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News - Youth For Understanding USA

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

Celebrating our Founder and the Volunteer Spirit

Rachel Arnold Cooper


Excerpt from 1986 interview with Rachel Andresen.

Our Founder and inspiration, Dr. Rachel Andresen, would’ve been 112 today! It is also the beginning of National Volunteer Week. Rachel looked 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,” said Dr. Andresen.

Of YFU volunteers, Dr. Andresen said 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."

“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.”

Love, Curiosity, and Kindness

Rachel Arnold Cooper

"Love, curiosity, and kindness make it a great one." 

That's what Elisabeth Egel says about the planet we all share since experiencing life in the United States on her exchange program from Estonia.

Hosted by the Whatley family in Armada, MI, Elisabeth has gone above and beyond the requirements of her U.S. Department of State-sponsored FLEX scholarship. She is excelling academically while enrolled in Advanced Placement History and Honors English classes. Required to give one presentation about her country; Elisabeth has completed seven, which included slides, music, dance lessons, and sweet treats (photo top left). A trained classical pianist, Elisabeth is now learning jazz and 20th-Century compositions, thanks to the piano the Whatley family rented for her. "With the help of my coaches and classmates, I have run in several 5K cross country meets, one of which involved running through a stream and a lot of mud," said Elisabeth. She even led the Whatley family dog through an agility course with the help of an instructor.

What makes Elisabeth's program so exceptional? She is totally blind.

Elisabeth said, "When I found out that I had a chance to go to the United States...I was not sure if I had the strength and independence that this step required." She found the perfect host parent in Evon Whatley. "Elisabeth is totally blind and I grew up with both blind parents so this was not a problem, in fact, I was quite comfortable and confident in meeting her needs," said Evon.

Elisabeth reflected on her past six months and said, "I feel the core values of people are similar and that is what keeps the whole world together." Evon said, "We remind Elisabeth to never stop trying or dreaming, my quote to her is 'The Sky Is The Limit And There Is No Limit To The Sky'. We love her dearly."

Learn more about opening your heart and home to an international exchange student and becoming a host family.

Find out more about the Future Leaders of Exchange (FLEX) program sponsored by US Department of State.

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.