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YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Filtering by Category: Volunteer Stories

An Exchange Experience


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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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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Happy National Volunteer Week


Guest post from YFU President & CEO Michael E. Hill

Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege to meet with many of you during my listening tours in Boston, Massachusetts; Muskegon, Michigan; Charlotte, NC; and Clyde and Delaware, OH with Bill Malloy, our Director of Volunteer Programs. We have a few cities still to visit, but I always come away with the profound understanding that YFU simply would not exist without our volunteer family.

As I was preparing to write this note, I reflected on the impact our volunteers have on our students’ experiences. Often, when I speak to outside groups or individuals about our mission, consistently the one thing people are often surprised by is the sheer number of volunteers and their direct impact on our program, our students and frankly, the continued success of delivering a rich, meaningful cultural exchange experience. Others outside our organization either don’t understand – or are unable to comprehend the level of professionalism, passion and dedication of YFU volunteers.  

Meeting volunteers, students, and host parents is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. On a recent trip through the beautiful state of Ohio—I was fortunate enough to spend several hours hearing directly from two remarkable groups of volunteers. At a gathering in northern Ohio, the personal stories of why YFU holds a special place in the hearts of our volunteers overwhelmed me. In that small country store where the event was held, you couldn’t help but feel the energy vibrating in the room! One volunteer in particular named Pat will always stand out in my mind. Pat’s vigor, dedication, and 30+ years of YFU volunteering illuminated the space. I was also equally inspired by Matthew, a volunteer in his early 20s, who attended the event while at home on break from his university studies. Matthew was joined by his mom, another YFU volunteer, and I was able to see firsthand how volunteering really does run in the family! These stories were especially poignant as later this summer, I will become a first time host dad. I’m incredibly excited about this new journey and am so thankful to know I will have the support and expertise of our volunteers to help guide me. 

So as we celebrate National Volunteer Appreciation Week, I want to thank each and every one of our volunteers for the tremendous work you do throughout the year. From helping to place students, writing student profiles, interviewing students and families, serving as scholarship evaluators, leading as area reps, lending your expertise on regional volunteer leadership councils and the countless other ways you contribute to YFU, you continue to make a profound difference in the lives of the young people, host families and communities we serve.

I want to thank you, as well, for the many words of advice you’ve given my team and I as we head into our 65th year. Please know there’s not a day that goes by that I am not grateful for all you do and how hopeful it makes me to know that we will build a brighter future for YFU… together.


Lifetime YFU Friendships



At first, we were just exchange students…

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

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

And then we were invited to events….

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

And then we were volunteers….

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

And then we were friends….

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

Laurie on the left, Jeanne on the right

Laurie on the left, Jeanne on the right

And there’s always YFU…

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

Two Years of Discovering the “Goodness”


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

MEH Collage

How Will You Give Back this Global Youth Service Day?


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

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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.

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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!



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!

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Our Founder, Our Inspiration


Article reprint from 1986 interview with Rachel Andresen


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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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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

Elizabeth Barge - Volunteer - Virginia


Duties: Certified Trainer

Training of the Trainers; A Volunteer's Experience

YFU relies on trained volunteers to assist in facilitating our programs. This begs the question, how are trainers trained? Elizabeth Barge of Virginia contemplates her recent Certified Trainers Training workshop.

In February, I had the good fortune to attend the "Training of Trainers" program in Bethesda, MD to become a YFU Certified Trainer.  The class included ten individuals from the various fields and ran in conjunction with a Field Directors Meeting.  On Monday evening at the Certified Trainers Welcome, we were all ready and eager to learn the inside secrets on how to become better planners, speakers, and communicators with fellow volunteers back home.

We each realized that 'the party was over' immediately after meeting OUR trainers, Mamiko Reeves and Julia Martin.  "You've all reviewed the School Relations module that you'll be facilitating Wednesday afternoon, correct?" Gulp.  We're facilitating?  We soon learned (in the Principles of Adult Learning module) that the best way for us to become proficient trainers is to EXPERIENCE IT!  Gone were the notions of "training a few friendly faces in my living room."  Replacing such ideas was the hard deadline of preparing and producing a training module for Field Directors in two short days.

The training we received was excellent as we progressed through the steps of preparing and varying a presentation, creating effective visual aids, working with a co-trainer, and even dealing with difficult participants.  We developed new skills (or blew the dust off old ones) and practiced, practiced, practiced until nerves were replaced with confidence.  The objective of the Certified Trainers program became clear as the hours ticked away: we were not responsible for designing trainings; we simply implemented a new bag of "tools" while facilitating modules that were already developed.

