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Filtering by Category: Host Family Stories

Welcoming our First Exchange Student!

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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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An Exchange Experience

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For those families who have considered an exchange opportunity, do it! You will quickly realize the world is smaller than you think and that we are more similar than different from one another. Hosting a student is an opportunity you won’t regret with life-long memories made for everyone involved.

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What Family Means to Me...

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Today is International Day of Families, and we wanted to share how one YFU Host Family has expanded because they opened their hearts and their home to an international student. If you'd like to share your story and traditions while discovering a new culture right in your own home, sign up to host with YFU today!

Guest post from YFU Host Mom, Karen Auxter.

Family means embracing others who share no blood, but who entrusted their child into your care.

It means broadening your horizons, learning about differences and realizing being different isn't a bad thing.

Family is finding out how much you are alike, even though you live on different continents and might only be able to communicate through smiles and hugs.

Family isn't always about sharing ancestors....sometimes it's just about sharing Love.

 We have been blessed to add an entire Danish branch to our family!

 When Sebastian's family was getting ready to fly here for graduation, his mom said, When Sebastian's family was getting ready to fly here for graduation, his mom said, "I can't wait to get to meet you!" That really threw me, because I felt like we were old friends from our communication through Facebook and talking some during Sebastian's calls home!

My YFU Experience: Kylie Neidich

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

Why do you believe that study abroad programs are not only beneficial, but also crucial for the youth of tomorrow?
I believe that our youth are often unaware of the cultural differences, how different every country is, and I think that studying abroad can help them further in life. It also looks great on college applications and applications for jobs because of that experience.

What was your motivation for volunteering and hosting with YFU?
I wanted my own children to learn about other cultures, while also getting to share our own. We love being able to share the kitchen with our students, as they teach us dishes from their own country. Believe it or not, I am the pickiest eater, but I have changed my eating habits due to my exchange students. When we moved to Texas we were the only family who hosted and I hated that our student couldn’t interact with others, so that got me more involved with volunteering. I’ve helped in planning events and in the growth and expansion of my field!

How has hosting a student impacted you and your family?
We have tasted food from other countries that we would have never been able to otherwise try, and my kids have been introduced to several languages including Thai, French, Swiss, and German! We gain so much through hosting. It truly is life changing.

Can you share some of the best memories and unexpected surprises from your hosting experiences?
The best memories would be watching them grow into sports that they may never have played before (esp. when they end up going to state championships), taking them to professional games, visiting the Alamo, and enjoying new holidays together. I don’t believe I’ve ever had unexpected surprises. YFU has been so VERY supportive and I couldn’t have asked for a better organization.

A Life Changing Decision

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Guest post from YFU Volunteer & Host Dad Andy

I was introduced to YFU slowly and without even realizing it. Some good friends of mine, Teresa and Jacob, had hosted several times, and they would have "barn parties" at their home that were always a lot of fun. It was a genius idea looking back--they gathered all of the exchange students in the area they could find, all the the families that wanted to come, and then all of their other friends and had a party. Just add food, drink, a few beers for the adults, a campfire and s'more materials for the teenagers, and it was a surprising amount of fun considering how diverse the group was. After a couple of these parties, I also took my first trip overseas to visit my family in Germany. While not related, the exchange student parties and the trip to Germany opened my mind to the idea that despite our language or cultural differences, we as a people have a lot in common. We love to laugh, to enjoy time with friends, and of course to eat good food. The ingredients were coming together to change my life even though I didn't yet realize it.

The fall after my first trip to Germany, I met Hendrik, Agustin, Sandra, and a slew of other exchange students at the annual party. I struck up a short conversation with Hendrik, the boy from Germany, because Germany is where my family is from and I really enjoyed my time there. I found out that Hendrik lived near the same city as my family and it was really neat for me. Later that year, I saw a message from Teresa asking on Facebook if anyone would be interested in hosting a German boy for the rest of the year. She got my attention, we started messaging, and the next thing you know I'm a host dad. What a trip! In less than a week, I managed to find a dresser, desk, and other things I needed to outfit the spare room. I believe it was 8 days after Teresa posted her message that Hendrik moved in. It felt like an eternity, but then it was off to the races. It was Thanksgiving week, then a trip to Chicago, then Cincinnati, then Christmas.

Then, after nearly 7 months of doing everything we could imagine to do, it was time for Hendrik to go back to Germany. It hurt more than I ever would have imagined. But something so powerful and rewarding has to have a price. Due to some pending “life stuff” that I had to deal with and some travel, I did not plan to host in the Fall of 2015. However, I got a call from Judy Beach asking me if I would be a volunteer and be an area rep for a German boy named Martin. I was immediately interested. It gave me the opportunity to stay involved even though I couldn't host. Later that year I became the area rep for another student from Germany, Patricia. When I would take both of the students I repped out together, I’ll never forget when they mentioned how odd (and cool) it was that they were two Germans but they were speaking English together.

