19.11.2021 Views

Virtual Storybook

Dear YFU Family! In honor of our 70th anniversary, we have created a Virtual Storybook with YFU stories from all over the world. We believe, that now, more than ever, it is important for us to remember how important love, mutual respect, understanding, and acceptance of different cultures around the world is. We have gathered memorable stories about exchange experiences from YFU alumni, host families and volunteers!

Dear YFU Family! In honor of our 70th anniversary, we have created a Virtual Storybook with YFU stories from all over the world. We believe, that now, more than ever, it is important for us to remember how important love, mutual respect, understanding, and acceptance of different cultures around the world is. We have gathered memorable stories about exchange experiences from YFU alumni, host families and volunteers!

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7

th

anniversary

Virtual

Storybook

YFU Adventures and Experiences

Share your story!


Prologue

In 2021 Youth For Understanding (YFU) celebrated its 70th anniversary. YFU started as

a volunteer initiative created by Rachel Andresen and John Eberly to give adolescents

a new perspective of peace and the prospect of a brighter world. With the goal of

repairing relationships damaged during World War II, the first group of students

left Germany to go on their exchange to the United States 70 years ago. This was the

beginning of YFU, and since then, more than 270,000 students have gone on exchange

with YFU, opening minds for a better world.

For each student, host family, and volunteer, the YFU intercultural exchange has opened

a new chapter in their lives. This involvement has allowed them to experience first-hand

the beauty of diversity and embrace it with empathy and understanding. It has been a

new chapter that welcomed new experiences, amusing moments, lifelong friendships,

cultural learnings, and people coming into their own individuality in the world around

them. YFU is made up of each of these individual experiences!

The virtual storybook is a humble attempt to grasp the impact that YFU has had on

individual lives for more than 70 years. This was an initiative that was made by a group

from our “Anniversary Celebration Team”, comprised of former exchange students

from several different countries around the world. This unique commonality formed

an immediate bond, regardless of the language we speak at home, or the country we

live in. We have all shared a similar life experience; a life experience which has largely

influenced who each of us are today. This is why we are still passionate about foreign

exchange and why we are all still involved with YFU.

Our goal when creating this virtual storybook was to have a central location for our

stories, whether it be as exchange students, host families, or volunteers. We wanted to

remember the YFU experience and celebrate it with others! Regardless of how you are

involved with YFU, this storybook should have at least one story that you can relate to,

if not several. We have compiled 38 stories that share individual experiences. Compiling

these stories and their photos was like taking a beautiful walk down memory lane for

all of us. We are thankful to all of the people who took the time to write down and

share their stories and photos. We hope that you enjoy them as much as we did, and

that it takes you for a stroll down your own memory lane as well!

The YFU 70th Anniversary Celebration Team was a global project that brought

together former YFU exchange students, host parents, staff members, and

volunteers from more than 13 different YFU organisations across the globe and

formed a vigorous volunteer team that created year-long celebration activities

and the Virtual Storybook was one of these activities.


Index

4 30

44

54 60

74

82


4

Family

bonds

YFU Adventures and Experiences

Share your story!


Index


SISTERS

FOR LIFE!

My name is Carolina Suárez Garcés. I’m from

Argentina and went to Germany as an exchange

student in 1989/90.

My host family was the Berger Family in Buxtehude and after more than 30 years we

are still in touch! With my host sister, Ulrike, we have developed a deep bond that has

enriched us through the years. We celebrated our 30th anniversary of this relationship

doing the “Camino de Santiago” (Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela) together in

2019. I’m so happy to have done it together and honor our very special relationship by

sharing such a significant and empowering experience!

In 1989, when we met, the Internet didn’t exist… there were no mobile phones… using

regular phones was very expensive… people used to communicate by sending handwritten

letters to each other. So, at first, we did that and we kept in touch regularly,

although sometimes it took months for a letter to arrive from such distant countries as

Argentina and Germany.

Caro and Uli in Helgoland 1989

6


FAMILY BONDS

Luckily for us, soon after the exchange

year, the internet was available and we

could start sending each other emails to

share our latest news.

We both went to universities and started a

professional path that allowed us to travel

and visit each other from time to time.

I went back to Germany to see my host

family in 1998. Then, Ulrike came to

Mendoza once. After that, I visited her

in New York when she was working for a

company there. Later on, I got the chance

to work on cruise ships. Many times, ships

departed from the port of Miami and

Uli was living there for several years. It

was very nice to be able to see her on the

turnaround day. It felt like coming home

for a couple of hours.

Eventually, I came back to Argentina

and she went back to Germany, but

technology helped us be closer. Mobile

phones and WhatsApp messaging allowed

us to connect regularly.

In 2018, Ulrike came to Mendoza again

and we did a beautiful trip to Chile

together.

In 2019, on the 30th anniversary of our

friendship, we both walked from Porto,

Portugal, to Santiago de Compostela in

Spain. That was a great experience with

unforgettable memories that we both

cherish more and more with the passing

of time.

Our friendship has grown together and

gotten stronger over the years.

I’m happy to call Uli my sister!

After more than 30 years, my exchange

year continues to be one of the most

important experiences in my life for many

reasons, and one of the main reasons is

this special bond.

Uli and Caro in the forest 2019

Testimony of Carolina Suárez Garcés - YFU Argentina

Exchange Student in Germany – 1989/90

7


PAY IT

FORWARD...

Even If It’s 30+ Years Later!!

This picture is worth at least 500+ words.....During the summer of 1989, I lived with the

Busto Sanfurgo family (Arturo, María Elena, Rodrigo and Loreto) as an exchange student in

Spain. It was an unforgettable experience of cultural immersion. Not only did they accept

me into their home and family, they took the time to show me beautiful places, and share

their Spanish culture and delicious food. I was completely immersed in speaking Spanish

and came back so much more proficient than when I left. The Busto Sanfurgo family treated

me as their own and made me feel so welcome. I am forever grateful to my host family for

their love and generosity.

From the exchange experience, I grew to be more independent, to have a love of Spanish

people and culture. I learned a lot about myself as a person and came out of my 16-year old

shell. I credit this experience for a lot of who I am today.

For several years after returning back from Spain, I was able to remain in touch with my host

family via letters, but then slowly the letters started being returned back to me. I couldn’t

understand why and it made me very sad to lose touch. I was certain that the experience

would just be a short chapter of my life and eventually become a distant memory.

