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News - Youth For Understanding USA

Latest news about Youth for Understanding USA student exchange programs worldwide – Events – Partnerships.

YFU: Why you should consider taking a gap year to study abroad

Jennifer McKendree

Finishing high school and entering college is a big, oftentimes confusing transition. Students have studied and worked for the big event, graduation; and after marching across the stage in cap and gown, many students wind up feeling exhausted and even overwhelmed by it all. That's perfectly normal. Yet, the majority of kids going on to college do so the very next fall semester, without stepping back and assessing what they really want out of life. Taking a gap year between high school and college to study abroad is just the fix for that.

What's a gap year? It's time off between stages of life. A student defers college admission to travel the world, volunteer or study abroad. It's very common in other countries like the U.K., less so here. It's also known as a 13th Year Program.

Taking a gap year to study abroad is a great option for graduating seniors. Here's why:

Students get a break in the action before jumping headlong into college. Even though they're still technically in school, the whole experience of living in another country makes it fresh and new.

Students get time to reflect. High school, especially the last few years of it, can be hectic and competitive for top students. A gap year allows students to take a breath, free from all of that competition (whether it's with him or herself or others) and take stock in who they really are and what they want.

It prepares students for independence. Living away from home for the first time can be a jarring, even traumatic experience. Many college freshmen are homesick, feeling pulled away from everything that's familiar and safe. If they've spent a year living abroad, going away to college is no big deal. It's crucial that they are affiliated with a program like YFU. We give students the tools to succeed with a full orientation program before they embark, and a safe environment with a vetted host family.

Living abroad changes people for the better. Living with a host family in another country, and just going about the daily business of living in a country that is not your own, opens your mind, expands your view and broadens your horizons. It's an education in itself. A student will grow and evolve as a person, learning norms of a different culture, and will come home with a new perspective on life.

It looks good on a resume. After a student returns home and attends college or trade school, there will come a time when he or she is ready to start looking for a first real job. At this stage of the game, resumes can look a little flimsy. But a year of study abroad tells prospective employers that the job candidate in front of them, who might not have any work experience, is a self-starter, independent, responsible and reliable.

Intrigued? Find out more about YFU's 13th Year programs here.

Have Study Abroad Questions? We Can Help!

Jennifer McKendree

Pop into one of our Virtual Information Nights (VINs) and have your study abroad questions answered LIVE!  Events feature YFU USA alumni, registration staff, and partner country participants to give you a first hand perspective on the application process AND what you might expect to experience once you reach your study abroad destination.

Study Abroad Session:

  • Tuesday, Feb 5, 9:00 PM- 10:00 PM EST- Topic TBD

  • Thursday, Feb 21, 8:00 PM- 9:00 PM EST- Topic TBD

  • Monday, Mar 4, 9:00 PM- 10:00 PM EST- Topic TBD

  • Tuesday, Mar 12, 8:00 PM- 9:00 PM EST- Topic TBD

Registration for all VIN sessions may be found via the following link:

Handling Homesickness Around the Holidays

Jennifer McKendree

When you're hosting a foreign exchange student, the holidays can be tricky. No matter how well-adjusted your student is to life in your home, in his or her new school, and in the United States, the holidays are a time when homesickness can take hold. This is especially true if your student has strong holiday traditions with his or her family back home. As a host family, it's up to you to help your student through what can be a rocky, lonely time. Here are some ways to do just that.

Host a holiday get-together with other students and their host families. Involve your student in the planning, the guest list and the menu. One idea is to ask attendees to bring a dish that is popular on the holidays in their home countries. You're accomplishing much with this one request. You're filling up what could be a lonely time for your students, and other students, by creating community. You're also encouraging other students to share their holiday customs with their host families, and you're reminding all of the exchange students you invite that they're not alone.

Ask your student about holiday customs in his or her home country, and incorporate those traditions into your celebration. Even if you've done the holidays the same way your entire life, now is the time to grow and expand. Ask your student to explain their holiday traditions to your family, the typical dishes they serve, how they celebrate, whether gifts are involved, the typical music of the time, and other things. It's a way for students to immerse themselves in their own traditions, even though they're a world away. It's also a great learning opportunity for you and your family to become familiar with your student's culture.

Set aside a day to cook your student's favorite holiday dishes. Whether they're sweet or savory, traditional holiday foods bring people back to their childhoods and their homes. Spend a Saturday in the kitchen with your student, cooking and baking the foods he or she loves.