I love working with exchange students, because you never know what they are going to find interesting. Occasionally they can say something that stings a bit (why do you do X, that's dumb), but I've found that usually with exchange students the mundane becomes exciting. Even a trip to the grocery store can be an adventure. Things we take for granted or have long since forgotten we ever liked, such as Pop Tarts and Fruit Roll ups, become new again.

Getting involved with YFU was a life changing decision. There has been some pain along the way, but I think I have learned from it and grown as a result. I didn't realize the capacity I have to care for other people is essentially limitless. I didn't know that I could love an exchange student like a son, even though I don't have a son of my own. I think if more people hosted, if more people experienced cultural exchange, that the world would be a better place.

In late 2015 I found out that I would be a host dad again, this time for Damien from France. I thought hosting the second time would be similar to the first, and it was in a lot of ways, but it was also very different. No two people are the same, and so you start again with a completely new relationship. I quickly learned a lot about Damien and the country he calls home. WeI did a lot in the 5 and a half months he was here, sometimes it is hard to believe all that we managed to do. Going home does mark the end of the special time that is the exchange year, but it marks the beginning of a potential lifetime of friendship and memories.

My heart swells with pride when I think of my two host sons. The relationship isn’t always like a father and son, I’m still a bit young (34) and so sometimes it feels more like big brother and little brother, but it works. When I think of all the great things that I believe Damien and Hendrik will go on to do, I can’t help but be proud of them. I told them both that going on exchange is brave. Putting oneself out there in a foreign country is something I never could imagine myself doing as a teenager, but now I see just how valuable it is.

In the short time I have been with YFU as a host parent and volunteer, I have made some amazing friends both here and in countries around the world. One reason to get involved is definitely because of the exposure you get to the world. Just today, I've chatted with people in France, Germany, and Uruguay, in addition to the USA. However, when people ask me why I host, why I volunteer, or why they should consider hosting, I often will say "because you literally get to make dreams come true". Sometimes I get funny looks, but I think it is the truth. These young adults who want to come to the USA *are* dreaming about it. It is more important to them than almost everything else. They are often times (maybe even most times) delaying school a year to take another year of school. That is a passionate teenager. YFU staff, interns, volunteers, and host families ALL get to take part in turning that dream into reality. That's the good stuff, and that's why I do what I do.

 

A Quick Transition

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“When he got here, he didn’t like hugging people,” explained Roni Sutton, host mother and long-time YFU volunteer about her exchange student from Jordan, Ahmad. “That was pretty much the opposite when he left.”  

On the last day of his senior year, Roni recalled Ahmad’s emotion as he said goodbye to friends and teachers who had so warmly accepted him into their lives. His good heart and ‘hysterically dry’ humor quickly gained him the respect of his peers in the classroom, and the love and laughter of the Sutton family at home.

“It took a week or so for him to settle in, but we knew he was comfortable when he started to crack his jokes – just like he was really a part of the family.” The Sutton family learned, however, that beneath his ever-smiling face and relaxed attitude was a caring, observant, and humble young man. He was quick to apologize anytime he felt a joke was not received well, and asked many questions to help him learn and better himself for next time.

His caring and adaptive nature did not stop here. During the month of Ramadan, Roni remembers Ahmad’s quiet diligence to follow his prayer, washing, and eating schedule, all while still spending time with the family and his friends.

“Normally, I would leave a plate of food for him in the fridge for him to warm up after it got dark,” she recollected. “The one time I forgot, he was so understanding and asked how he could help make something for himself.”

By the end of the school year, Ahmad had succeeded not only in learning about American society and culture, but also in teaching his own religious and native customs to his peers and host family members. 

Did you know that each year, YFU welcomes scholarship winners from several US Government sponsored programs? Learn more about hosting a YES Scholarship student like Ahmad and meet our incoming class of students today! 

Lifelong Friends in Another Place

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The Noble-Olsen family welcomed Maan from Saudi Arabia during the 2015-2016 school year to develop what they agreed would be “a lifelong friend in a different place.” Patricia his host mother, explained to us how their multi-generational household was perfect for a transitioning Maan, who was accustomed to living and interacting with his extended family in Saudi Arabia. For the family, this also meant multiple generations’ worth of learning and understanding of the Islamic religion and of Saudi culture.

The holy month of Ramadan, which occurred during Maan’s stay with the Noble-Olsens, naturally came with obstacles that required cooperation and an open-mind from Maan and his new family. Included in these were Minnesota’s long days, during which he had to fast, leading to an eating schedule that was inconsistent with the typical family mealtimes, and in respect to Maan’s religion, the elimination of pork and alcohol from their diet.