8


FAMILY BONDS

Fast forward 19 years after that

summer, with the help of Facebook, I

was able to reconnect with my host

brother Rodrigo and host sister, Loreto,

and through our communications I found

out the family (except Rodrigo) had moved

back to Chile where they are from!! Thus,

the reason my letters never made it to

them in Spain. I was shocked that they

were in THE very place I have other close

friends and also frequently visit!! In fact,

the year we reconnected, I was actually

going to Chile and planned to meet

them again. In Sept 2008, I reunited with

Loreto, my host father and host mother

and it was like I had never left Spain.

Except there was a new addition to the

family: Loreto’s daughter, Camila!!

We were in a different country,

different place and another time, yet

it all felt so much the same!! The same

love, acceptance and heartwarming

sentiments of reuniting with family!!

On a separate occasion, I was also able to

reunite with Rodrigo in Boston and it was

just like yesterday reminiscing about the

fun we had during the summer of 1989.

This year marks 32 years since my

summer exchange program, and I am

now PAYING IT FORWARD as a volunteer

with Youth for Understanding (YFU) USA

-- The same organization that sponsored

my exchange and made such an

impact on my life. I am looking forward

to helping to promote intercultural

exchange for potential students and

families and to ensure they have the

same amazing experience I was so

fortunate to have. Muchas gracias a la

familia Busto Sanfurgo....Thank you to the

Busto Sanfurgo family for accepting me

into your home in 1989, and giving me

such an amazing experience that I can

now share with others 30+ years later!!

Testimony of Sunita - YFU USA

Exchange Student in Spain – 1989

9


BETWEEN

BIATHLONS,

MANNERS,

DOUBLE BEDS

AND A CONSTANT

WISH TO SLEEP

My story begins in a host family where I didn’t fit in.

Although the family was super nice, it was definitely not a match between us and I was

very sad. It was hard to make a decision, to stay or to leave, and instead of doubting

for days, I should have trusted my instinct. Here we were, at the end of September. It

was a sunny afternoon and I was packing everything again; the bell rang and there

was a man at the front door. Today, I can say it : it was hard to stay, but I thought it

would be harder to leave. My exchange year truly began, to me, when I saw this man

in front of the door.

He and his family were supposed to be my temporary family for two weeks. But, as

you’ve perhaps already guessed it, I stayed. I stayed the rest of my exchange, and it

was incredible.

We talked for hours about life, differences, values and convictions. We watched

biathlons for hours, which I became a major fan of. We went to so many places in

Munich and I got to see so many things. We laughed for hours about the fact that

I could not understand why the German double beds have two mattresses and two

blankets. (Now it does make sense, though! haha)

This time, it was a match and nothing made me doubt it. I felt at home, and I was at

home.

10


FAMILY BONDS

I could have said that this story ended with COVID and with a late evening call in

March of 2020, but it did not. Yes, COVID took away a lot of time together that we

would have had, and a lot of things and travels planned, but it did not take away what

we had.

Coming back to France, I faced some unpleasant situations and my host family has

always been the first people that I’ve called. I miss them everyday and my biggest wish

is to see them as soon as possible. They are my second family and they are my true

family. They get along well with my natural parents and they want for both sides to

meet. They’re probably going to talk about football and how to cook vegetarian meals,

to be honest, while sitting around talking and drinking beer.

My parents are so thankful that I met my host family and the best feeling in the world

is to receive letters that are signed with “your Bavarian parents”.

This was my story and I’m thankful to have the chance to call it mine. I wouldn’t change

a single thing about it.

Ingrid, Ulrich, Katharina and Franziska, thanks again for everything.

Testimony of Sabine Labat - YFU France

Exchange Student in Germany – 2019/2020

11


ABUELO

In the year 2000 I found out what YFU was when

my family received our exchange student in the

city of Tarariras, Uruguay, who came from the

United States to occupy my room now that I had

gotten married a short while before.

We developed a very beautiful relationship with my exchange brother, Mike. Even

today, we treat each other like brothers, and we even call each other’s children nieces

and nephews. The same relationship occurred with the rest of my family; my parents

and brother call him son and brother.

I was able to go and visit him in the United States once, and I hope that he will be able

to return to Uruguay someday.

The love we had for him was so great and the exchange experience was so beautiful,

that in the year 2016 we decided to host an exchange student at our own home, but

this time we hosted a daughter, and she was from Germany. Her name was Nina. She

adapted very quickly to our customs and language, and a few months later she was

another Uruguayan, for example taking math classes every day. Her departure back to

Germany was difficult for everyone, and today we continue our relationship virtually

from a distance with the desire to go and visit her sometime soon.

Photos from the goodbye dinner for Nina.

12


FAMILY BONDS

The big surprise was the

news that Nina shared

with us last March: she

told us that she was

expecting a baby, which

would turn me into a

host/exchange grandpa

that coming September,

even though we don’t

use the words “host” or

“exchange” anymore

when talking about

each other.

We are very happy about this news and

now we are even more motivated to go to

Germany to visit our German family. Nina

sent us her ultrasound images and we are

experiencing her pregnancy right along

side of her.

Since the experience with Nina was so

great, just like with our first student,

Mike, we actually decided to host another

daughter who arrived from Austria to

live with us. Her name is Christina. While

the pandemic has made everything

more difficult, Christina is embracing our

culture.

Ultrasound photo of my granddaughter,

where it looks like she is blowing me a kiss.

This ultrasound picture was sent to me on the

day of my birthday.

Testimony of Hector Osmir Gonzalez

Host family form Uruguay – 2016

13


A SWEATER

ODYSSEY

Whenever we are expecting a child from Latin

America, we inform the children before they arrive

that they shouldn’t buy winter clothes in their

home country.

You are much better off buying clothes

for the winter here in Germany. Not that

these are necessarily cheaper, but to get

suitable clothes in an area where the

coldest temperature is 18°C, that might

be a bit difficult. We also found that every

child feels the temperature differently

here. Many of our students followed our

advice. Unfortunately, if you want to buy

fashionable winter clothing, you must

start looking early in autumn. When Indra

came to us, the temperatures were very

summery, and you didn’t need to think

about warm clothes. At least we didn’t.

Indra, however, was more sensitive to

the cold. We noticed that when it was 20

degrees Celsius outside, she was wearing

three T-shirts on top of each other.

It quickly became clear that Indra needed

warm clothes, as she got cold very quickly.

The clothes she brought with her were

better suited for a stay in the Sahara, but

not sufficient for the weather in Germany.

Indra was immediately enthusiastic

when we suggested a shopping trip. After

we had been to the first few shops, it

was clear that we were facing a bigger

problem.

14


FAMILY BONDS

Indra was more interested in airy beach

dresses or T-shirts than in jackets, scarves,

or sweaters. When we got home we hadn’t

bought a single piece of warm clothing.

