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YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Filtering by Category: Host Family Stories

Bruce Erickson – Host Father – Missouri


With the World Cup kicking-off this week, we wanted to share a story from one of our longtime host father's. Have you shared in the excitement of a World Cup game with an international son/daughter, host parent or sibling? We want to hear your story!

For my generation, I'm an unusual American in that I am a huge soccer fan. As such, I have always dreamed of attending an important high-level soccer competition with a great stadium atmosphere. I have been a host dad since 1999. All of my exchange sons have shared my interest in "the beautiful game." The World Cup was held in Germany in 2006. The families of four of my German students invited me to visit them and attend five World Cup games in Hamburg, Berlin and Leipzig.



I had been to Europe a couple of times with tour groups, but to have personal tour guides in the form of former students and their natural parents and friends made the experience extra special. Sharing their culture with me through their warmth and hospitality are experiences that I will never forget. Even though I did not get to see any of the American national team games, My dream of seeing quality soccer with passionate fans had been realized thanks to very generous and grateful natural parents and former students.



Leap of Faith with YFU


Sometimes you just take a leap of faith that changes your lives forever.  That's what our family did about four years ago when we received a phone call from YFU about the urgent need for a host family for a 16-year old German boy.  They sent us an e-mail copy of his student profile and host family letter.  Like our daughter, Marcus volunteered for the Red Cross in his hometown, so that gave us a feeling of connection.  We impulsively agreed to be his "arrival family" to help him get off to a good start for the first few months of his academic year here.With a daughter and a son in college, a daughter in her senior year and a son in third grade, plus two working parents, our household was always hopping anyway with everybody's crazy schedules, so what difference would one more make? So, just 24 hours after speaking to Marcus for the first time, he was on his way into our home---and into our hearts.   Our leap of faith was rewarded in that Marcus, who returned "home" to us just last week, is probably one of the most kind, considerate, undemanding, appreciative, and funny teens you could ever imagine-and we were proud to have him as our exchange son.

Marcus was the ultimate participant, enthusiastically soaking up every experience he could find while at Lahser High School!  When his chances of making the football team seemed bleak due to his lack of size and knowledge of football, he devoted himself to being a dedicated student trainer who was at every practice, every game.  When Marcus had extra time to be at school, he would make himself useful by helping with stage sets for the play or lighting for concerts.

Marcus had special relationships with each family member: for example, as a dedicated big brother to our young Ryan, always willing to join him for a game of pool, basketball or even fishing.  Similarly, Marcus was an experienced younger brother and knew just how to tease Marissa, the big sister by one year.  That really kept her feet on the ground!  As a son to Ken and me, his constant good humor, enthusiasm and helpful nature were always appreciated.  Those qualities seemed to rub off on our own children too!  We felt especially good on the day he started calling us Mom and Dad!

Our commitment was simply to offer a place to live, three meals a day and the love, support, and encouragement to get through the year in a new home.  Students can share a room (not a bed, though) with a same-sex host sibling.  They come with health insurance, their own spending money (to cover things like yearbooks, phone calls, clothing needs, booster club dues, etc.), and with the commitment that they will live according to the rules and values of their host families and the organization.

YFU gave us good support throughout the experience.  The volunteer area rep makes sure that students and families are adjusting well.  With over 60 years of experience and 250,000 students exchanged, YFU is a non-profit with a solid reputation for making this the best possible experience for all involved.



Some people might think that our experience was extraordinary, but there are many families just as thrilled as we were.  For example, there were two other "arrival" families who took that leap of faith the same day we did.  Those families were much unlike our family in many respects, but we all shared the same common enjoyment of young people.  One couple was much younger with a five-year old child who ended up sharing a room in their apartment with his new big brother Oscar.  Host dad was the school band director, and Oscar ended up playing "silent trumpet" while marching proudly with his new friends in the band.  The other couple was much older (grandparents already), and they chose the lively Sonja to fill their empty nest with fun and enthusiasm.  She really enjoyed being a host aunt to little Xavier and felt no hesitation about being the only child at home with her communicative host parents.  Both those placements, just like ours, went from temporary to permanent.

Maybe we hesitated just a little to do this at first, wondering how much work it was going to be.  But nobody could have told us then how much we were going to love him.  In the note he left on his pillow for us to find after he left three years ago, he wrote simply this: "You just took me.  You looked on that piece of paper, and you said YES.  Thank you for that.  It was just great.  And it is still!  All the things you did for me, I look up to you.  Thank you for everything, Mom and Dad!"

5 Tips for Host Parents


Exchange students are arriving soon. To help new host parents prepare, we’ve drawn from the wisdom of past parents by asking for advice on Facebook and Twitter. Below are 5 tips from host parents to help make sure your student’s arrival goes smoothly.1.  Figure out what your exchange student is going to call you. You can have them call you mom or dad or by your first name. Whatever it is you’d like them to call you, be sure to tell your exchange student what that is. This is a good way of opening up communication among the family and making yourself approachable to your exchange student.

2.  Be clear about the expectations of the house. In fact write down any house rules and go through them with your exchange student. The students are in a totally new situation, and some structure will help them adjust to it.

3.  Privacy! These students will be a part of your family in no time, but everyone needs privacy, even--and sometimes especially--with their family. This can be done in very simple ways such as, giving them some time to themselves each day, and making yourself available without hovering over them. A little privacy can go a long way in building trust.