Patricia, who has a background in religious studies, thoroughly enjoyed the process of her learning from Maan about Saudi culture and religion, but specified how the extent of learning reached beyond just her and Maan.

“He very much enjoyed talking about religion,” she said. “He presented to his class about Saudi Arabia, and loved to learn about the religion of others.”

In the household, it was clear that Maan’s energy was special, as Patricia recalls finding him in conversation with her 4-year-old granddaughter. 

“My granddaughter adored Maan,” said Patricia when asked of her favorite moment of his stay. “I remember the two of them sitting with each other at the dining room table talking. She reached up to grab his arm and said, ‘I love you,’ to which he said, ‘I love you too.’”

On the night of his departure, Patricia recalled her family’s final dinner for Maan as a heart-breaking experience. As he was leaving very early the next morning, each family member took turns saying goodbye before going to sleep for the night – but Maan had something else planned.

“I woke up the next morning to find a post-it note on the door to our bedroom saying, ‘Love you, Thank you!’ only to realize that there were countless notes around the house expressing Maan’s love and gratitude for individual members of the family. He left 96 notes around the house, and I was still finding them two weeks later,” Patricia reminisced.

The Noble-Olsen family found in Maan a perfect example of how an intercultural exchange program can convey such understanding and compassion in a family while showing a young scholar a world so different from their own.  

Did you know that each year, YFU welcomes scholarship winners from several US Government sponsored programs? Learn more about hosting a YES Scholarship student like Maan and meet our incoming class of students today! 

Celebrating 1,096 Days

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Guest post from YFU President & CEO Michael E. Hill

Where have the past 1,096 days gone?!

Today marks three years of service as President & CEO of YFU USA. So much has happened in these first three years. When I reflect on my work here, I often write about the impact of exchange, its possibilities to promote peace in the world, and the transformative equation of placing a young person with a loving family under the helpful assistance of an incredible volunteer advocate. And all of this remains as true today as it was the first day I walked into this office.

But this year marks a different milestone for me. In August, I welcome my exchange son from Finland to share my home in the United States. I have always felt a connection to this mission. Much of that comes from the countless hours I have spent with host families, volunteers and students. People that are involved with YFU speak so passionately about their experiences in our programs, and I feel lucky that they have so openly shared their journey with me. But this year, I become a program participant at YFU.

The journey has been more nerve wracking than I thought it would be. 

I agreed to host in February. It took me more than a month to get through the whole process, and at each step of the way, I got a little more invested. Seeing a young person’s story on my computer screen only gave me a glimpse of his story. Waiting to see if I passed the various tests and home visits – yes, they apply even to the President of YFU! – were all markers in preparing myself mentally for my exchange son’s arrival. And then came the day we could first speak. I think only then did my new son move from “an idea” to someone who would join my family.

The next few months will include getting to know him more, preparing his room, wrapping my head around parent-teacher conferences at his school, and thinking how I want to shape his year in America. And I know these “well-laid plans” will all change as his unique personality makes an entrance into my -- into our -- home.

I hope to share a lot more with you throughout the year about my first time hosting. But, until the third week of August, I want to say “thank you” for making my first three years at the helm of YFU USA such a rich and rewarding experience.

In a couple of weeks, we will celebrate Father’s Day in the United States. For all you veteran parents, any advice you have for this rookie is welcome at president@yfu.org. I look forward to sharing the best gems of advice I receive on my personal YFU Facebook page at facebook.com/michaelhillyfu.

Thank you again for all you do for YFU. I feel honored and privileged to have journeyed with each of you these past three years.

 

“Why Hosting Matters”

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Host a YFU / U.S. Department of State-Sponsored
High School Exchange Student

Why hosting matters: Hosting is a catalyst in making us all citizens of one world. It brings culture and a sense of adventure to you and your family while teaching valuable lessons about acceptance and global unity to your community. Hosting brings the world home to you.

Each year, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs brings almost 2,000 high school students, representing over 50 countries, to study in a local U.S. high school while living with an American host family. Become a part of this unique opportunity by hosting a YES, FLEX or CBYX student with YFU this upcoming school year.

May 15, 2016 – International Day of Families

To all of our host families, thank you! Please help YFU and the U.S. Department of State celebrate this day and these unique hosting opportunities by posting images and messages on your social media accounts using the hashtag, #WhyHostingMatters. We want to see your hosting and exchange images on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, showing the world just how amazing it is to host these Scholarship recipients.

 

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.

Two Years of Discovering the “Goodness”

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A note from YFU USA President & CEO Michael E. HillReflections on his two year YFU work anniversary 

Today marks two years since beginning my tenure as President & CEO of YFU USA. It is incredible to think that 730 days have passed already. I have been reflecting a great deal on this time with a dear friend visiting from Sweden –- one of the best parts of working at YFU is that you create friendships around the world! And while there are many memories I could share from my own two years at the helm of YFU, I think it’s more fun to think about these two years in the arch of the entire history of the organization, a history that spans close to 65 years.