We were able to keep her from buying

T-shirts, but the clothes she brought

would hardly warm her if it was below

zero outside. A second shopping trip

didn’t really improve the situation either.

She had bought a jacket now, but it was

better suited for the transition to colder

weather, but not for the whole winter.

The attempt to send her to go shopping

with a German classmate also failed. The

shoes were suited for winter with a lot of

goodwill.

Before going on another shopping trip,

we talked intensely to Indra. We tried

to make it clear to her that she needed

warm clothes; she was already freezing.

Nevertheless, she showed little interest in

sweaters and the like. When asked why

she didn’t want to buy a sweater, she

replied that although they look nice, they

felt so strange on the skin. Even with a

hat, your hair would no longer look like

your own. It was only with the threat

that we would only go home when she

had bought a sweater that moved her to

deal more seriously with the subject. In

the end, she bought a sweater, a scarf,

a matching hat with gloves, and a bag!

Later she started loving these warm

pieces of clothing

Even when she went back to Brazil, she

insisted on taking the things with her

despite the lack of space. She said it could

be that if she would go all the way to the

south of Brazil or Argentina, it would be

cold there and she might need them then!

Testimony of Robert Thomitzek - YFU Germany

Host family from Germany – 2008/2009

15


A HOST

MOM WITH

UNCONDITIONAL

LOVE FOR

STUDENTS

My husband and I were exchange

students and, when people give you the

experience of being in a new country and

having people who love you and you feel

that when you’re 17, it just feels natural to

continue it. We were teenagers, yet they

made us who we are today. Therefore,

now, if I can do that and give that love

to someone else, it will make the world

of tomorrow better. I think that’s what

YFU, Youth For Understanding, stands for:

making the world better, communication,

understanding, and loving one another.

The main word that I get out of this is

love.

Being a host mom is like being an

exchange student, just on the other side

of the fence. We have hosted 20 exchange

students and I’m still in contact with most

of them. I try to talk to them all at least

once a year. The older exchange students

call us more and, in the beginning, we

wrote and sent presents. I’m going to send

the YFU Thank You cards to all of them

soon. My goal this year is that I’ll hear

16


FAMILY BONDS

something from all of them. When we retire, we’re going to go on a world trip and see

everyone. The people that live closer we’ve visited, and the people in Germany we see

almost every year.

We like to think that we are good parents. Everytime when we take a new student, I

don’t like to talk to them before because I think it’s like when you expect a new baby,

you don’t decide everything, you just wait and see what happens. I tell them a little

about us and then I give them the mailing address of the students from the year

before. I tell them that if they have any questions, they can talk to the other girls.

The most beautiful thing is when you share something like when my students come

back and show their natural parents around the house; they know it’s their house and

I get to know the parents. Every year we have someone else who comes with something

new to share. We might have a new game and our Christmas tradition changes, or we

always have a new food that someone wants. This is something you can do for the rest

of your life; you’re never too old to learn.

Hosting isn’t just about giving people a language, it’s about giving people a new home

and sharing it together. Living with people that are different from you is important

because it makes you grow and understand things. I think the appreciation of that

is harder today for young people. They are exposed to so much more, but it’s harder

because you see so much that nothing really seems important.

17


This intergenerational conversation that comes with hosting is completely necessary

and possible. One of my exchange students from Thailand wasn’t used to, as a young

person, talking to adults, but now she probably calls me the most!

The first thing for hosting is if you want to host, you must realize that you’re to be

a parent and it’s not always fun. To establish these parent/child boundaries, you

first need to analyze what you want and need and then make the rules for yourself.

Establish what it is you want and what makes you happy and then write them down.

You can’t assume someone from another country knows your rules. That’s what’s

interesting about hosting, though, things that are completely normal to your culture,

aren’t normal to other people. Explaining these rules helps too. I honestly believe that

somebody who decides to host a teenager (a student who is a teenager already), who

doesn’t speak your language, and to help them go to school in a school that goes long

hours and in a language that he/she doesn’t speak for free, they really want to do

be host parent. Also, somebody who leaves their parents at a young age and goes to

another country that they don’t know, with people and a language they don’t know,

and they accept these people to be their parents, who will really parent them, he/

she is a really a good person too. This means two good people who, if they learn to

communicate, should have no reason to not have a successful exchange year. 80% of

hosting is just communication. Living together has to be give and take.

I’m thankful for my students because they exist and we love each other. A family is

what’s in your heart, not just your blood type. I hope that the YFU 70th anniversary will

get more people to realize that, in an organization like this one, it can be part of your

life forever. It’s about learning to live and continuing to grow, which you’re never too

old to do.

18


FAMILY BONDS

Testimony of Marika Bergendal - YFU France

Host family from France

19


30 STRAIGHT

YEARS OF

HOSTING

I’ve been hosting for 30 straight years now. I first

started hosting in 1992 after I was inspired by

a friend of mine who had hosted an exchange

student.

My first student was from Norway and

we still try to keep in contact. The further

back the student is, the harder it is to keep

in contact but Facebook and WhatsApp

makes that a lot easier. A couple of my

past students now live in the USA and we

occasionally have breakfast together.

I had my last visit to Europe to see the

other exchange students in July and then

I’ll go back to Europe again to visit more

students next summer. Going to Europe

and visiting the kids before they arrive is

something I’ve done 25 times. I do this

because I think it’s a great way to start

our relationship and I’m able to meet the

parents too.

I believe that cultural exchanges are

important to meet different people. I get

the chance to go over there and see their

way of life and culture. It’s like we’re all

related. I embrace my fathering instinct

and I don’t like an empty house. I’m

currently hosting Melvin from Denmark

and I would like to have an exchange

student next year. When I have a new

student, the old exchange students from

20


FAMILY BONDS

that country are going to be connected

with him. My students have become a

really big family.

I’ve gotten used to living with a teenage

male, there are things I let go and things

I worry about. A tip I have for other host

parents and I use myself with Melvin is to

enable tracking on each other’s phones,

with this I always know where Melvin is

and he can always find out where I’m at.

I also recommend getting your student

a bank card so they can withdraw cash

easier. Always keeping a copy of the

student’s insurance in your car is also a

good idea, most times you need it you will

have driven somewhere.

With my students, I like to take them

to New York City to see New York and

for birthdays, I like to take them to

a big sailing ship restaurant on the

Philadelphia waterfront. On Sundays,

we’ll go to baseball (Phillies) and football

games (Temple). I always support my kids

and go to all their sporting events as well.

The most heartwarming experience with

my exchange students I can remember is

when I had my hip surgery, I was hosting

one exchange student at the time but

after the surgery, there were 4 exchange

students who came to visit me. Seeing

them all after the surgery made me think

about how much my students and I care

for each other.