4.  Don’t plan too much for them, at least not when they first arrive. We know you’re excited and they are too. But they’ve also just arrived in an unfamiliar place after a long trip, so give them a little time to adjust. You’ll have plenty of time for activities once the jet lag has worn off.

5.  They’re new here, so be patient. Yes, they’ve studied English, but they’ll still need some time to get used to speaking it outside of their classroom. The students will also need time to get used to aspects of American life that most of us take for granted. Of course you’re there to help guide them through it, but some things just have to be experienced. They’ll be comfortable in no time, so just be patient.

Have any tips yourself? Share them on our Facebook page or Twitter account!

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Marya Young - Host Mom & International Alumna - Ohio


Hosted student from China

In 1979, a 14-year old girl named Marya from Iran was anxiously awaiting word of her host family in America. Prior to Marya's departure for the US, there were serious anti-American demonstrations happening in Tehran. Shortly after Marya arrived in the US, the Iran hostage crisis occurred. Because of the escalating political conflicts between Iran and America, many people had a fear of taking a student from Iran into their home.

Like many other times, area reps came forward and agreed to take Marya as a second student in their home until they found a replacement home for Marya. Marya was extremely excited because now she had the sisters she had never had in her life and felt like she was blessed with a very kind family: YFU volunteer host parents Larry and Virginia from Ohio. Things worked out so beautifully between Marya and her new host family that she soon became "permanent." Following this positive experience, Marya chose America as her permanent home, and she is a proud American citizen by choice today.

It was Marya's dream as a teenager to someday open her home to exchange students when she had her family. During the last 10 years, Marya and her husband, Jim, and their daughters, Shayda and Shaia, have hosted a number of exchange students from all over the world. They currently are having a fabulous time with their daughter Shirley from China. The wonderful part of this story is that 29 years later, Marya is still in close contact with her host family, and she now not only has sisters, but she is also an aunt. What if Marya had not been selected because we were afraid of political conflicts?

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

Paul & Lolly Scannell - Host Parents - Connecticut


Hosted 21 students from around the world, including Yemen

Paul and Lolly Scannell have been a host family for Youth For Understanding for more than 20 years. In that time, their family has hosted 21 students from all over the world. The Scannell's current host son is Abdulla from Yemen, who is a part of a YES program that was launched to build bridges of understanding between the United States and countries of the Arab and Muslim world.

Can you share some of the best memories and unexpected surprises from your hosting experience?

“All our host children have been a pleasure to have— we have so many fond memories and funny stories to share. Last year our student from Germany created a CD with pictures and music documenting his exchange experience from preparation back home to good-byes in the U.S. This project obviously took a lot of time and energy to complete, and it made us feel special to see what a difference we made in this young person's life. It is very rewarding to see how students grow up and mature during this experience. We hear a lot of "Thank You's" from their natural families for all the love, support and help we've given, for being a real family to students and treating them as our own children.”

“One of the unexpected surprises: seven of our former host students traveled to the U.S. from all over the world to throw a surprise party for us. It was great having them back! Some stayed for a couple of months and we had a fun time.”

“With hosting, you actually get to do so many things that you would not ordinarily do. Just a couple of weeks ago we went to New York, and we are taking Abdulla and will be meeting other exchange students from Sweden and France in the Bahamas for our son's wedding in a couple of months.”

What advice would you give to all host families?

“Enjoy every minute and every opportunity of this experience. Treat the students as you would treat your own children; they are not tourists, they need love, support and guidance. Each student is different, with a unique personality, and they are teenagers—so be patient and understanding. Hosting is a wonderful experience. Have fun and learn all you can from it.”

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

Jennifer Islas - Host Mom & Alumna - California


Hosted students from Switzerland and Estonia

Jennifer is a first-time host mom of two exchange students this year: Ago, from Estonia, and Céline, from Switzerland. She agreed to share some highlights of their family's hosting experience.

How did you first hear about YFU and why did you decide to become a host family?

“I was a YFU exchange student to Japan when I was seventeen, and my daughter went on a program to Australia last year, so we are very familiar with international exchange. Our family experienced the rewards of being an exchange student and the importance of a host family as a part of it, so we decided to open our home and welcome two very different but perfectly fitting young people in to our family.”

What is the best part of hosting?

“I love everything about it. We have shared so many wonderful experiences together as a family. We laugh a lot and talk for hours and have fun! We don't turn the TV on in the evenings anymore —we get so involved in conversations and games that we don't notice the time fly by, and then it's after 11 and time to go to bed. We talk about different cultures, funny stories, memories, history and politics. It is so fascinating to explore our differences and find surprising similarities."

“It doesn't cost a lot of money to host an exchange student and have a great time. They simply want to be a part of your family. We have the best times of our life playing Scrabble, card games and laughing at jokes. It is easy to come up with fun things to do— all you need is imagination. We often download silly laws in the United States and other countries— and we go over them laughing about how silly they are. We teach each other card games and play table games. It is really fun to play Scrabble with Céline and Ago, because they think of words in their own language (both of them speak 3 languages), so we tried playing it in different languages. We take road trips and go snow boarding; we also have been to San Francisco a couple of times. It is fun to get out and spend time together.”