YFU’s Founder, Dr. Rachel Andresen, in many ways was an accidental leader. She couldn’t possibly have known what she was getting herself into in 1951 when she was asked to coordinate the effort of bringing 70+ German young people to the United States in the aftermath of World War II. Her earliest writings tell of her great trepidation at being responsible for these young people. Her later writings, however, show a deep appreciation for the outcome of our program. She moves from talking about the logistics of exchanges to seeing the bigger picture: through the conduit of exchange, these young people would gain the skills necessary to change the world.

David Gergen, Professor of Public Service and Co-Director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, recently wrote an essay for the World Economic Forum’s compendium “Outlook on the Global Agenda 2015.” In his reflection, “A Call to Lead,” Gergen argues that leaders today must have a global perspective if they are to serve the greater good. “From the US to Europe and Asia, there’s an agreement that having a global perspective is the number one skill for any strong leader in 2015,” he writes. “Collaboration emerges as another key trait … while communication was a strong contender.”

YFU provides the perfect prescription for Gergen’s search for leaders in today’s society. Over the past two years, I have seen firsthand how a YFU program transforms participants from a resident of one nation into a global citizen. YFU participants leave their home cultures and are immersed in “the other.” Through the work of host families and volunteers, they discover the goodness of people from another land, experiencing the ultimate reality check in a world too often viewed through stereotypes. They have to work within new communities to be active members of their schools and new homes, and they must learn how to effectively communicate – in another language! – to break down barriers that could prevent a successful exchange year. And when they go home, they bring those new tools with them.

In the past couple of years, we have ramped up our alumni outreach. It’s incredibly uplifting to talk to YFU alumni, who credit the program with setting them on a path to be leaders in government, business, nonprofits or even in their families. All of our alumni credit YFU, in big and small ways, with changing the course of their lives while giving them advanced skills to use later as adults.

While YFU was founded amidst the ashes of war, our impact today can be even greater.

Gergen writes, “We need moral, effective leadership, collaborating and communicating across boundaries – business, non-profits and political leaders all have a role to play.” And so does YFU – perhaps now more than ever.

Thank you for a great first two years. I look forward to being a part of this movement for many more.

 MEH Collage

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Two Years of Discovering the “Goodness”

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A note from YFU USA President & CEO Michael E. HillReflections on his two year YFU work anniversary 

Today marks two years since beginning my tenure as President & CEO of YFU USA. It is incredible to think that 730 days have passed already. I have been reflecting a great deal on this time with a dear friend visiting from Sweden –- one of the best parts of working at YFU is that you create friendships around the world! And while there are many memories I could share from my own two years at the helm of YFU, I think it’s more fun to think about these two years in the arch of the entire history of the organization, a history that spans close to 65 years.

YFU’s Founder, Dr. Rachel Andresen, in many ways was an accidental leader. She couldn’t possibly have known what she was getting herself into in 1951 when she was asked to coordinate the effort of bringing 70+ German young people to the United States in the aftermath of World War II. Her earliest writings tell of her great trepidation at being responsible for these young people. Her later writings, however, show a deep appreciation for the outcome of our program. She moves from talking about the logistics of exchanges to seeing the bigger picture: through the conduit of exchange, these young people would gain the skills necessary to change the world.

David Gergen, Professor of Public Service and Co-Director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, recently wrote an essay for the World Economic Forum’s compendium “Outlook on the Global Agenda 2015.” In his reflection, “A Call to Lead,” Gergen argues that leaders today must have a global perspective if they are to serve the greater good. “From the US to Europe and Asia, there’s an agreement that having a global perspective is the number one skill for any strong leader in 2015,” he writes. “Collaboration emerges as another key trait … while communication was a strong contender.”

YFU provides the perfect prescription for Gergen’s search for leaders in today’s society. Over the past two years, I have seen firsthand how a YFU program transforms participants from a resident of one nation into a global citizen. YFU participants leave their home cultures and are immersed in “the other.” Through the work of host families and volunteers, they discover the goodness of people from another land, experiencing the ultimate reality check in a world too often viewed through stereotypes. They have to work within new communities to be active members of their schools and new homes, and they must learn how to effectively communicate – in another language! – to break down barriers that could prevent a successful exchange year. And when they go home, they bring those new tools with them.

In the past couple of years, we have ramped up our alumni outreach. It’s incredibly uplifting to talk to YFU alumni, who credit the program with setting them on a path to be leaders in government, business, nonprofits or even in their families. All of our alumni credit YFU, in big and small ways, with changing the course of their lives while giving them advanced skills to use later as adults.