My lifestyle changes based on what my

student does. His needs and interests

come before what I want. This is his year

so if my host kid wants to go out to eat

with friends, I’d find something else to do.

I take care of my exchange students like

they would be my own. Like my parents

took care of me. There are things that

will happen, you have to know what to do

when it does. Adapting to your student is

important. I’m thankful to have someone

else around the house to make the house

feel more whole. I enjoy having somebody

to talk to and somebody to take places.

Testimony of Ted Rothstein - YFU USA

Host family from The USA

21


2 YEARS

WITH YFU

Hi everyone, I’m Emma and I am also

a YFUer. My experience with the YFU

exchange program is quite unique.

I was an exchange student in Ohio, in the USA, from 2017-2018. Although my host

family was living in Ohio, they are Michiganites. I still remember one of the best

memories was the family dinner with all of the family members from my host parents

in Michigan during Christmas. At that time, I first learned the entire process of a typical

American family how they prepare a family Christmas dinner. We watched a Christmas

movie together and opened presents. To my surprise, my Christmas present from my

host father was a plane ticket to Washington state. We enjoyed skiing there and that

was the first time I actually learned how to ski. Lots of experiences from my American

host family make me feel like I am actually a part of their family. In the past, I never

could imagine that there were people who were not my blood- related family who could

do this much for me. Because of their unconditional care and love, I have the courage

to take a step out of my comfort zone again.

22


FAMILY BONDS

From 2018 to 2019, YFU provided me the opportunity to be an exchange student in

Belgium. I went to a place called Ham in the province of Limburg. I remembered there

was one time I went to one of the cities from the east part of Belgium called Ostend,

from the west part, with a friend. After we visited the Ostend it was almost close to nine

in the evening. We took the wrong train. After we realized it, it was pretty late, and we

couldn’t make it back to our home. We called our host family and let them know where

we were, and my host family contacted one of the exchange student’s friends who lived

near where we were that night. We settled into their house that evening. Because of this

experience, I realized that no matter where we are, especially in a place that we have

never been to, we need to be careful about every stop that we go to. When something

happens that we weren’t expecting, we should calm down and seek help as soon as

possible.

These two amazing years helped me to discover my true self. I experienced lots of

things that I never imagined I would experience. Thank you YFU for providing me such

incredible opportunities. Happy 70th anniversary!

Emma Liu - YFU China

Exchange Student in The USA – 2017/2018 and Belgium – 2018/2019

23


THE POWER

OF YFU

Connecting two families together and building

support and connections worldwide

My YFU experience was definitely one of

my life changing moments. Before I knew

YFU, I would never have imagined myself

living in a whole new country, pursuing

my university degree there, and working

there by myself. Well, by saying ‘by myself’,

I mean being apart from everyone I knew

in my home country, China. But YFU found

me another family in the USA during my

exchange year, a family who has been by

my side ever since.

During my exchange year back in 2013,

my host mom hosted me and another

YFU student from Germany. My host

mom was not only patient enough to try

to understand our very different cultures

but also willing to make every effort to

make us feel at home by celebrating

our traditional festivals and learning

Chinese and German food recipes. To let

us have a fully engaging feel for the local

American culture, she would also take us

to church on Sundays, prepare a feast

on Thanksgiving, host a family Christmas

party, and many more wonderful things.

Additionally, my host mom would arrange

her work schedule around our school

breaks so she could take us on road trips.

After I finished my exchange year, my

connection with my host mom did not just

24


FAMILY BONDS

stop right there, but instead we have been building a stronger and closer relationship

over the years. Moving me into my college dorm, inviting me back for holidays,

travelling to China during the summer, attending my college graduation, and setting

up a farewell party to send me off to China for job relocation, my host mom has since

been in every one of my significant moments in life. And now, even though I’m working

and studying for my master’s degree in Hong Kong, we still keep in touch and share

updates with each other frequently.

As my host mom once said to me, I will always have a home in the US. I think the

same goes for her, as she will always be welcomed to our home in China as well. And

this is the power of YFU – connecting two families together and building support and

connections worldwide.

Testimony of Jingyi Wan- YFU China

Exchange Student in The USA – 2013/2014

25


SARAH AND

GISELA

My name is Sara Escobar and I

am from Colombia.

I lost my mother a year and a half before I made the decision to go to Germany as an

exchange student. When I graduated from high school, I applied for a half scholarship

with YFU. Much to my surprise, I won the scholarship and a few months later I was

on my first flight to a country I never thought I would live in, especially for such a long

time. I also didn’t speak the language very well either (I had level a1 in German).

Anyway, this year was a challenge for me because I had to learn the language and, as

all exchange students know, this is not easy if you don’t have a good basis. In addition,

there is a lot of cultural shock, but nevertheless I knew that I was here for a reason.

One of the things that I take from my exchange year is the nice connection I had, and

still have, with Gisela, my host mother.... I know that no one will ever take my natural

mother’s place, but now I can say that Gisela is my second mother and I know that

both she and I appreciate each other very much.

I have been living in Germany for 6 years now and I know that I can count on the

support of Gisela for whatever I need.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to tell our stories and be part of this book.

Testimony of Sara Escobar - YFU Colombia

Exchange Student in Germany

26


FAMILY BONDS


FALLEN

ANGELS

The first snow is always something special for

the students from Latin America.

They want to know everything about snow

early on. Just how do you explain snow?

Unfortunately, for our exchange students,

it doesn’t snow often in Münsterland

where we live. Most of the time we have

to drive a bit with the students to really

show them snow, if they want to see more

than just a few centimeters. Sometimes

we’re lucky, though, and it snows a lot.

However, even though it snows, it usually

doesn’t stay on the ground for long, but

after the first feeling of frost, the interest

in snow usually disappears anyway. In

the winter of 2001/2002, we had two

Latin Americans as students in our home.

Since it neither snows in Mexico nor in

Honduras, Adrian and Arturo had never

seen snow. This year the snow came late

and we thought we would have to go on

a trip to show the boys the snow. As is so

often the case, Christmas was anything

but white. On New Year’s Eve, however, it

started to snow in the evening and there

was a decent amount of it. Within a few

hours, a layer of snow ten centimeters

thick had formed. The whole garden

was white. When it stopped snowing a

bit, we ran outside with the boys to have

a snowball fight. After a few minutes,

everyone was exhausted and wet from top

to bottom with snow. We went back inside

and took off our wet clothes. A while later,

we explained to the boys that we used to

28


FAMILY BONDS

make “Snow Angels”, which are prints of angels in the snow. To do this, you lay down

in the snow and by waving your arms up and down and at the same time moving your

legs side to side, the snow angel was born. Both thought that was very funny and so

they got the idea that they also wanted to produce an angel in the garden themselves

and that we should take a photo of it. We explained to them that they had just changed

out of their wet clothes and that they would certainly get wet again if they went back

outside to make the angels. Adrian found a very practical solution to this problem: he

quickly stripped down to his boxer shorts and, before we could say anything, he was

already in the garden. Inspired by Adrian’s idea, Arturo did the same thing. Both were

outside and fell backwards in the snow and made the angels. At this point there was

nothing else to do but get out the camera and take some pictures to document how

both of them were lying in the snow in their undergarments making snow angels.