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

Sue & Frank Boley - Host Parents - Michigan


Hosted 36 students from around the world

Ten Questions for the Boley Family

Boley Host FamilySue and Frank Boley of Marshall, Michigan have been hosting exchange students since 1982. They have welcomed students from Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Estonia, Japan, Thailand, China, and Brazil. YFU USA took time to catch up with this incredible family to ask about their extraordinary journey which continues to this day…

What prompted you to begin hosting?

Coincidentally, we both (separately) read a newspaper article on exchange students. We ended up having a conversation about it, made a phone call to YFU, and took that first step. It ended up encouraging our children, Kristy (age 5) and Jon (age 12) to become “siblings to the world.” Both are now grown and married, and Jon actually met his wife, who is from China, while he was living in Finland.

You’ve hosted thirty-six students and are welcoming two more this year. What drives you to continue to host?

We love getting to know the kids and their families. They grow so much as the school year progresses, and it’s fulfilling to see them mature and learn about themselves as well as their home countries.

How do you introduce your students to the community?

Once the students arrive, we take them everywhere we go and introduce them to everyone we know.  If we have a musical student, we introduce them to the music teachers at school and church; if we have an athletic student, we introduce them to the coaches.  We also take them to local service clubs, middle schools, and elementary schools and have them do presentations on their home countries.

Does anyone in your family now speak a foreign language?

Having attended a three week seminar, we now speak a smattering of Finnish. Our daughter-in-law and son have 2 girls who are trilingual; they speak Chinese, English and Spanish.

Have you traveled to visit former host students?

Yes! We travel about every other summer to visit past students.  We’ve visited Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, and Russia.

What American activities/sports/clubs have your students excelled at in the past?

Our kids have participated in quite a few activities – swimming, soccer, band, orchestra, and the favorite American pastime of shopping.

Has your family diet changed at all because of students?

We do try to keep a healthy diet which includes lots of Asian dishes.

How have exchange students influenced you and your children?

At age fifteen, our daughter Kristy traveled to Finland to visit her Finnish brothers and sisters.  Our son Jon has married a Chinese woman whom he met while studying in Finland. They subsequently studied together in London.

How often do you stay in touch with former students?

We are still in touch with most of our past students via email and holiday cards.

If a family is “on the fence” about hosting, what advice would you share with them?

If a family is on a fence about hosting, we suggest that they try it for a short time as an arrival, just to see if it works for them.  Most of the students are good kids and everyone learns a lot from each other.  As the kids grow up the rewards are great, and if we don’t take risks we don’t grow.

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

Laura Wang & Frank Xu - Host Parents - New Jersey


Hosted a German Exchange Student

An Asian-European-American Connection

WangXuAsian-American host parents Laura Wang and Frank Xu of West Windsor, NJ are often times the object of second looks and double takes when out in public with their host son Fabian Stuermer-Heiber. A German “blonde and blue,” Fabian and his host brother Elliott tend to draw lots of attention when the family is out to dinner, at the movies, or simply shopping at the neighborhood grocery store. The family is taking the extra attention in stride, and Frank and Laura often tease Fabian for being their ‘lost European’ son.

When asked about the family’s unusual dynamic, Laura commented that Fabian quickly became accustomed to the life of Asian Americans: his chopstick skills are refined, he eats rice everyday, and he drinks his soup with loud slurps. Laura added, “We are one normal, happy family with two sons- one just looks a little different from the other…If we were asked to redo this whole thing, we would pick the same student and host him in the same way, except that maybe we could try to love him a little less so that the separation would not be too hard.”

A relatively new concept in the Asian American community, the trend of hosting international students is on the rise. These occasions offer students a unique window into multi-cultural American society.

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

Devon Morera - Host Sister - New Jersey


Devon's family hosts a student from Germany

Confessions of a Host Sister

By Devon Morera, Stewartsville, NJ

Her name was Mona. She was tall, slim, 15-years-old, and redheaded. Her interests included the flute, volleyball, and reading. She was from Hamburg, Germany. As I scanned the details on the exchange student’s profile, I instantly liked her, as I played an instrument and liked to read as well. I then turned to Mona’s personal letter, and through her writing I could see that she was a very pleasant and charming girl. Although my parents were not planning to host an exchange student anytime in the near future, I felt that I had to meet Mona; I had to be her host sister.

A few weeks and a lot of discussion later, we decided to host Mona for the entire 2007-08 school year. My younger sister and I were so excited because we would get to have another sister for a year! Even though I would not meet Mona for a couple months, I was already planning on spending lots of time with her, learning about her culture while showing her mine, reminiscing about Europe (I was about to go on a six-week exchange to Poland), and becoming best friends. I had even written an essay for English class about how excited I was to meet her. When Mona arrived at Newark airport at approximately 12:30 A.M. on August 17, quite energetic and friendly despite the fact that she had probably been awake for almost 24 hours, my fantasies about having another confidante still held true. However, it was clear from the events that unfolded during the year that I was a bit idealistic.

Morera Exchange StudentI had never thought that Mona and I might not always get along. After all, I had chosen to have her live with us. I should have known this though, considering that I had already been an older sister for almost fourteen years and was used to the inevitable bickering, sharing the bathroom and fighting for attention. Now, instead of having one younger sibling with whom to vie for space, I had two. Also, I was a junior in high school, and had more schoolwork than I had expected. I was very stressed. It was an obvious recipe for tension.

