give something, and then they receive so much more than they give. Their family life is enriched, their knowledge of the world expanded and their appreciate of another country and of its people increased,” says Dr. Andresen.

Of YFU volunteers, Dr. Andresen says they are part of the organization “because they love people and have a real concern for others. The people involved in the program are on a real grassroots level of the operation, and they are an invaluable resource.

“Idealistically, it’s a peaceful world we’re working towards. A world in which people can live together, play together, do things together…and learn and know about each other in a very real way.”

“Volunteers are basic to YFU, its operation and its continuation. We couldn't operate our program without volunteers not one day in the year.”

No matter what role one plays in the youth exchange experience, the opportunities are shared by everyone, according to Dr. Andresen. “This program is an opportunity for an expression of the idealistic part of our own mind. It’s an opportunity for us to give the very best of what we are and to share that with somebody else.”

YFU Founder Rachel Andresen has received decorations and citations from the governments of West Germany, Mexico, Finland and Brazil, among others, for her contributions to international understanding and cultural exchange.

Original 1986 interview with YFU Founder Dr. Rachel Andresen

Original 1986 interview with YFU Founder Dr. Rachel Andresen

Celebrating International Education Week


IEW Collage

IEW Collage

A note from YFU USA President & CEO Michael HillDear Friends, I’m thrilled to be writing you as we enter the 15th annual International Education Week (IEW). Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Education, IEW provides an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide.

Students who participate in exchanges increase their communication skills, grow in self-confidence, expand their foreign language proficiency, and foster greater tolerance and international awareness. Here at YFU, we continue to support people of all ages to take advantage of these life-changing opportunities that not only open minds and hearts, but also help to make us citizens of one world.

At YFU, we see these stories come to life every year. Take a look at YFU YES student Abasse from Senegal who celebrated IEW last year by sharing information about his home country with a class of 70 elementary students. Word is the students were so curious and full of questions that they had to limit them to one per student! He even came back and made a traditional African dish for a 2nd grade food and nutrition class.

Then, there’s Farjana from Bangladesh, who during her exchange not only made regular classroom presentations to share her culture but also taught her friends how to write their names in her native bangla and prepared traditional dishes for her host family.

Our US students are making impressions abroad, too. Dominique from Richland, WA, has been keeping friends and family back home up-to-date with blog posts about her adventures as a student in Ecuador. She even came up with a fun educational project to improve her own language skills by drawing various items, labeling them in Spanish, and then having her classmates label them in English; providing a joint learning opportunity.

These stories are just a few of the hundreds that exist, highlighting how curiosity about the world expands cultural awareness and acceptance of other ways to live, which in turn leads to broader perspective and greater understanding. Our students become teachers while on program, educating host parents, schools, and entire communities, modeling and explaining their indigenous cultures. It’s amazing to think about how these young people are shaping our world … and their own!

Happy International Education Week, and thank you for joining us in being catalysts for positive global change.

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun


A note from YFU USA President, Michael HillSometimes old adages are true! Today marks my one-year anniversary as YFU USA’s President & CEO, and it’s been an incredible 365 days!

It’s hard to believe that I showed up last year in the middle of our placement cycle, the time of our program year where we place close to 2,000 young people from around the globe. My earliest days were spent learning their stories, seeing in them a desire and a dream to experience an exchange year in the US and knowing we had a lot of work to do to get them here. Thankfully, they made it, and they – and I – have had an incredible journey together.

That’s one of the best parts of YFU: you get to see the world through the eyes of young people who want to participate as global citizens. They come here and many others leave FROM here because they know that life is bigger than their own communities. What happens on that program year will forever change them. Many return to their countries with a whole new world view and a desire to bridge differences. All of them go home with a greater understanding that the world is not quite as big as they thought when they left. And, if we do this right, they create enduring friendships that will last a lifetime.

My program year has had me meet hundreds of our incredible volunteers, staff across the country, international partners around the globe and having the chance to ask big questions about the future of exchange.

So as my second June rolls around, I cannot help but find myself reflecting about the students that will head home, excited about the new class that will soon arrive and ever-grateful for the many people who made this inaugural year as President so rich and rewarding.

Thank you all so much for taking this journey with me. Onward!

Obama Champions Youth Exchange and Study Abroad


A note from YFU USA President, Michael Hill

Person to person diplomacy and cultural exchanges are increasingly valuable in our interconnected world. US President Barack Obama agrees.

Last week, the US President and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a new program which will aim to double the number of youth exchanges between Japan and the US by 2020.

President Obama said:

I’m pleased that we continue to deepen the extraordinary ties between our people, especially our young people…  And I’m proud to announce that we’re launching a new program that will help even more Japanese students come to the United States to improve their English-language skills and gain valuable experience working in American businesses and organizations. And that’s part of our effort to double student exchanges by 2020 -- bonds among our young people that can bring us closer together for decades to come.

YFU helps provide opportunities for students by working in partnership with governments, corporations, foundations, schools and educators worldwide. I had the privilege of visiting our team in Japan last November and had the opportunity to visit the US Embassy - on the same day as the new US Ambassador, Caroline Kennedy, started her tenure. The buzz through Tokyo was palpable. Crowds lined the streets to try to get a glimpse of her on as she made her way to the Imperial Palace to present her credentials. While we didn’t meet the new Ambassador, we were able to spend time with Sara Harriger, the Education and Exchanges Officer from the US Embassy. We talked a great deal about ways we could support one another and the importance of youth exchange in preparing our young adults for future leadership roles.

YFU USA, CEO Michael E. Hill & YFU Japan, National Director Keiko Enatsu

YFU USA, CEO Michael E. Hill & YFU Japan, National Director Keiko Enatsu

Through creating global learning opportunities, YFU is driving person to person diplomacy. We promote  international understanding, prosperity and world peace by enabling young people to build lifelong understanding, relationships and lasting memories.

I’d like to thank both President Obama and Prime Minister Abe for sharing our commitment to youth exchange and making it a part of the broader geo-political conversation. Arigato gozaimasu!