When he was done making the angel, Arturo was even tempted to run and slide

across the snow on his stomach. After all of this, they both needed a hot shower to

thaw again. Thank goodness nobody got sick and now they will have a funny memory

forever.

Testimony of Robert Thomitzek - YFU Germany

Host family from Germany – 2002

29


30

Life

changing

experiences

YFU Adventures and Experiences

Share your story!


Index


GROWING UP

WITH YFU AND

FINDING MYSELF

I’ve grown so much since I joined YFU as a hostsibling.

It was 2012-2013, and we hosted Fermin,

from Argentina. I was still not very comfortable

with who I was, with my long hair, my high voice,

my feminine shape, but I could not understand

what it was exactly that was troubling me.

Welcoming Fermin into our family made me want to go abroad as well, so I went to

Germany. I went there without any knowledge of the German language. I only knew

two sentences and a few numbers. The journey was hard and tiring, but so fulfilling.

There was no pressure to be someone my family and my friends expected me to be;

I could be myself and was able to discover some parts of myself more easily. There, I

also felt part of a family, just like Fermin was part of mine. At that time, I was newly

exploring the LGBTQI community; I thought I was a lesbian, and my religious host

family welcomed me more than my natural family did at that time. My return to France

was extremely hard and I could not comprehend what was happening to me. I spent

months in a medical centre, trying to recover, but the reveal came one year after my

exchange. My host family was the first people I came out to as a trans man, and they

welcomed my coming out and they supported me in a way I could not have expected:

with love and compassion. After I decided on my new name they immediately started

using it and they proudly reintroduced me to their neighbours, friends, and extended

family as their son from France. The first time out with them was for their 25th wedding

anniversary, and it was almost magical to be in a place where I was accepted

and loved.

In parallel, I started volunteering with YFU right after I returned from Germany, and

those times were healing. It was such a high; so different from what I was overcoming

in my daily life. And, as I grew, I knew it was time to tell YFU, to come out to them, and

I could not have been happier with how YFU reacted and supported me. They started

to call me Samuel immediately. They also helped me with legal procedures necessary

for my identity to be recognised, by writing a certificate for my first name and gender

change for the court. Some volunteers wrote affidavits too in order to help me get a

positive response from the court.

32


LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCES

As I progressed as a volunteer, I also progressed on my path as a trans-man,

navigating through gender identity. And I think that YFU was a constant witness to my

growth, seeing my beard grow, having my voice deepen. And I did not only evolve in

my physical characteristics, but also in my way of perceiving myself, believing in myself,

and found freedom in what I allowed myself to accomplish.

I started with the small events, on a national scale: the region meet-ups, the arrivals of

new exchange students, the orientation of future exchange students, being a contact

person, running booths at different schools, making home visits for future exchange

students and host families. I then facilitated coloured glasses workshops, trained future

coloured glasses facilitators, and facilitated international workshops and groups with

the YES Program in Berlin a few times. I was a chaperone for French students going

to the USA, stepping up for the Routes & Roots program in Italy, I was a Frenchstyler

for the international volunteers meet-up in France (Voluntaria), creating a subproject

within YFU about LGBTQI issues and awareness. Then this year, I finally created, along

with one of the other volunteers, our first workshop on social norms for volunteers and

students at this year’s YES (Youth Empowerment Seminar).

Each event supported my spiritual and emotional growth thanks to a supportive, joyful,

and stimulating environment, empowering each and every one of us through new

encounters and discussions. I’m 24 years old and it has been almost 10 years since my

first interaction with YFU. I just want to say thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for

everything you’ve done to support me and so many others, and still do.

Testimony of Samuel - YFU France

Exchange Student in Germany – 2013/2014

33


A MUSICAL

THAT CHANGED

MY LIFE

If I did not choose to become a YFU exchange

student five years ago, my life now might be

entirely different. Or, I can also say that my

exchange year spent in Virginia has completed me

as a person with dreams and passions.

Even though I had always been familiar with the stage as a musician, theatre was never

a theme of my life until I met my host family. Honestly speaking, I did not even know

what it meant when my host mom, Marty, told me that she was directing the musical

Peter Pan Jr. at my young brother Liam’s academy. The only thing I knew was that I

would have to help with her rehearsals every day after school, so that she could finish

early and drive me back home. At that time, if anyone told me that I was going to be in

love with theatre and pursue a bachelor’s degree in it, I would have said that it must

be a joke. However, life is always full of surprises. I became more and more interested

in musicals and theatre as I got involved in the production as Marty’s little assistant.

The feeling of working as a team to make the impossible come true really fascinated

me, and my relationship with my host family also became closer as we shared more

experience and common topics together. During the second semester of my exchange

year, I decided to take a theatre class at school and continue my interests in it. Before

leaving the U.S., I even got a chance to go to Broadway and see Les Misérables with

other exchange students.

34


LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCES

Five years have passed, and now I am a junior student at Wake Forest University,

studying theatre and anthropology as my majors. I am still in close touch with my

host family. Last summer, when I was stuck at school due to COVID-19 and the travel

restriction, Marty and Liam drove all the way from Virginia to North Carolina to visit

me. I showed them around the campus and told them about my experience here as a

theatre and anthropology student. Recalling our days living together, I astonishingly

found that both of my academic interests stemmed from my exchange year. How

interesting it is! A decision that I made at the age of 16 has completely changed the

trajectory of my life.

Testimony of Fuyuan Zheng - YFU China

Exchange Student in The USA – 2015/2016

35


“TOTO, WE ARE

NOT IN KANSAS

ANYMORE!”

“Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore!” (Some

would say during my exchange with a lovely

western accent )...

Hello everyone! My name is Maricruz

(Mari) and I‘ve been working in YFU

Argentina for over a decade and a half.

However, my journey with YFU started

quite some time ago.

It was the year 1997 and I knew from

the very beginning something big was

going to happen back then. What I never

thought was that, thanks to a corporate

scholarship offered by YFU, I would have

the chance to live the most amazing

experience of my life- the one that would

change it forever!