The one thing that caused the most strife between Mona and I was the amount of attention people seemed to give her, and the dearth of attention I thought they gave me. As a quiet person, I had enough trouble trying to get others’ attention and feel included. While today I am happy that so many people were not only friendly to Mona but also genuinely interested in her culture, at the time I felt both jealous and jilted that random strangers, relatives, and friends would ignore me in favor of having an engaging conversation with “The German Girl.” For example, at an ice cream shop, a woman asked Mona about the activities occurring at the high school, but ignored my sister and me until Mona introduced us. I did not directly take my frustration out on Mona, but I was angry with her for being able to charm people instantly, while this was extremely difficult for me. Often, being around her made me feel like I was a supporting actor or even an extra in a movie starring Mona. It felt like I had lost my identity. I wanted people to notice me when I spoke, to think of me as “Devon,” instead of “Mona’s host sister.”

Morera Exchange StudentAlthough I was often frustrated with Mona, we definitely did get along at times. Mona was always curious about how my day was, and was concerned when I was upset. When one of my friends had hurt my feelings, she made sure I was okay. When my crush had given me a ride home from an academic team event, she wanted to know all the details. Mona became one of my confidantes. I could tell her secrets or opinions that I had trouble expressing to others. We even planned to drive to the beach once I had my license. I realize that, at times, we were quite close. In some ways, we were like sisters.

However, I did not admit to myself that Mona was not purposely trying to steal attention from me until it was almost time for her to return to Germany. It was then that I realized that I should have been proud that I was hosting such an amiable girl. While I did learn a lot about Mona’s culture when we were at home, I wish I had listened when she shared it with other people, instead of letting my anger silently stew. Mona is a very kind, funny, and genuine person who I am glad that I got to know over the past school year. She did not become homesick; she truly wanted to immerse herself in our culture. I love her adorably off-key rendition of “Bleeding Love.” I miss the fact that she was only a few steps away if I wanted to talk to her. Now, there is an ocean between us. That being said, one of my biggest regrets is not recognizing this sooner.

Hosting Mona was probably one of the best learning experiences I have had. Of course, hosting an exchange student exposed me to a different culture; however, the most important thing I learned was how to improve myself. I had to adapt to sharing the house (more so the bathroom than anything else) with an extra person, which will definitely help me adapt to life in a residence hall at a college. Also, I realized that I could not gain a new best friend by simply choosing to have her live with me. Developing strong friendships can take months or years of work; we cannot develop them overnight or out of convenience. My true friends are people whose genuine interest and care in me never wavers, people who always identify me as my own person, and I am more grateful for them than ever before. Finally, I learned a huge lesson about myself. If I want people to notice me, I have to make an effort to be outgoing. I also have tell myself that there will be some instances where I may feel ignored or boring, but I have to get past them and not let them shake my confidence.

Airport Arrival exchange studentI am very grateful that Mona and I ended up getting along by the end of her visit to the United States. The last week of her stay was probably the most bittersweet. My family packed a lot of activities into that week; we went to a water park, had a going away party for Mona, and took her to see the movie Sex and the City the night before her very early flight. I had not gotten my driver’s license before she left, but I did have my permit. Mona wanted to go with me when I practiced driving, so I drove her around our town during one of my father’s driving lessons. We may not have made it to the beach, but Mona was still happy that I was able to drive her somewhere. Leaving Mona at the airport was one of the saddest things I have ever had to do. The first few weeks after she left were surreal. It was weird not having the house filled with her chatter. Everyone in my family instantly became sad when we heard “Bleeding Love” on the radio, but no Mona singing along. Luckily, thanks to modern technology, I have been able to communicate with Mona via Facebook. She may visit the United States next fall, and I hope I will be able to visit her home when I study abroad in college. The next time I see Mona, I know we will be as close as we were by the end of her stay. We will greet each other, happy, reunited, as sisters.

This story was originally posted on the author’s blog and was reprinted with permission.

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

Cindy Krause - Host Mother - Michigan


Cindy's family hosts a student from China

HostFamilyVisitsStudentChinaOn a whim, in late spring 2008 my family decided to host an exchange student for the upcoming school year.  By August, we were at the airport, awaiting her arrival.  The kids were excited, my husband was a little bemused by how rapidly everything had happened, and I was beginning to wonder if I had lost my mind, adding a teenager to an already busy household.  With other waiting families, we anxiously waited…and then we saw a bedraggled group of teenagers walking down the hall toward us.  There was no mistaking our student – Yuting recognized us from the photos we had sent, and she pointed, shrieked, and ran in to my arms!  Our adventure began.

From the moment we saw her small profile picture, we knew Yuting was the one for us.  We adopted our daughter from China eight years ago, and we were looking forward to adding a “big sister” to our family.  Yuting’s smile and love of life assured us that she was the one!  Little did we know the magnitude of the adventure for Yuting.  Only as we got to know her better did we find out that she had never been outside the city of Beijing before, never been on an airplane…the list of things she hadn’t done was so much larger than the list of things that she had done!

Yuting leaped right in to life in the U.S.  She was willing to try just about anything and everything, and we had so much fun taking her to football games, baseball games, hockey games…she learned to ski, horseback ride, ice skate…she attended church, went on church retreats, and participated in our church musical…she made friends everywhere she went and rarely did a weekend go by that she didn’t have an invitation from someone to do something!  She traveled to Chicago, Ohio, New York, Washington D.C., and San Antonio, Texas.  So many things that we did with her we had already done before, but suddenly we were seeing it through her eyes.