Once home, I used my skills right away to take a new volunteer through The Area Rep Role module so she was equipped to take on her new responsibilities

Written by Elizabeth Barge (Coastal Rim District)

Would you like to share your YFU Story? Please submit your stories and pictures!

Marcy Werness - Volunteer and Host Mom - Minnesota


Duties: Area Representative, American Student Coordinator and more...

Uncommon Committment

This August, Marcy Werness will be celebrating her 30th year as a volunteer with YFU.

Marcy and her husband Ron started their journey with YFU in 1979 when they decided to host their first exchange student, Stephon from Germany.  Stephon was the first of more than thirty students that shared the Werness home.  In 1981, in addition to hosting, Marcy decided to start volunteering with YFU as an Area Representative.  She worked directly with students and host families from the student selection process, to welcoming that student at the Minneapolis airport, to conducting monthly check-ins, to attending orientations.  Marcy wanted to make sure her students had the experience of a lifetime and if they or their families needed anything, she was there every step of the way.

In addition to those responsibilities, Marcy became an Area Coordinator where she mentored new volunteers to YFU.  She taught her new recruits to be patient, love and understand the teenagers we were working with, to help counsel during the tough times and support them. Marcy understood that these students are future leaders. She recognized the importance of providing a global perspective. She also absolutely adored the students, the host families and the new volunteers that joined the YFU ranks.  Marcy is also the Coordinator for the American Overseas program for Minnesota students who want to discover the world by going on exchange with YFU.

Marcy holds many "official" roles with YFU; however what impresses me the most is what I witnessed at the airport last August.  As the exchange students arrive into Minneapolis, about 150 each year, Marcy greets every one of them and their host families at the airport.  She wants each child when they arrive to MN to know that someone from YFU is excited they are here.  She wants every family to know that YFU is here for them.  Sometimes Marcy arrives at 6:00 AM and doesn't go home until after midnight and this goes on the entire month whether there are twenty students flying that day or just one.  They all matter to her.  I learned that come this August, it will be Marcy's 30th year of greeting kids at the airport.  At age forty-one, it was easier to get around but a lot has changed over three decades.  At age seventy-one, parking and walking can be a bit more challenging but that doesn't stop Marcy.  I'm currently working with the parking company at the Minneapolis International Airport to make Marcy an honorary employee during the month of August so she will have parking privileges.

Marcy Werness has set the gold standard for volunteering. Her undeniable contributions to YFU, Minnesota, and countless exchange students are immeasurable and larger-than-life.

Written by Robyn Lee-Dobbs, Field Director (Heartland District)

Would you like to share your YFU Story? Please submit your stories and pictures!

Agni Skafidas - Volunteer & International Alumna - Iowa


Duties: Identifying host families, interviewing, supporting international students, orientations

Agni started volunteering shortly after her return to Germany more than 15 years ago and is involved in all aspects of YFU volunteering from identifying host families, to interviewing prospective American Students and host families, to supporting international students, to planning orientations.

What is your most memorable YFU volunteer moment?

There are so many, but I always love seeing the students and the families smile. Even if they were having a tougher year, it gave them so much. Some of the experience is only understood years after the exchange and that's what makes it so interesting.

What is your biggest challenge as a YFU volunteer?

Combining the two cultures (home/host country) and getting all parties to discuss the issues and actually understand the others

Why do you continue to volunteer with YFU?

Without my year in Kansas, I wouldn't be where I am now: Not in this job, not in this town. I wouldn't have my life continued the way it did. Why would I change that? It's part of who I am.

What do you like best about your involvement with YFU?

It allows me to connect to all levels in the community. It doesn't matter what your status, race or view on life is. I really like the diverse focus that YFU offers.

Would you like to share your YFU Story? Please submit your stories and pictures!

Melissa Baxter - Volunteer & Host Mom - Texas


Duties: Area Representative

After a few years as a host parent, Melissa wanted to get more involved with YFU. She is an Area Coordinator with YFU USA and her son Brandon is an Area Representative.

My family has been hosting with YFU since 1987 when a school counselor called to see if we could help out, even for a short time. That short time has spanned more than a decade, and we see no end in sight. Out of that call also came a desire to be more involved with YFU. I am an Area Coordinator with YFU USA and my son Brandon is an Area Representative. We have worked with students from all over the world and have loved nearly every moment of it. Thank you, YFU, for making our world smaller!

