YFU’s mission remains as vital as ever. For almost 70 years, the YFU experience strives to correct false impressions and stereotypes that are all too easily formed.
As an intercultural exchange program, YFU seeks to eliminate the very thing that necessitated its founding: xenophobia. Defined as “fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers,” xenophobia is rebounding. This demands our attention and action today, just as it did after World War II, inspiring Rachel Andresen to facilitate exchanges between youth and communities in the United States and Germany, founding what we now know as Youth For Understanding USA.
“Go back where you came from!” was the “welcome” shouted at a YFU student from Thailand on his first day of school in the US - August 2019.
A YFU student from Mexico asked his Spanish teacher why a poster stating, “Build The Wall” was hanging in the class. Among the falsehoods on the poster was this: “If you look around the neighborhood, you can see that it is full of disgusting Mexican houses, full of the same illegal immigrants that are infecting and plaguing this country.” The teacher replied there was nothing offensive about the poster. The principal disagreed and required the poster be removed. March 2019.
These examples show an alarming trend of intolerance, one that YFU is dedicated to combat. YFU Founder Rachel Andresen believed in the power of exchange to eliminate fears and stereotypes – and she lived by the ideal that if you believe in something, you should take action. The YFU experience reinforces our common humanity in a world united by its appreciation for cultural diversity and rejection of harmful stereotypes that prevail in today’s society. Thankfully, YFU alumni, host families, and volunteers in the US and around the world embody this ideal as well. They include:
Karen, YFU host mom, who says, “Family means embracing others who share no blood, but who entrusted their child into your care. It means broadening your horizons, learning about differences and realizing being different isn't a bad thing. Family is finding out how much you are alike, even though you live on different continents and might only be able to communicate through a smile and hugs. Family isn't always about sharing ancestors....sometimes it's just about sharing love.”
Nina, YFU alum/2018 summer student to Japan, who says, “I can without a doubt say I’ve grown as a person, become more kind to people, especially foreigners, because I now understand very clearly the difficulty and courage it takes to go someplace new. There’s no uncertainty when I say I will be using my gained knowledge to do something good in our world…”
Mary Jeanne, YFU volunteer, who says, “I get to see the goal of exchange work: teens from different countries and religions coming together on exchange and talking about peace and understanding for the future."
YFU’s mission - and its impact – remains as vital as it ever was. Our cultural exchange programs provide a reality check to a worldview based on stereotypes and hate. In helping people of all ages make the world their home, YFU helps them appreciate differences and embrace similarities. Ultimately, YFU’s programs transform who you are and permanently change the way you see, making us citizens of one world.