Within our family, Yuting bridged the gap between our 2nd grade daughter and our 8th grade son.  She was a fantastic big sister to our daughter, and had endless patience with her.  With our son, she spent many happy hours watching movies and tv shows, and it wasn’t unusual to find the three of them playing a game, jumping on the trampoline, or just hanging out together.

After ten months, it came time to put Yuting back on a plane to Beijing.  I think we would have all cried more tears, except that we knew without a doubt that we would see her again.  Happily, this past April, we did indeed see her…when our family traveled to China for spring break!  We started our trip in Beijing, and this time the roles were reversed.  When four weary travelers walked through the doors of the airport, there stood Yuting and her mom and dad, ready to greet us…and once again, there was a huge smile on her face!

We had the amazing opportunity to spend a full day with Yuting and her extended family.  They treated us to a wonderful meal at a famous Beijing restaurant, where we were treated as the guests of honor.  We got to visit their apartment, and we spent several wonderful hours relaxing and laughing with her family – despite the fact that they don’t speak English and we don’t speak Chinese.  The love for their daughter by all of us definitely bridged the gap.

Yuting hopes to visit us again next summer, and our home will always be open to her.  We know that we changed her life in so many ways, but we also know that we will never be the same after meeting her.  Our family has grown and we have added one more daughter. 

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

Brad & Janet Joyner - Host Parents - North Carolina


Hosted 3 students; including Res from Switzerland

Brad & Janet's Story

YFU Exchange Student ResHaving hosted YFU exchange students for three years has been extremely rewarding for us, as we have no children of our own.  Hosting allows us the opportunity to share our home, our life and our love, as well as American traditions and culture.

This year has been no exception.  Res arrived in August; it is now June and he will be returning to Switzerland very soon. My, how these ten months have flown!  Res has truly become a member of our family.  Many people throughout this year have even commented to us that Res and Brad look alike!  Throughout this year, Res has excelled academically at Southern Nash High School, as well as athletically, participating on the school’s tennis team.  Not only have we been able to share our American culture with Res, but we have in turn learned a lot about Swiss traditions and cuisine.  We have also enjoyed getting to “meet” his family via webcam.

Hosting is not about changing your family’s current lifestyle, but is about your exchange student blending into your family’s routine. Although we will be sad to see him leave, we will always know that we have a “son” in Switzerland!

Res's Story

YFU Swiss Exchange StudentMy name is Res and I am from Switzerland. I am in my exchange year in North Carolina. This year is almost over and I can not even express in words what a great experience I had during the past ten months.

It always was my dream to come to the United States for an exchange year, so my dream became true. However, I never thought it was going to be as great as it turned out. I didn`t have a host family until two weeks before my flight to the USA, so I didn’t know what to expect. But after I arrived I knew quickly that I got really lucky to stay with my great host parents.

After I arrived in Raleigh, I started my first day of high school at Southern Nash. I didn’t know anybody, but everyone showed a lot of interest in this foreign European guy. Of course, I struggled a little bit with my English and it was hard to understand the southern accent as well, but the other students and the teachers were really nice and helped me out. So now after ten months I actually dream in English - strange isn’t it?

During this year I saw so many things and I had so many amazing experiences. I could tell stories all day long. At my school it didn’t take long to find friends because the other teenagers are really cool and tried to get to know me better. At the beginning I didn’t think that the friendships here were going to be that close compared with my friendships from back home; I have known my Swiss friends ever since was a little boy.  But after I got to know the guys better and better we all became really close friends even in this short time of ten months. So now the thought of leaving all those people gives me a really hard time.I am very thankful that I got to stay with my host parents, the Joyners. We had an incredible time and they are just amazing people. They showed me the American lifestyle, the culture, the area around Rocky Mount where we live, different places in North Carolina and they even took me to the beach a few times. But besides that they also showed me that they are my American parents and they included me in their life as if I was their own son.

While I was here I also met other exchange students from a lot of different countries and even got the chance to visit California, New York and Washington DC. High School is very different from school in Switzerland. It was really cool to have classes like weightlifting or art but besides the “easy” classes I also learned a lot about the USA and its history. The high school’s spirit, the teachers, and the students were all just amazing.

My host dad is a history teacher, and he also coaches tennis at Southern Nash. After I first got here he told me about the successful tennis history of the Firebirds and that they made it to the state semifinal the past two years. I was really impressed, and even though I didn’t play tennis for the past five years, I wanted to play for my school. So I started practicing during the off- season and during the winter with the other guys and my host dad. I never ever thought that I would improve that much but I did and at the beginning of the season in February and ended up being the #1 ranked player on the team. Our team was great and we all were like brothers. We helped each other to get better and our coach (my host dad) led us to the playoffs with the conference title. We finished the season with a loss in the state semifinal.

A few weeks ago we had our senior awards day. I honestly thought that I won’t win any awards as an exchange student because I just attended the school for one year. But I got surprised! I won the Senior Art Award and the US History Award. I was so happy and it was such a great honor for me. Later in the day we also had the senior awards night where the colleges announce scholarships and different awards are given away. After I already got surprised in the morning I didn’t expect any more awards. But then two US Army officers went on the stage and started talking about an award – and to my surprise they said that I am the winner. I really didn’t realize it until my friend poked me and said YFU Exchange Student Res“Dude, that’s you!” So I went on the stage and got an award and certificate for athletic and academic excellence from the US Army. I couldn’t believe it! It was the biggest honor for me.