So, suddenly I was in the middle of

the USA in the “Sunflower State” and

the “Land of Oz” (Kansas) with my new

family (Mom Tresa and my sister Janise),

attending a very crowded school (Sumner

Academy of Arts and Science) with

amazing teachers who I learned a lot

from.

“Let’s go do some square dancing!!”,

one of my friends would say on Friday

evenings and so I would put on my boots


LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCES

“Watch out for the tornados!!” It sounded like a joke at first, but trust me it was not that

fun when you would hear a tornado siren and it would get way too windy!

“Halloween is coming up, let’s make a Jack -o´- lantern!” and I recall that was a lot of

fun indeed!

And so many other anecdotes that would make that year a very unique and special

one. However, later on I realized that what I truly gained was a new perspective and

way to see the world. New social and intercultural skills and, above all, a new concept

of the word “family”.

After my year in Kansas, my family and I would become a Host family for several

students from different parts of the world.

Nowadays, YFU means not only a job to me; it means family and even a way of living!

Thank you for so much love and for many, many, more years.

Testimony of Maricruz León - YFU Argentina

Exchange Student in The USA – 1997/1998

37


THE BEGINNING

OF AN

EXTRAORDINARY

LIFE

Ever since my application process started in

1978, I knew I was on a special path.

It actually started some 8 years earlier, when my brother was an exchange student in

Des Moines, Iowa. From the stories he sent home, I knew that one day I would be in his

shoes as an exchange student.

One fine summer day in August 1979, I landed at McCarren airport in the extreme

desert heat of Las Vegas, Nevada. Setting out from Copenhagen, I was destined to

Woodland Hills in California, but somewhere over the Atlantic, en-route to transit in

Canada, plans changed, and my new home for the year was in Vegas.

At any level, I can truly say that YFU has shaped my life from that moment. My ultimate

host family, the Bowers, became my family. And friends I met in high-school, my life

long friends. Just this month, my host mom passed away, 7 years after my host dad, Dr.

John. While the sorrow of their passing is overwhelming, the joy they gave me in life will

be ever-present.

Back in Denmark in 1980, I discovered that my YFU family extended beyond Las Vegas.

For 25+ intense years, I spent a massive amount of my free time working for and with

YFU. Staff and volunteers became friends, and I’ve been involved in anything from

counseling, to being an area-rep, a region leader, and member of the board. We

celebrated YFU-Denmark´s 25-year jubilee (when YFY USA celebrated 35 years) and

we had then-president John Richardson as a special guest at our celebration at HC

Andersens garden in Odense, Denmark. We then had the subsequent evening party

close to our YFU-House in Tommerup.

I’ve had numerous travels to Washington DC, staying at the log-cabin, in dealings with

YFU USA - including the rise and fall of SFU (An initiative to exchange athletes in Sports

for Understanding).

38


LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCES

The “travel bug” that many of us have is there thanks to YFU. YFU has brought me

around the world; some of my best and lifelong friends are YFU-related. My daughter

was an exchange student 4 years ago, and we have all been back to visit our family in

Las Vegas numerous times, as they have been here.

Both personally and professionally, a total stranger in business becomes an instant

friend and ally, when we both discover that we are YFU Alumni. It’s pure magic.

YFU has in every way shaped my view and understanding of the world, my friendships,

my personality, and my career. What Rachel began 70 years ago should be given a

post-mortem Nobel Peace-Prize, as the movement she started truly has made more

than a dent in many people’s universe. YFU has turned many strangers into friends for

thousands of us, and I thank her, and all of you, for a truly extraordinary life!

Testimony of Carolina Herik Meng - YFU Denmark

Exchange Student in The USA – 1978/1979

39


AND WHAT

IF IT WAS

DIFFERENT?...

IT SURE WAS !

This is how my 1975 YFU experience

changed my whole life !

It all started in 1974, when the son of my parents’ friends went to San Ramon,

California and stayed with the family of the YFU Representatives, Mr. & Mrs. DeWees,

for 1 year. When he came back, he convinced my parents to send me. They were

interviewed by the French representatives. In July 1975, we hosted David, a 17 year old

student from Bay City, Michigan, for the summer program. We took him on vacation

with us and became good friends. He went home in late August.

I was 17. On Sunday August 24, 1975 I stayed 2 days in Jouy-en-Josas at the YFU

headquarters, with a large group of French foreign exchange students. We left on

Monday, August 25, from Le Bourget airport with a Boeing 707 for Amsterdam, where

80 Dutch and 40 Belgians boarded with us. I entered the USA in Detroit and took a

flight to San Francisco, via Minneapolis.

Mr. DeWees welcomed me and took me to my new host family in Alamo for the year

program. They were a family of 3 kids, Jean 13, Andrew 15, and Bob 17. School started

on September 2 and I went to Monte Vista High School, in Danville with Andy, who

was a Sophomore; Bob and I were Seniors. My whole year was Fan-tas-tic as the only

“Frenchy”, and I graduated!

At the end of my stay, my parents flew over to see me and we visited California,

Arizona, Utah, Nevada. On the way back home to Paris, we stopped in Detroit,

Michigan and drove to Bay City to meet David’s family. That’s where I met David’s sister,

Karen!

In September 1976, my YFU host brother, Andy, applied and lived with a French family

that he didn’t get along with. So he moved in with my family and we took care of him

for the rest of his year.

40


LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCES

David, Karen, and I wrote to each other for a while and, in January 1979, I had some

time off, so I flew to Michigan to see Karen. We fell in love. She came to live in France

for 2 years, and we married on July 11, 1981, in Bay City, Michigan. We had 2 children,

both with dual French-American nationality. Unfortunately, our house didn’t allow us to

renew the YFU experience and host an exchange student.

When our son turned 20, he moved to Montréal, Québec to try a new experience. He

stayed there 7 years, then decided to move to the USA. Being a US citizen, it was easy!

But where could he go in such a large country ? I called my YFU host brother, Andy,

who welcomed him in Long Beach, California, helped him find a job, a car, and a place

to stay !

Our son is still living in California. In 2014, his younger sister visited him and decided

to stay with him. They shared a flat, until she found love and got married in 2016. The

couple moved out when our son had his 1st baby. Now our daughter will be a mother

too, and our son and wife will have another baby too. We will soon be grandparents of

3!

In August 2016, we travelled to see them, and I attended my 40th High School Reunion,

Class of ‘76. I met ALL my good friends, like it was yesterday! One even flew from

Florida when he knew I was coming from France ! I easily won the Prize for coming

from the farthest destination!