Host Mothers Reunite in Hamburg

It began as a dream over a year and a half ago. Meeting up with and getting acquainted or re-acquainted with the natural mothers of my 14 full and part-year sons—what great potential there was for an awesome reunion! After many emails back and forth, it was agreed that 10 of the mothers were interested and able to attend. The location was set for Hamburg, Germany, as that was the central point between the homes of my European sons. The dates were August 2-6, 2007.

First and foremost on our agenda that day, as well as the others, was sipping cappuccino and getting to know each other. Some mothers had met each other in San Antonio at my home, one had met the other in Stockholm when I was visiting years ago, but most had never met; they had only heard stories of each other and of their sons through me. Sightseeing, sharing delicious meals (thanks Salvatore!!!), and simply being together were the things we focused upon. Topics of conversation ranged from our homes and jobs, and how to deal with leftovers and families. In the end, we realized that though we lived far apart, the world is indeed small.

The highlight for me was sitting back and listening to the others chatting amongst themselves on our last evening together. Plans have already been laid for another get-together, a cruise out of Texas in 2009 celebrating the 50th birthday of three of the "girls."

Would you like to share your YFU Story? Please submit your stories and pictures!

Iris Franklin - Volunteer & Mom of Alumnae - New Jersey


Duties: Orientations, chaperones and activities

While Iris has just been a volunteer for a little over a year, she has gotten involved in all aspects of YFU volunteering, including identifying host families, interviewing prospective American Students and host families, supporting international students, and planning orientations as well as being a YFU certified trainer.

How did you get involved with YFU?

I love working with students and have wanted to be involved since my kids were American Overseas students. I know the importance of an international community and knew that working with international students and students going abroad was something I would love.

What is your most memorable YFU volunteer moment?

My first "thank you" and hug.

Why do you continue to volunteer with YFU?

I love it! The students and the people in YFU are great and so much fun to work with.

What do you like best about your involvement with YFU?

The chance to meet students from all over the world and to keep connected with the students, I supported during their year, after they go home.

Why do you think international exchange benefits the participants?

It's so important, especially in this day and age, for students to experience other cultures and learn to understand the world around them.

Would you like to share your YFU Story? Please submit your stories and pictures!

Jim and Martha Fields - Volunteers & Host Parents - Virginia


Duties: Evaluating student applications, other activities

Soon after retiring, Martha responded to an ad in the local newspaper and began volunteering for YFU. Today, Jim and Martha Fields have a combined 17 years of volunteer service to YFU.  She enjoys reading and evaluating student applications and believes her efforts help "to make a peaceful world."

"Exchange gives kids a good idea of the U.S. rather than what they just see on TV". She also enjoys interacting with other volunteers and learning about their varying backgrounds. Jim learned about YFU through Martha and began his volunteering as an interviewer. He looks forward to talking and connecting with prospective students during the interviews and hearing their varying views on diversity, which ranges from "insightful to occasionally humorous."

Jim and Martha went from being volunteers to later becoming YFU host parents. Martha recalls, after working on some profiles, thinking "this is a neat kid; I wouldn't mind having him live with us". She brought some student profiles home for Jim to look through and they picked their first student to host. Martha recalls, "I realized, after picking up our first exchange student from the airport, how extraordinary it was that the student's parents had entrusted their kid to us." Since hosting their first exchange student, Jim and Martha have hosted several permanent and temporary students and they remain in contact with most of their former students.

Through their experience with YFU, Jim and Martha see the value and impact of homestay exchange programs. "It opens your eyes to a new view of the world, it builds confidence and it gives kids more self-assurance and awareness."

Would you like to share your YFU Story? Please submit your stories and pictures!

Kelli and Joe Thompson - Volunteer & Host Parents - Tennessee


Duties: Orientations, chaperones and activities

Kelli and Joe Thompson decided to host for the first time in 2005. They hosted a boy from Kazakhstan named Alisher. At the YFU mid-year orientation, they found out about a boy from Korea, Hwan, that was in need of a new home, and within a week, Hwan joined their family.

Kelli and Joe became volunteers for YFU in 2006. Their willingness to host orientations at their home, not to mention their love of the students and the benefits of foreign exchange made them perfect candidates. Neither of them was new to volunteering, though. Both Kelli and Joe are on the board of directors for the Eskimo Escapades, which is an annual fundraiser to benefit people who have suffered injuries as a result of physical or mental disabilities. Kelli is Advocacy Chair and Board Member for the East Tennessee Arthritis Foundation, and was the Pro-Bono Attorney of the year for Baker Donelson, Knoxville in 2007.

Joe has become a YFU chaperone and driver of the van/carpool that allows Kentucky and Tennessee students to participate in YFU trips to Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Washington, DC.