I will miss my host parents and friends once I return to Switzerland, but I will never forget my exchange year of 2009 and 2010- it was the best year of my life.

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Jeff & Leslie Thom - Host Family - California


Hosted several students including Lukas from Germany

“Unexpectedly Great…”

Thom FamilyWhen Lukas, a YFU German exchange student, was initially informed that his American host parents were totally blind, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect. His initial reaction was how can a blind couple function, be self sufficient and independent? But he kept an open mind and prepared himself for a new adventure.

It wasn’t long before the Thoms welcomed Lukas into their home. Jeff Thom, an attorney with the State of California, and his wife Leslie, a food services worker, are residents of Sacramento. The Thoms have a sixteen-year-old daughter Andi (who also has a visual impairment) and a guide dog named Harry.

The Thoms had previously hosted a number of international teenagers, but Lukas is their first male student. They enjoy hosting because they find it fascinating to meet people from other cultures, and it has a positive influence on their daughter Andi – exposing her to different ideas and people from around the world. The Thoms face typical challenges that most host families encounter: personality clashes, enforcing house rules, communication, and coaxing shy students to be more outgoing.

Lukas says that his experience at the Thom household was “unexpectedly great…,” and doesn’t feel that he missed out on anything. He has learned to use the public transportation system in Sacramento and can get anywhere he needs to go in the city. He has also learned to plan ahead for his activities. His favorite experiences in America include a trip to Death Valley, a visit to San Francisco, and having the opportunity to make so many American friends.

When asked what advice he would share with future students who will live in a household with a disabled parent or parents, Lukas recommends having a positive attitude and keeping an open mind.

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Aurora Cerron - Exchange Student - Lima, Peru


An international exchange student to Adrian, Michigan

A Four-Decade-in-the-Making Letter To My Host Father


Aurora Cerron is a 1969/1970 YFU alumna from Peru.  The Bonner family of Adrian, Michigan hosted Aurora during her YFU program. Despite long distances and time apart, Aurora and her host parents remained close for decades following her exchange year. In 1976, the Bonners visited Peru to meet her family; Aurora subsequently visited the Bonners in Michigan four more times – she was joined by her two children during a 1997 visit.

The letter below was composed by Aurora congratulating her host dad on his 90th birthday. Sadly, W. Leigh Bonner passed away two weeks after receiving the letter. It was read aloud at his funeral service with more than 100 in attendance. W. Leigh is survived by his wife Mrs. Lois Bonner, pictured below with Aurora during a recent visit to the United States.

Lima, Peru - October 22, 2010

Dear Dad,

Happy Birthday to you, Dad!!! Ninety years old!!! And 40 great years of being in contact!!!

The year 1970 – it seems like yesterday, when Mr. McGrath talked to you about me and I moved in with you and Mom. I will never forget that day. The driveway was full of snow, and as soon as I arrived to your house I felt at home in Clarkston. Now that I look back, I can share with you and Mom that the time I spent with you and my teachers and classmates at Clarkston Senior High was one of the most important and rewarding years in my life. Your example, values, and principles have helped me in my personal and professional life. These days, I can proudly see those same values in my children, Tito and Diana. I am so, so grateful for it.

In these 40 years, a lot has happened, and I have shared with you and Mom the happy and sad moments in my life. You smiled at my successes and encouraged me during difficult times, and in the absence of my own parents you became even closer to me. Thank you very much for being there!!!

You and Mom are in our prayers. Take care and God Bless You!!!

With all my love and gratitude and that of Tito and Diana,


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Brad & LaDonna Stuart - Host Parents & Volunteers - Michigan


Hosted students from China and Germany

When Brad and LaDonna Stuart of Homer, Michigan, welcomed Kanjicai ("Brock") into their home for the 2006-07 school year, they never dreamed they would be eating dinner with his natural family in Dong Guan, China in less than a year.

Brock invited the Stuarts to join him in China upon his return home. "Between everything I read in the newspaper and everything I've heard about China, I have to admit I was pretty scared," said LaDonna. "But Brock lived with us for almost a year and shared our culture, and I wanted to share his. What we discovered in China was totally unexpected and wonderful! There is a certain patience among the people, and so much beauty in China."

The Stuarts embarked on their 18-day journey in August 2007, and their trip made front-page news at home. The Index, which serves the Homer and Lichfield area in Michigan, featured an article chronicling their travels to the Temple of Heaven, Great Wall of China, the emperors' tombs from the Ming Dynasty, and the site of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. LaDonna, who never passes up a chance to promote YFU, was happy to talk with reporter Pete Cunningham and share the joy of her cultural exchange experience.

"The people were very, very friendly and everybody just couldn't do enough for us. We were treated like a king and queen," she told the Index. "A lot of people there have never seen an American, so we were kind of like celebrities. Everybody would just do all they could for us even if they had very little." Brad and LaDonna have hosted 15 YFU students from six different countries.

As volunteer area representatives, they tirelessly promote YFU throughout their community. LaDonna agreed to the interview with the caveat that there would be a mention of the need for host families in Homer, and the article concluded with information on how to learn more about becoming a host family.

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Jan Buckman & Su- Host Mom & Exchange Daughter - Iowa


Mother and daughter share their perspective

Jan & Su

1) What inspired you to become an exchange student in the US?