Karen and I just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. Retired after 42 years of

work, we will move to California to be closer to our grandchildren next year. And we

still have dinners with Andy!

Testimony of Christophe Fresneau - YFU France

Exchange Student in The USA – 1975/1976

41


YFU HAS ALWAYS

BEEN IN MY HEART

for the past twenty-two years

On this joyful occasion of YFU’s 70th Anniversary, I cannot help myself but say: thank

you YFU!

Twenty-two years ago, my strict father sent me, one spoiled-by-mom unwilling-to

leave-home sweet girl, to the US as an exchange student. With no one seeing me off,

I dragged two huge suitcases and boarded the flight from Hongkong, China to San

Francisco, US.

After three days of orientation on the very beautiful campus of Stanford, we, the highschoolers

from all over the world, were again flown to places where our host families

were. My host family was in a small town called Lone Oak, in Georgia. My school

covered Grades 1 to 12, but had less than 300 students back then. My host family had

7 members: my host father, a PhD. in Education, was the principal of the school I was

in; my host mother was a teacher in primary school; my eldest host brother and host

sister were both working then; my second eldest host brother was then at Tennessee

University; my youngest host brother was in Grade 12, same as me back then; and

my youngest host sister was in Grade 10. My memories are so vivid that, right now, I

can literally still see the lovely faces of my host father, host mother, host brothers and

sister, my teachers in my school in the US, and my school mates. What an unforgettable

exchange year that was!

42


LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCES

In that summer after I finished my

exchange year, my host father brought

15 American high schoolers to visit

Dongguan, my hometown. They all lived

with Chinese host families and had a

wonderful and meaningful time for two

weeks, with visits to nearby cities such

as Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Then my

host father fell in love with Dongguan.

He went back to the US and resigned and

together with my host mother, moved to

Dongguan to teach English in Dongguan.

They established an international school

in Dongguan and later my host brothers

and sisters came to teach at the school,

one following another.

my studies and then transferred to

Canada. Here in Canada, I got my

Bachelor degree, certified by CPA Canada,

and worked for quite some years in

accounting firms. Now I’m working for

a Canadian insurance company and

things are all good. I want to thank YFU

for changing my course of life at a young

age. My exchange year with YFU has

made me confident, independent, tolerant

and grateful. At YFU’s 70th Anniversary,

I wish YFU lasting prosperity from the

bottom of my heart.

After my exchange year, I did not get a

US visa, so I went to the UK to further

Me and my parents in Canada

Testimony of Huanhuan Song - YFU China

Exchange Student in The USA – 1999/2000

43


44

Career

stories

YFU Adventures and Experiences

Share your story!


Index


MY JOURNEY

AFTER YFU

It was 14 years ago when I joined YFU and became

a high school exchange student in the US. Far

from the “American Dream” that I expected, I

was placed in a host family living in a suburb of

Minneapolis and went to a public high school in

South Minneapolis.

Some of you may know, South

Minneapolis is a rough neighborhood. My

high school is only an 8-min drive from

the site where the police killed George

Floyd in May 2020. Due to the high crime

rate and low income of the community,

the school setting and quality continued

to be a huge challenge. (Because of things

such as students’ participation rate and

attitude, racial stereotypes, guns and drug

problems, crime, etc.) These problems

completely upset my expectations

and worldview at that time. Still, this

experience gave me a very unique lens for

observing the diversity of the culture and

the country in depth. I realized education

equality is a problem, regardless of the

economic status of the country, and

actions need to be taken to improve these

problems. Not until much later in my

life, I found that this understanding had

influenced my life following my exchange,

as well as my career journey.

After graduating from college, I joined

Teach for China (TFC) to teach the

most disadvantaged children from

an impoverished village of Yunnan

Photo with host family in front of the Rockefeller

Christmas Tree in 2017

46


CAREER STORIES

Province, helping to bridge the inequality

educational gap of urban and rural

China. I joined TFC with the idea that

education is the ultimate solution

for all social problems, but ended up

seeing that education is embedded in

many social problems. Through this

experience, I realized that education is

not a silver bullet, and social problems

never stand alone. So I further studied

and worked around the 17 Sustainable

Development Goals of the United Nations,

and attempted to better understand the

complexity of social problems.

Teaching in Yunnan and working in

the public sector allowed me to see the

underlying problem along with other

socioeconomic issues: many education

projects and development programs

lack effective metrics to measure the

actual impacts of changes. Rigorous

and appropriate research and analysis

are required to measure and implement

education and development projects

effectively. So I devoted myself to further

study in this field and hope to fill the

gap between research and practice.

Currently, I am a Ph.D. student at

Columbia University studying Education

Measurement and Evaluation.

From being a YFU exchange student in a

rough neighborhood to becoming a PhD

student studying education inequality,

from being a village teacher in rural

China to becoming a development

researcher in New York City, my journey,

while seeming to be going in different

directions, circles back to my experience

in YFU about improving education

problems. Now, having witnessed severe

education inequality on the ground and

effective interventions and policy in the

sky, I hope to contribute to understanding

and solving the problem and to helping

every child have an equal opportunity

to receive education and develop into a

better person.

The Sustainable Development Solution Network (SDSN) SDG Modeling Research Team

Testimony of Yingxin Ye - YFU China

Exchange student in The USA

47


VIDA TOURS

ECUADOR

I am Pablo Silva, Ecuadorian YFU alumni and

owner of the tour company Vida Tours Ecuador.

When I was at school I loved to go hiking

in the Andes. Quito has many volcanoes

for that. At that time I wanted to study

psychology after my graduation and I

already practiced yoga and meditation

everyday.

My life changed forever when my aunt,

an Ecuadorian woman married to a Swiss

guy, asked me if I would be interested in

going abroad for a year. She would even

be willing to pay for that.

We started to look for an exchange

organization and we decided very quickly

on YFU, especially because of the kind and

personal attention they gave us at their

national office in Quito.

I spent one year in Germany. One month

in Solingen learning some German with

the Struchholz family and 10 months near

Leipzig with the Hille family. I did a lot

of climbing in the region of Saxony. My

family did a great job with me and always

treated me as a family member.

When I came back to Ecuador, I realized

I wanted to keep hiking and using

languages, so I decided to study tourism

and environmental protection in Quito.

During this study, I was involved as a

YFU volunteer in Ecuador, helping both

48


CAREER STORIES

the inbound and outbound exchange students. I also got the chance to go with the

inbound students on some trips organized by YFU Ecuador. I just loved it!

Then I applied for an internship in YFU Switzerland. I was supposed to stay 6 months,

but it ended up being one year by the end of it. I had a fantastic experience with

the staff of 2009/2010, and all the volunteers at that time, and with my host family

Klemenz. I remember Peter (Pedrito with love), who was in charge of the French

speaking part of Switzerland, asked me if I would like to organize short trips and

meetings for his students. So, I started to be more involved in the organization of

events and trips.