While YFU was founded amidst the ashes of war, our impact today can be even greater.

Gergen writes, “We need moral, effective leadership, collaborating and communicating across boundaries – business, non-profits and political leaders all have a role to play.” And so does YFU – perhaps now more than ever.

Thank you for a great first two years. I look forward to being a part of this movement for many more.

MEH CollageFollow Michael on Facebook

 

 

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

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 Rie 3

Guest blog by YFU USA Host Mom Lisa HudgensMy family's very first hosting experience was with a blind girl from Japan. She was the only student who was coming for a 6-8 week summer program that had not been chosen by a host family. We learned about Rie when someone posted flyers at a neighborhood event. My own children were 6 and 10 years old at the time. We had a large dog and lived in a ranch-style house in Novi, Michigan.

Rie was 17 years old when she came to us. She had lost her sight at age 3 due to cancer in her eyes. I learned that, by in large, Japan does not, "embrace" or make many accommodations for people with disabilities in their culture/environment. Blind children do not mainstream into the local schools, so they are sent away to live in a dormitory-style boarding school with other blind children when they become school-aged at about 6 years old. Rie was able to see her parents who lived in Kyoto on some weekends and during her vacations from school.

Rie had very good English, much better than the other exchange students, maybe because she was so focused on using her hearing to navigate her new world. She picked up the idiosyncrasies of the language better than others and she had a greater need to communicate in order to understand her new environment and culture. She was full of questions and absorbed and remembered everything she heard.

When Rie first came to our house, she asked that my 6 year old slowly walk her around so that she could feel the layout of the house with her hand and my daughter would tell her what each room was. She said that she was painting a map in her mind of our house and she counted the steps between rooms etc. To our amazement, she only needed to orient herself once. She would occasionally bump into a wall if she was in a hurry, with no harm done. Rie used a white fold-able cane when navigating herself only when she went outside of the house. She liked to hold the crook of someone's bended arm if we were navigating rough terrain or a very busy/congested area. She was up front about this with us and always told us how we could best help her in particular situations where she needed help - and we appreciated that.

Rie had technological tools to help her including a computer and keyboard that had adaptions so she could read and write using her braille keyboard. (Note: Cell phones and the internet were not available to the general public in mass yet.) We were fascinated that she was having to translate Japanese braille to English braille. I called around and we were able to check out English braille books from the Farmington Public Library for her and my girls watched intently as she used her fingers to read. She would read aloud to them and tried to teach them how to read English braille with their fingers.

Rie visited as a special guest to our Girl Scout troop where she showed the girls how to do origami. (She could feel which side of the paper was colored and which was white!) She would have the girls give her the different origami papers and try to trick her, but she always got it right. She built elaborate and complicated origami creations and encouraged the girls to ask her questions about life in Japan and her life as a blind person.

Rie was very neat and organized so she could easily find her things. Our family had to take care not to leave things on the floor so she wouldn't trip on something unexpected, which was a great reason to encourage my kids to keep things picked up. Although Rie had her own bedroom with a twin bed, she sometimes preferred to sleep on the floor as she was accustomed to sleeping on a mat on the floor in Japan. My girls thought this was very odd. We had to be mindful to turn off her bedroom light at night and the kids always had to knock before entering the bathroom because she didn't need a light and you couldn't tell the bathroom was occupied. She preferred to bathe each night and always cleaned the tub afterward. I'm not sure if the girls' bathroom was ever kept so clean on a regular basis! Rie loved to set the table, load the dishwasher and hand wash and dry dishes, she helped plant in the garden and take the dog for a walk accompanied by someone else. She liked to bake and just needed a little help with measuring. She liked to help at the grocery store and she held on to the cart and loaded and unloaded the items. She loved to brush the dog on the patio.

We took Rie on excursions where she could  be hands-on or use her hearing. Her favorite was a petting farm where she interacted with many animals for the first time and she loved music events where she always clapped to the beat or tried to get the girls to dance with her. She liked the hands on science museum, too. We took her to the Woodward Dream Cruise and she listened to the loud cars, went to a Fourth of July parade and fireworks and was so excited to go camping for the first time. She rode on the back of a tandem bike at Mackinac Island and was thrilled with the boat ride.

She liked bowling with friends, who were sure to steer her in the right direction. She enjoyed going to the local park and swinging for hours. She liked being with the family on movie night and we tried to help her understand what was going on.

 Rie 4

Her favorite thing of all was meeting new people wherever she went. A bonfire with the neighbors was a special treat. She had never experienced a bonfire or roasting marshmallows and s’mores. A good friend of ours had a very good friend of theirs, Jerry, who was also blind. We got the two of them together for some of our excursions. He loved having Rie teach him Japanese as he already knew 3 other languages and he, in turn, tried to teach her to play the guitar. We provided her with a small musical keyboard in her room and she practiced piano daily.