A couple of my classmates from my boarding school in China were also in the YFU exchange program. They loved it! I too wanted to experience the same opportunity as well. I knew that this experience would help me become more independent and stronger and would make my friends and teachers very proud. I thought that the exchange program would have help Americans realize that Chinese people are fun and easy people to get along with. I hoped this experience will show that I’m an outgoing person with a sunshine personality. 

2) What were your expectations before coming on program?  How was life different than what you expected?I expected my English to improve and build strong relationships with American friends from school and my host family. I also anticipate that through this experience I will become more mature.

I actually made more friends than I expected. I was part of my school’s soccer team and participated in many school activities, all of which made me realize that I am very outgoing. I was fortunate in that I was able to travel around the United States to see different states. My host family was wonderful; my host mom is like a second mother to me. She is very caring and loving.

3) At what moment did you stop feeling like a visitor and start feeling like a member of the community?I always felt as if I was a member of the community. Prior to coming to America, I used to SKYPE my host mom and she introduced me to the members of the family and showed and talked to me about life in Iowa City. My school had already known about my arrival before I came. So I got a lot of attention, which made me feel at home too. The kids from my church were also super excited for me to join them and to become a member of the community.

4) What important lesson did you learn while on program?I learned several lessons while on the program. I learned how to adjust to a new and different environment. I learned that being confident and happy with a positive attitude attracts more friends. You never know when good things might happen, so you need to be prepared at anytime. This helped me realize that participating in activities can be a form of character building and making and meeting friends. I gained lots of lessons on communication. I learned to never be shy and that it’s OK to make mistakes or ask questions. My host mom also explained that in order to know, you must ask. I’m now never afraid to talk or communicate with others. I learned that the closest people to me were my host family members. I never hide any of my feelings or anything from them, especially my host mom.

5) What did you learn about yourself during the past year?I learned and appreciated my actual family more after the program. I realized how much they love me and how hard it was to allow me to come to a foreign country for a whole year without them. Prior to coming to the states, I thought that I was perfect to be a foreign exchange student. I know now that perfection is not easy to come by, but that the way to get better is from experience and learning.

Su & Jan6) How will this experience change you as a person?This experience taught me how to be a strong young woman. I also learned how to become more independent. This experience gave me more ideas about the American educational system, which will hopefully prepare me for college. The program overall taught me how to appreciate and value family. I gained a greater love for both my host family and actual family.

Thoughts from Su’s Host Mother Jan Buckman

1) What inspired you to host an international student?  I love studying cultures and traveling domestically and abroad, so when I was asked to host a student, I didn't hesitate to say yes! Years ago as a graduate student, I was the first student to be sent abroad on an academic exchange program. I was left on my own with no support, and the host families were not screened. It was not a happy experience. After I returned, I promised myself that I would do whatever I could to make other exchange students' experiences a successful and happy one.

2) What were your expectations before the hosting year began? Was the experience different from what you expected?  Based on my own experience as an exchange student, I expected that that they would arrive feeling excited, apprehensive, fearful and hopeful. The experience wasn't very different from what I expected, but I think if I hadn't already lived abroad, my expectations would have been different.

2) What important lessons did you learn while hosting? The most important lesson - and this is an ongoing process - is better communication. Sometimes it's hard to open up discussions about sensitive or difficult topics, but the earlier they can be addressed, the less chance of the stress and misunderstanding building up to a crisis. One of the phrases we use a lot in my house is, "If no one tells you, how are you supposed to know?"

4) At what point did Su become a part of your family? Su became a part of our family almost immediately. She embraced new customs and habits, and enjoyed sharing her own with us. She freely shared her fears and joys with us, trusted us to look out for her interests, she showed an interest in our lives and family, and made herself a beloved family member rather than a boarder in our home. She has become a true daughter to us and will always have a special place in our hearts. We know she needs to return to her life in China, but she will leave a huge hole in our hearts. We'll miss her terribly. She has brought so much joy and laughter to our lives this year!

5) What did you learn about yourself during the exchange year? I learned that even though I am in the business of communication (a former professor and social worker), I can always improve my communication skills.

6) How will this experience change you as a person?It continues to fuel my passion for international exchange and travel. The more I get to know the students and learn about other cultures, the more I want to experience them for myself.

Photos reprinted with permission of Amy Barker Photography

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Ray & Debi Martin - Host Parents - California


Hosted 14 students including Rasheed from Yemen

Rasheed"Over the past 24 years, we have hosted 14 exchange students from many different countries but never from the Middle East.  This past semester was our first experience with a Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) student from Yemen. Rasheed was a great representative of his country. He held several presentations at school about his country and his culture and impressed everyone with his candor and enthusiasm. He is very proud of Yemen, and he showed us his native garb, pictures and traditional dance. When we traveled to San Francisco, we went to a Yemeni restaurant. Over the year, we had numerous discussions about the similarities and differences between Yemeni and American cultures.

We are strong believers in the power of the exchange experience. When our children were younger, we felt that exchange students opened their eyes to peoplefrom different countries and family backgrounds. Our children are adults now, but we still feel that we can offer exchange students a positive American experience. We hope that real-life experiences here in the US will help increase understanding and reduce stereotypes. This may sound trite, but we truly feel that the people involved in student exchange are doing their part to work towards world peace. Without doubt, hosting an exchange student is a life-changing experience!"