Take your student on a trip to New York City or a nearby town that does it up right for Christmas. Some cities and towns go all out for Christmas, whether it's the country's largest light display on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota; or the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, the decorated department store windows and skating rink in New York City. If you can swing it, take your student to experience the splendor of the holidays in a place that does it up right.

Have your student participate in your family's special holiday traditions. When you've made your student's favorite holiday dishes, now it's time to incorporate your student into your traditions. Take a day to bake cookies, involve them in shopping for your holiday dinner, have your student participate in your family's Secret Santa gift exchange — your student should be involved in anything your family does to celebrate. Remind family members to include your student in gift giving, also.

At Youth For Understanding, we're here to help you give your student the best possible study abroad experience. Contact us to find out more. 

Convincing your parents to let you study abroad

Jennifer McKendree

Maybe you've heard about it at school, maybe one or more of your friends have done it, but however you found out about a study abroad program, and then decided it's what you want to do, there is one more hurdle to jump over. And it can be a big one: Your parents. To them, it means you're traveling across the globe alone to live with a family they've never met, no matter how good and responsible a student (and child) you are. For any parent, it's a terrifying proposition. Here are some ways to calm their fears, build your case and get to "yes."

Do your homework. Before you approach your parents, learn everything there is to know about your program, how long it has been around, how many students and host families it has served, and other facts. Know the process, and outline the resources you'll have in your host country should any need arise.

Investigate scholarships. Youth For Understanding offers 200 full and partial merit-based scholarships and needs-based financial aid to students each year. Find out the eligibility requirements and go into the discussion with your parents armed with those financial facts. Other options exist, too, like GoFundMe campaigns. You can turn fundraising for your study abroad into a powerful learning experience.

Outline your reasons for wanting to study abroad. Guaranteed, the first question they'll ask you is, "Why?" Have your reasons down cold. Is it about learning the language? Cultural immersion? A need to strike out on your own? All of the above? Make sure you can articulate, in clear parent-ish language, why you want to do it. Practice your "why" speech in front of a mirror just like you'd practice for speech class.

One word: Skype. Video chat platforms like Skype, FaceTime and Facebook Messenger can put you in touch with your parents in ways a weekly phone call can't. Let them know you'll report in on a regular basis. You can set a time for a weekly video call, Sunday nights, say, and also leave the door open for spur-of-the-moment calls as well.

It's resume gold. An international education will look very impressive on your resume when the time comes to get a job. It shows skills like independence and self-reliance, and also shows things like maturity and global awareness. Your resume will stand out from the pack, and if your parents are in the corporate world, that will really mean something to them.

Tell them the personal benefits for you. Studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that won't come around when you are out of school. Yes, you can always travel, but you're not going to be able to live for a year with a host family while immersing yourself in another culture. It's something you can only get as a student, and it is life-changing. Living in another country will broaden your horizons and allow you see the world from a new perspective. The personal growth trajectory is through the roof. You won't come back the same kid as you were when you left. Also, you'll make friends, including your host family, that you'll keep all of your life.

Lastly, if they have any questions, have them contact us. We're here to help.


Jennifer McKendree

YFU honored Farmington Public Schools with its 2018 Partnership Award. The award is given to an organization or corporation that has demonstrated a longstanding partnership with YFU and a strong commitment to provide young people with global intercultural exchange experiences.

The YFU-Farmington Public Schools partnership dates back to at least 1968 when the school system enrolled international exchange students to spend a year of high school studies in the United States. Over the years, leadership at Farmington Public Schools has supported the mission of YFU through enrollment of international students and support of their own students to study abroad in another country.

“Farmington Public Schools has been proud to partner with Youth For Understanding USA for more than 50 years.  This partnership has strengthened our students’ global education both because of the exchange students we receive and also because of the outbound exchange opportunities offered to many Farmington students.  We are honored to be recognized for the warm welcome FPS offers the world.”
George C. Heitsch, Ed.D., Superintendent, Farmington Public Schools

 YFU initially announced the award at its recent 2018 Volunteer Conference in Pittsburgh, PA. The award was formally presented to the Farmington Public School Board by Bill Malloy, YFU Chief of Staff and Barb Kilkka, Community Engagement Director, and 7 current and former YFU students on November 13.

“As nominated by Barb Kilkka, YFU local staff representative for the Oakland County, MI area, it is abundantly clear that Farmington Public Schools is strongly committed to providing young people with global intercultural exchange experiences by opening its doors to YFU's students and volunteers for over 50 years. We are thrilled to have Farmington Public Schools as an important part of our YFU community!”
Scott J. Messing, YFU President and CEO