YFU thanks Kelli and Joe for helping to build wonderful relationships with schools, families and students in the Kentucky/Tennessee field!

Would you like to share your YFU Story? Please submit your stories and pictures!

2010 Summer Interns - Germany


Former International Students to the US Duties: Help with host family recruitment to ensure placement of all students.


Why did you decide to intern with YFU USA this summer?

It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I just went for it. I wanted to help out YFU USA with placing students, since I was placed later in the summer. I had such a great experience in the US that I wanted to help YFU by giving back to the program. That is why I decided to throw my hat in the ring.

How did you grow from your past exchange experience?

Going on exchange was definitely the greatest choice in my life so far. It changed my viewpoint about the US, but I also learned a lot about myself. Apart from the obvious changes in appearance (I grew several inches), I can say that I became more mature, independent and open-minded. Having gone on exchange even motivated me to sign up for a voluntary service in India for a year, which I am going to this August.

What motivates you to help YFU in its search for quality host families?

My motivation is based on my own great experience with my host family in Kansas. I would like to give more exchange students the opportunity to live with an awesome family just as I did. In addition to that, finding host families and placing students has become more difficult every year. It’s very impressive to see the field directors and volunteers working together in action. They put a great deal of effort into recruiting families, and that really motivates me to help wherever I can.

What do you hope to get out of this summer experience?

This is my first real work experience, and I hope to learn much more about YFU as an organization. I also hope to get answers concerning my own future. Hopefully this internship will help me find out my passions and true interests.


Why did you decide to intern with YFU USA this summer?

I myself was an exchange student in 2002/03 in Rocky Hill, CT. Since I came back to Germany I volunteered for various jobs with YFU Germany, and now I think is a great time to give something back to YFU USA. I know how hard it is to find host families here in Germany, and now I would like to help ensure that many more students will have a new home and a second family in the US.

How did you grow from your past exchange experience?

My mother says I grew in thinking about other people’s needs and helping them with whatever I can do. I think that my exchange experience gave me so many opportunities to learn not only about another culture but also about myself and my own culture. The benefits of my exchange experience didn’t end with my return to Germany – it opened my eyes to learning new things every day.

What motivates you to help YFU in its search for quality host families?

I lived with a great family, and I know how important it is to find good host families who are a good match with their student. I want each and every exchange student to have the experience of his or her lifetime, and like myself, continue to grow even beyond the exchange year itself.

What do you hope to get out of this summer experience?

I hope to be a big asset for the New England field in helping place quality students with quality families. I also hope to learn recruitment techniques which I can take back and utilize to find international students great host families in Germany.

Would you like to share your YFU Story? Please submit your stories and pictures!

Courtney Bassil - Volunteer & Host Parent - Minnesota


Duties: YES Cluster Coordinator & Area Coordinator

Courtney Bassil is passionate about her volunteer work with YFU.  She is the YES cluster coordinator for St. Paul, MN, an Area Coordinator, an Area Rep, and a single host parent.  Courtney keeps her YFU community strong by annually planning a number of events for host families and students in her field. Those in St. Paul recognize that Courtney takes time and effort to make each student she mentors feel special. Full of energy and passion, she can relate to students and is a strong advocate for YFU and international exchange. YFU recently caught up with Courtney to ask her what drives her passion and commitment…

YFU: What drives you to volunteer with YFU students and families?

Courtney: The belief of being in a global community drives me. When we open our doors to these young ambassadors, we really get a chance to learn about our global community – what separates us and what makes us the same. Host families discover many new things about our communities that we share with the students… many things we didn't take a moment to see, visit, or experience, but when we host, we see our community through new eyes.

YFU: What’s the most rewarding aspect of volunteering with YFU?

Courtney: As a single parent placement with no natural children, I am lucky to say I have eight amazing kids around the world.

YFU: Do you have any funny ‘lost in translation’ stories? 

Courtney:  I think one of the memories that stand out for me is when I was a chaperone for a student travel tour to the West Coast. A young lady left her camera on the counter at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. When she realized she didn't have it, she was sure it would still be where she left it. She was from China, and in that country if you leave an item behind in these situations, it will probably be there until you return to pick it up. That was not her experience!

YFU: What’s the most unusual place/time you have ever told your ‘YFU Story’?

Courtney: I once overheard a young lady in church speaking German. I had to share with her the amazing opportunities YFU has for American students to travel abroad, particularly to Germany. I encouraged her to apply for the Congress-Bundestag (CBYX) scholarship.

Would you like to share your YFU Story? Please submit your stories and pictures!