~ Ray & Debi Martin of California

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Frank & Lisa McCoy - Host Parents - Iowa


First time host family

Sawatdee kaa! (Hello in Thai!)

After getting over the initial fears about hosting, and with our daughter begging us to do so, our family decided to sign up as a YFU host family. We first meet with our Area Rep (Rob), who set our minds at ease and answered all of our questions.

Our exchange student arrived on August 24th from Bangkok, Thailand. We knew she would be tired as she had been flying all day and night to get to us. We were waiting with a YFU Student Welcomeposter, balloons and a stuffed animal in hand. There were a lot of emotions going on… would she recognize us right away? Would we recognize her right away? We were nervous, excited, happy…

Chaya walked off the plane and was greeted with a big hug by our daughter Hayley. That hug is one of my favorite pictures! It was like they had known each other for years! They had formed a bond over the internet as sisters and were so glad to finally meet each other face to face. I thought the language barrier might be hard for all of us but the more we got to know each other, the easier it was to communicate.

After a couple days of resting, getting unpacked and registering for school, Chaya really began to open up and join in family conversations. We learned a lot about her culture and shared some of ours with her as well. We try to learn as many Thai words as we can – it’s always a fun conversation to have around the dinner table for all of us.

Chaya has truly become a part of our family and we can’t imagine what we would have missed out on had we not taken this leap with YFU. We never expected to bond so quickly, but she is making this experience so easy for us. She is such a joy to have in our home and we look forward to showing her as much of the Midwest as we can. Youth For Understanding is a great program and has many resources available for families with the same nerves and questions as we once did. We are so blessed to have Chaya as part of our family and look forward to a year full of new adventures and cultural learning experiences for the wholefamily.

Frank, Lisa, Hayley and ChayaIowa

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My YFU Family Is The Best Because...


My YFU Family is the BEST because…

Eleven of our twenty-one YFU daughters joined us in Berlin this month for a big family reunion!

The official event was three days long with lots of chocolate chip cookies, s'mores, stories and pictures.  It was great fun to watch these lovely, accomplished young women get to know each other, swap stories and discover what exchange student experiences they shared.  We played a game "Stand up if you ate tacos as your first meal . . . made homemade ice cream . . . played in the orchestra . . . talked to Uncle Bob about his stamp collection . . . liked root beer . . ."  We met their parents, husbands, boyfriends and five of our nine YFU grandchildren.  Five of our daughters live in Berlin. We got to see their homes, walk their neighborhoods and meet them for an afternoon at a museum or in Potsdam before and after the reunion itself. We even randomly run into one daughter on a busy Berlin shopping street!  Two live within a short distance of one another and one of my favorite mornings involved leaving one house, walking to the local Saturday market, then popping over to the other's house to retrieve something.  The grandchildren were excited to see me again and I could wish my YFU son-in-law a happy birthday in person.  By the time we left, we felt very at home in many corners of Berlin.

We originally initiated the idea of the reunion last fall and set up the basic outline of events, but it was our daughters and their families who pulled it all together and filled in all the gaps, made the food, organized the adventures, hosted the ones coming in from afar and put together a scrapbook for us to express what their years abroad had meant to them.  My YFU family is the best.

--- Susan was a host mom from 1989 to 2011 and a volunteer from Charlottesville, VA.

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My YFU Family Is The Best Because...


My YFU Family Is The Best Because...

“You will not see the world the same way anymore!”

---- Fabio from Brazil lived as a member with of the Hanoch family in Texas

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My YFU Family Is The Best Because...


My YFU Family is the BEST because…

They took me to so many places, but also they made this year unforgettable, amazing, and fun.  We visit so many places: Alligator Land, Universal Studios (still can’t believe that I did this free drop thing), St. Augustine and the beach in Florida, the Zoo, the Cahokia Mounts, the Arch and the Art Museum in St. Louis, the Big Been, the Mall and the John Hancock Observatory in Chicago.

One of the best weeks here was - of course - the YFU east coast trip (NYC, Washington DC, Philadelphia), but only because my American sister, Sarah was with me. […]And I will never forget how we waltz on 5th Avenue, and switched our name tags which included our home country (we basically confused everyone; people tried talking in German to her and didn’t believe that I am not American, so they started talking in German).

My host family also made this year special, because they took me to Kings Island, Jungle Jim’s, Metamora, and on college visits, they taught me how to ride horses and told us many funny stories from their work (who trades their calculator for a candy bar, seriously?!). They had so much patience with my English, okay and probably a lot of fun too…My host sister used to write similar words down and draw pictures. They always helped me with school stuff. Since my host mom is a Math teacher, she basically could answer every of those stupid math question, and for my Personal Finance Class my host dad tried to explain the weird US tax system to me.

I enjoyed my time here and I am so happy and grateful that they convinced me to do swimming (maybe) and tennis, and supported me to do all those clubs, … okay except FFA (I realized all leaves look the same), but everything else (BPA, Model Legislature, FCCLA, Academic Team, Prom Committee) was a lot of fun. I am so happy that I could be a part of their family, and experience so much. America is different (weird) in many ways, but also the same. (Who gets first in the shower? … Grrr I am pretty sure my host brother takes 30 minutes showers, who calls shotgun first? … most the times I did not … Etc.) Anyway there are many reasons why this host family was the best for me and I probably could fill hundreds of pages with it.

-- Nina from Germany lived as a member of the Baumer family in Mooreland, IN

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