In true Japanese form, Rie was never without her camera and would ask you to help her point it in the direction or sometimes take the picture for her as she always wanted a picture of herself with the new people that she met. She was creating a scrapbook to show her family and friends. She liked creating paper arts and beading bracelets. She looked forward going to church with our family, she liked the music, the prayers that were repeated aloud each week and she would try to say them, too. Her family was Buddhist, but she found the Catholic mass very interesting. She requested that we give fairly precise times when we needed her to leave the house so she could be 100% ready because she didn't like to be late.

Rie made a few good friends who helped her at exchange student outings and looked out for her. She was so very appreciative of everything; she experienced and showed so much gratitude. I think having young girls was great for her. They were uncomplicated and loving toward her and being an older sister gave her confidence that she could be helpful to them and they looked up to her. At the same time, my girls also loved being needed by Rie, helping to guide her and explaining the things that we saw to her. They felt empowered that they were helpful to someone older than them. Because "seeing" her new environment wasn't part of her experience, connecting to people in her new culture was her focus.

Rie was respectful, kind, helpful and appreciated the love of a family. She was not used to being hugged and shown much physical affection, but my girls got her used to it quickly. They liked to snuggle with her on the couch. The only rule was that they had to give Rie warning before giving her a hug so they didn't knock her off balance.

We had a wonderful time hosting Rie for a summer and it had an amazing impact on our family, especially our girls and everyone who met her. Everyone was in awe and also inspired by her bravery and gumption. She chose to become an exchange student at 17, came to a foreign country where she knew no one, and learned a new language and culture; all of this without her sight.

My girls still tell me today, ten years later, that they think of Rie when they have to get up the courage to do something that scares them. I am proud that we decided to take the chance and say YES to hosting Rie. The experience itself and all of the lessons we learned from each other have been immeasurable.

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

user

Guest blog by YFU USA Host Mom Lisa HudgensRie 3My family's very first hosting experience was with a blind girl from Japan. She was the only student who was coming for a 6-8 week summer program that had not been chosen by a host family. We learned about Rie when someone posted flyers at a neighborhood event. My own children were 6 and 10 years old at the time. We had a large dog and lived in a ranch-style house in Novi, Michigan.

Rie was 17 years old when she came to us. She had lost her sight at age 3 due to cancer in her eyes. I learned that, by in large, Japan does not, "embrace" or make many accommodations for people with disabilities in their culture/environment. Blind children do not mainstream into the local schools, so they are sent away to live in a dormitory-style boarding school with other blind children when they become school-aged at about 6 years old. Rie was able to see her parents who lived in Kyoto on some weekends and during her vacations from school.

Rie had very good English, much better than the other exchange students, maybe because she was so focused on using her hearing to navigate her new world. She picked up the idiosyncrasies of the language better than others and she had a greater need to communicate in order to understand her new environment and culture. She was full of questions and absorbed and remembered everything she heard.

When Rie first came to our house, she asked that my 6 year old slowly walk her around so that she could feel the layout of the house with her hand and my daughter would tell her what each room was. She said that she was painting a map in her mind of our house and she counted the steps between rooms etc. To our amazement, she only needed to orient herself once. She would occasionally bump into a wall if she was in a hurry, with no harm done. Rie used a white fold-able cane when navigating herself only when she went outside of the house. She liked to hold the crook of someone's bended arm if we were navigating rough terrain or a very busy/congested area. She was up front about this with us and always told us how we could best help her in particular situations where she needed help - and we appreciated that.

Rie had technological tools to help her including a computer and keyboard that had adaptions so she could read and write using her braille keyboard. (Note: Cell phones and the internet were not available to the general public in mass yet.) We were fascinated that she was having to translate Japanese braille to English braille. I called around and we were able to check out English braille books from the Farmington Public Library for her and my girls watched intently as she used her fingers to read. She would read aloud to them and tried to teach them how to read English braille with their fingers.

Rie visited as a special guest to our Girl Scout troop where she showed the girls how to do origami. (She could feel which side of the paper was colored and which was white!) She would have the girls give her the different origami papers and try to trick her, but she always got it right. She built elaborate and complicated origami creations and encouraged the girls to ask her questions about life in Japan and her life as a blind person.

