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News - Youth For Understanding USA

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

YFU USA Launches New Virtual Exchange Initiative

Jennifer McKendree

YFU USA Launches New Virtual Exchange Initiative

After 65 years of successful person-to-person youth exchanges, international nonprofit adds new virtual exchange unit

Washington, DC (January 19, 2016) – Youth For Understanding USA (YFU) today announces the introduction of a major global initiative to increase understanding and empathy amongst international youth through the creation of a new virtual exchange unit. Drawing upon 65 years of expertise in international education, YFU’s virtual exchanges will bring intercultural learning opportunities to students in communities around the world, with emphasis on underserved youth and those living in post-conflict settlements.

 “For more than six decades, our mission – to advance intercultural understanding, mutual respect, and social responsibility through educational exchanges for youth, families, and communities – has remained the same. Yet the world we serve has changed, and dramatically so,” said Michael E. Hill, President & CEO of YFU. “In many areas of the world – including the US – there are circumstances limiting opportunities for in-person study abroad experiences. YFU’s new virtual exchange program not only aligns with our founding mission, but removes barriers for participation to help close a very real gap building cross-cultural bridges of understanding amongst individuals who might typically never travel past the borders of their home communities.”

With emphasis on reaching girls, displaced youth and other underrepresented groups, YFU’s pilot program will be designed to open a dialogue between teenagers in the US and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and empower them to develop 21st century leadership competencies. The program will launch with the support of iEARN, a global leader of virtual exchange and in partnership with select schools across the nation – including commitment from those within one of the wealthiest districts to the poorest congressional district in the US.

"The virtual exchange partnership between iEARN-USA and YFU USA will benefit both the participants, as well as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) nations as a whole,” said Dr. Ed Gragert, from iEARN-USA and virtual exchange pioneer. “A rich, cultural exchange will take place on a regular basis between American students and their MENA counterparts, most of whom who have never participated in an online, collaborative project before.”

Leveraging the expertise of YFU offices in 56 countries; a volunteer corps of 12,000 worldwide; an alumni network of 260,000; and thousands of host families and schools that have supported physical exchanges, YFU has a vested interest in program sustainability and a significant capacity to scale.

Erin Helland, Director of Virtual Exchanges

Erin Helland, Director of Virtual Exchanges

Veteran YFU employee Erin Helland, who spearheaded the YFU network’s recent adoption of a global brand and established YFU’s Marketing & Communications Department as its Director for the past four years, will lead the initiative. In this new role she will serve as Director of Virtual Exchanges, driving program development, partnerships and execution of this historic endeavor.

“One of the most rewarding elements of the virtual initiative is that these programs will aim to be inclusive in nature, ensuring a voice is given to young women, minorities, migrants, the academically vulnerable, socially isolated and underrepresented students and others who may typically be unable to embark on a physical exchange. As a YFU alumnus, I’ve experienced first hand how cultural exchange can reinforce our common humanity. I’m honored to help YFU expand growth opportunities for tomorrow’s leaders,” said Helland.

“Erin has been a true advocate for international exchange and is highly committed to helping to increase empathy and cultural awareness. I couldn’t be more thrilled she will be leading YFU into this new and important arena,” Hill added.

According to YFU Trustee Ambassador (Ret.) Larry Wohlers, “While peace-building is the ultimate goal, YFU knows that the first steps of the program will be helping youth recognize a community of values in which the aspirations they share are greater than the cultural differences that separate them. To achieve this understanding, however, participants must get to know each other as people, a particular challenge, but one that YFU is committed to achieving.”

YFU anticipates expanding the pilot over the next year, to introduce virtual initiatives in collaboration with countries that have strong and active national YFU programs –Germany, Austria, Sweden, France – where there are ongoing resettlements of displaced people. Metrics from the initial pilot will help to develop these future virtual initiatives and allow for growth.

Questions regarding partnership and funding opportunities for YFU’s virtual exchange unit can be directed to Erin Helland,

Learn More:


About YFU
For learners of all ages who want a life-changing cultural exchange experience, Youth For Understanding (YFU) offers a wide range of opportunities to see the world up close. The global YFU network, consisting of partners in more than 70 different countries, is united by the belief that curiosity about the world expands cultural awareness and acceptance of other ways to live, which leads to broader perspective and greater understanding. YFU’s unique intercultural exchanges open minds and hearts, enable learning that transforms lives, change the way you see the world and help to overcome stereotypes. Selected to administer more government and corporate scholarships than any other high school exchange program, YFU has remained a trusted leader of intercultural exchange programs since 1951 because of its commitment to safety, reputation for quality, and exceptional support services. 

YFU advances intercultural understanding, mutual respect and social responsibility through educational exchanges for youth, families and communities. 


iEARN (International Education and Resource Network) was launched in 1988 as a pilot project between the US and former USSR to demonstrate that students could use emerging new technologies to work together on meaningful educational projects that enhance the quality of life on the planet. iEARN has grown to become the world’s largest educational network for project-based learning on pressing world issues, with programs in more than 125 countries.

iEARN-USA's mission is to enable young people worldwide, working in collaboration and dialogue, to make a meaningful contribution to the health and welfare of the planet and its people.