Rie was very neat and organized so she could easily find her things. Our family had to take care not to leave things on the floor so she wouldn't trip on something unexpected, which was a great reason to encourage my kids to keep things picked up. Although Rie had her own bedroom with a twin bed, she sometimes preferred to sleep on the floor as she was accustomed to sleeping on a mat on the floor in Japan. My girls thought this was very odd. We had to be mindful to turn off her bedroom light at night and the kids always had to knock before entering the bathroom because she didn't need a light and you couldn't tell the bathroom was occupied. She preferred to bathe each night and always cleaned the tub afterward. I'm not sure if the girls' bathroom was ever kept so clean on a regular basis! Rie loved to set the table, load the dishwasher and hand wash and dry dishes, she helped plant in the garden and take the dog for a walk accompanied by someone else. She liked to bake and just needed a little help with measuring. She liked to help at the grocery store and she held on to the cart and loaded and unloaded the items. She loved to brush the dog on the patio.

We took Rie on excursions where she could  be hands-on or use her hearing. Her favorite was a petting farm where she interacted with many animals for the first time and she loved music events where she always clapped to the beat or tried to get the girls to dance with her. She liked the hands on science museum, too. We took her to the Woodward Dream Cruise and she listened to the loud cars, went to a Fourth of July parade and fireworks and was so excited to go camping for the first time. She rode on the back of a tandem bike at Mackinac Island and was thrilled with the boat ride.

She liked bowling with friends, who were sure to steer her in the right direction. She enjoyed going to the local park and swinging for hours. She liked being with the family on movie night and we tried to help her understand what was going on.

Rie 4

Her favorite thing of all was meeting new people wherever she went. A bonfire with the neighbors was a special treat. She had never experienced a bonfire or roasting marshmallows and s’mores. A good friend of ours had a very good friend of theirs, Jerry, who was also blind. We got the two of them together for some of our excursions. He loved having Rie teach him Japanese as he already knew 3 other languages and he, in turn, tried to teach her to play the guitar. We provided her with a small musical keyboard in her room and she practiced piano daily.

In true Japanese form, Rie was never without her camera and would ask you to help her point it in the direction or sometimes take the picture for her as she always wanted a picture of herself with the new people that she met. She was creating a scrapbook to show her family and friends. She liked creating paper arts and beading bracelets. She looked forward going to church with our family, she liked the music, the prayers that were repeated aloud each week and she would try to say them, too. Her family was Buddhist, but she found the Catholic mass very interesting. She requested that we give fairly precise times when we needed her to leave the house so she could be 100% ready because she didn't like to be late.

Rie made a few good friends who helped her at exchange student outings and looked out for her. She was so very appreciative of everything; she experienced and showed so much gratitude. I think having young girls was great for her. They were uncomplicated and loving toward her and being an older sister gave her confidence that she could be helpful to them and they looked up to her. At the same time, my girls also loved being needed by Rie, helping to guide her and explaining the things that we saw to her. They felt empowered that they were helpful to someone older than them. Because "seeing" her new environment wasn't part of her experience, connecting to people in her new culture was her focus.

Rie was respectful, kind, helpful and appreciated the love of a family. She was not used to being hugged and shown much physical affection, but my girls got her used to it quickly. They liked to snuggle with her on the couch. The only rule was that they had to give Rie warning before giving her a hug so they didn't knock her off balance.

We had a wonderful time hosting Rie for a summer and it had an amazing impact on our family, especially our girls and everyone who met her. Everyone was in awe and also inspired by her bravery and gumption. She chose to become an exchange student at 17, came to a foreign country where she knew no one, and learned a new language and culture; all of this without her sight.

My girls still tell me today, ten years later, that they think of Rie when they have to get up the courage to do something that scares them. I am proud that we decided to take the chance and say YES to hosting Rie. The experience itself and all of the lessons we learned from each other have been immeasurable.

 

How Will You Give Back this Global Youth Service Day?

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Did you know that April 17-19 is Global Youth Service Day? Consider hosting an event that gives back to your community while helping to increase awareness that we're all citizens of one world.This occasion provides the perfect opportunity to come together with your fellow volunteers, staff, students and families to share our mission within your local communities. Think about the causes that inspire you and come up with your own project or find a local event to participate in.

Have fun and get creative! You could:

  • Be ambassadors for peace - bring together area exchange students and cultural groups for an interactive intercultural day celebrating diversity
  • Offer to tutor students in language or world history
  • Get together with your neighbors and plant a community garden
  • Connect with elderly citizens through cultural presentations at a local senior residence

 Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 1.01.53 PM

One needs look no further than YFU students Sarah and René for inspiration.

René volunteered in a broad range of community service activities including walking to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, dismantling holiday decorations for the City of Ann Arbor, removing invasive plant species in Ann Arbor parks and cutting branches at a park on Nature Area Workday, shoveling snow for elderly neighbors, leading games for children at a pool event, and helping raise awareness of CBYX, YFU, and exchange through booths at community events. For GYSD René pulled weeds and invasive species in local forest to help regrowth of native species.

 Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 1.02.06 PM

While on program, Sarah completed more than 137 hours of community service! Her involvement included everything from coaching youth soccer, volunteering at American Red Cross blood drives, participating in community recycling events, organizing international lunches where students brought dishes representative of different countries and discussed the culture and food of the country to classroom presentations on her native culture and language. She continued her involvement by participating in GYSD as a volunteer at the City of Portsmouth's Quarterly Hazardous Waste Collection, Document Shredding, and Electronics event.

Find more ideas and tips inYouth Service America's planning toolkitfor creating your own GYSD community project!

 rosen5

Share your service projects & photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using #yfuGYSD. We’ll be following along and might even share your project on our social media. We can't wait to see how you will get involved!

 Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 1.06.14 PM

How Will You Give Back this Global Youth Service Day?

user

Did you know that April 17-19 is Global Youth Service Day? Consider hosting an event that gives back to your community while helping to increase awareness that we're all citizens of one world.This occasion provides the perfect opportunity to come together with your fellow volunteers, staff, students and families to share our mission within your local communities. Think about the causes that inspire you and come up with your own project or find a local event to participate in.

Have fun and get creative! You could:

  • Be ambassadors for peace - bring together area exchange students and cultural groups for an interactive intercultural day celebrating diversity
  • Offer to tutor students in language or world history
  • Get together with your neighbors and plant a community garden
  • Connect with elderly citizens through cultural presentations at a local senior residence

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 1.01.53 PM

One needs look no further than YFU students Sarah and René for inspiration.

René volunteered in a broad range of community service activities including walking to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, dismantling holiday decorations for the City of Ann Arbor, removing invasive plant species in Ann Arbor parks and cutting branches at a park on Nature Area Workday, shoveling snow for elderly neighbors, leading games for children at a pool event, and helping raise awareness of CBYX, YFU, and exchange through booths at community events. For GYSD René pulled weeds and invasive species in local forest to help regrowth of native species.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 1.02.06 PM

While on program, Sarah completed more than 137 hours of community service! Her involvement included everything from coaching youth soccer, volunteering at American Red Cross blood drives, participating in community recycling events, organizing international lunches where students brought dishes representative of different countries and discussed the culture and food of the country to classroom presentations on her native culture and language. She continued her involvement by participating in GYSD as a volunteer at the City of Portsmouth's Quarterly Hazardous Waste Collection, Document Shredding, and Electronics event.

Find more ideas and tips in Youth Service America's planning toolkit for creating your own GYSD community project!

rosen5

Share your service projects & photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using #yfuGYSD. We’ll be following along and might even share your project on our social media. We can't wait to see how you will get involved!

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 1.06.14 PM

Our Founder, Our Inspiration

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Article reprint from 1986 interview with Rachel Andresen

OUR FOUNDER, OUR INSPIRATION

 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.

 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

Our Founder, Our Inspiration

user

Article reprint from 1986 interview with Rachel Andresen

OUR FOUNDER, OUR INSPIRATION

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.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 1.07.15 PMDr. 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

West Hills Middle School Students Enjoy Arctic Adventure as Part of Multicultural Celebration

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West Hills Middle School sixth graders recently traveled electronically to the Arctic through a presentation by YFU exchange student Amisuna Berthelsen from Greenland, assisted by Marta Corriga from Italy. The program featured a live Skype hookup with a Greenlandic classroom where American and Greenlandic students could see and question each other about some of their vast cultural differences.  Among the tidbits that “Ami” shared about Inuit culture:

  • He never saw a tree until he was eight years old (visiting Iceland) and had to touch it to see if it was real.

  • His family has never had a car (there are virtually no roads), but they’ve had a boat and a dogsled.

  • He lives in the world’s smallest capital of 15,000 people. His country has almost 60,000 people, about the same population as West Bloomfield, yet his country is more than three times the size of Texas.

  • Typical foods include raw whale blubber, seal, musk ox, and, of course, pizza.

  • Greenlandic children speak Greenlandic, Danish, and English.

  • Ami never had a snow day until he came to Bloomfield.

 Tweet from Andy Gignac from Skype classroom event.

The American students asked their Greenlandic peers about trends, sports, school, weather, and foods in their countries. When the American students asked about their electronic connectivity, all laughed when many of the Greenlandic students whipped out their smart phones. The assembly concluded with the Greenlandic version of Pharrell Williams' song, “Happy” followed by an Italian version of the same, as all danced together.

The assembly was a prelude to the Multicultural Celebration to be held at West Hills Middle School on the evening of Friday, March 27 from 6:30 to 9:00 pm.

Ami and Marta are two exchange students representing the group of eight YFU exchange students who have attended Bloomfield Hills High School this year living with local host families.

YFU is currently seeking host families for exchange students coming in August for the 2015-2016 academic year.  Visit the YFU website to learn more. Roll out the welcome mat, and see the world through the eyes of a new exchange son or daughter!