Back in Ecuador, I got back to university and got a part-time job in the national office

of Ecuador. One day Sandy, the national director, asked me if I would like to organize a

trip to the Andes for the inbound students. They had already had a trip to the Amazon,

to the Pacific Coast, and to the Galapagos Islands, but students living on the coast

were asking for a trip to the Andes. I immediately said YES. I didn’t know that was the

beginning of my career as a tour guide and as a tour operator in Ecuador.

After my graduation, I got involved in guiding tours for German speaking tourists in

Ecuador for different travel agencies. I didn’t know there were so many Germans and

Swiss tourists coming to Ecuador and so few tour guides who spoke German. Thanks to

my language skills, I got the opportunity to guide not just in all regions of Ecuador, but

also in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. On every tour, I tell my tourists some stories about my

exchange experience, so they better understand the cultural differences between South

America and Germany or Switzerland.

Later I founded my own tour company. We do trips focused on yoga, meditation,

contact with nature, but also adventures like hiking or snorkeling. Also, l now organize

all trips for YFU students in Ecuador. They are far from the typical tour! They are made

for exchange students: we see how people live in the countryside, we sleep at least one

night with indigenous families in the jungle, and, in the Andes, we visit conservation

projects in Galapagos and learn what we can do at home for our environment. Of

course we have a lot of fun and I can assure that we help YFU with the goal of creating

better world citizens.

Many thanks to YFU for all the opportunities that began with the simple questions:

would you like to organize a trip for our students?

Testimony of Pablo Silva - YFU Ecuador

Exchange Student in Germany and Intern in Switzerland

49


HOW MY YFU

EXPERIENCE HAS

INFLUENCED MY

CAREER

I’m a Business English Specialist for the fashion

industry. I help passionate professionals

and entrepreneurs in fashion improve their

communication and presentation skills.

My YFU experience in 1995-1996 has had

a tremendous impact on my career today.

My command of the English language,

my appreciation of intercultural

communication, and my sense of identity

are only some of the most important

takeaways from that year.

Discovering my own English

“Why go to the US when you already

speak English?,” I was often asked. I

was a petite Filipina with an awkward

haircut in my junior year of high school

then. I was at an important crossroad

(a.k.a. rebellious phase) of my life and

my parents had offered me the chance to

go on an exchange year. While it meant

leaving behind my high school friends

and missing the final year, it also meant a

fresh start. I said yes.

The minute I was met by my host family

in Texas, I realized the English I spoke

50


CAREER STORIES

was rather different from theirs. “You’ll

be talking to belt buckles the whole

year!” I was told. The infamous Texan

twang accent, the pronunciation, and

the intonation found me struggling with

a language I already knew. This was my

first real test in verbal communication.

I needed to understand and to be

understood. I copied, I adapted, and I

experimented with how I communicated

in English. I wanted to discover my

own voice. I joined theatre to push me

out of my comfort zone. I signed up

for journalism classes. I even joined

(and won) a poetry-writing contest. It

was the year I immersed myself in the

English language and emerged with my

own communication style – one that I

was finally comfortable with. I gained

confidence in my speaking ability.

This sense of confidence propelled me to

join the debating circuit in my university

years. Debating then shaped my critical

thinking and public speaking skills. Both

of these skills have been instrumental in

negotiating with suppliers, clients, etc.

Understanding Intercultural

communication

Being in a high school with a mixed

population of Caucasians, African-

Americans, and Hispanics, I was also

exposed to different cultural realities.

Food fights in the cafeteria, sparked by

racist remarks by one group or another,

were not uncommon. My own prom

experience was in itself a mini crashcourse

on intercultural communication.

My original date, who was of Afghan

51


origin but was raised in Germany, decided it was best not to come. I had asked him too

many inappropriate questions about his religion and his upbringing the weeks prior to

the big night. In another non-traditional Asian move, I asked a Caucasian boy (one of

the few who wasn’t three times my height) if he wanted to be my date, but he politely

declined. My last-minute date was a Hispanic boy. His real date was not allowed to

attend, as she was already set to marry someone else.

Through these experiences, YFU allowed me to learn and understand other cultures.

It also forced me to see my own culture from a different perspective. The founder of

YFU Philippines kept reminding us how to deal with culture shock and how to not be

judgmental. “It’s not bad, it’s just different,” she would say.

This skill has allowed me to successfully navigate multi-cultural teams in the

workplace. Throughout my career in fashion, I have worked with Asians, Americans,

and Europeans. I must say that my ability to be open, and my conscious effort to be

culturally sensitive and inclusive, has allowed me to foster good working relationships

in general.

52


CAREER STORIES

Comfortable in my own skin

Living away from my family and immersing myself in a completely different culture

gave me the chance to decide who I could really be. I had a sheltered upbringing.

For the first time, I found myself unbound by my cultural norms. There were no set

expectations whatsoever. I was given a blank slate. I had the freedom to hang out with

different people, join various interest groups, and even participate in religious rites

other than my own. It was a year where I could experiment and decide who I wanted

to be – not because of what was expected of me, but because of who I chose to be. I

learned to define my own limits and be comfortable with them.

Gaining this stronger sense of identity has undoubtedly helped me in many ways.

It has definitely given me the courage to pursue a life abroad. I have been living in

Italy for over 15 years now. I have my own family here. In my professional life, I have

learned to value myself more and to recognize the unique value I bring to the team

and to my clients.

In conclusion, I can honestly say that my YFU year was a defining moment in my life.

Finding my own voice, developing an understanding of intercultural communication,

and gaining a stronger sense of who I am, are all key in my continuing professional

journey. I will always look back to my experience with much gratitude, knowing that it

has played a decisive role in the person who I am today.

Testimony of Medrano Ganzon - YFU Philippines

Exchange student in The USA – 1995/1996

53


54

Learning

expierences

YFU Adventures and Experiences

Share your story!


Index


ACHEVEMENTS

WITH THE HELP

OF MY HOST FAMILY

My name is Jasper Thiedemann, I am 21 years old,

and I am from Hamburg in Germany. In 2015-2016 I

was a YFU exchange student living together with a

Chinese host family in Shanghai/ China.

Due to cultural differences and language

barriers, the first months were quite

challenging for me. I especially had

difficulties in school, as my Chinese

language skills and my classmates’

English skills weren’t really sufficient to

adequately communicate.

I remember that around Christmas time

in 2015 I was asked to participate in a

class performance on stage in front of

the whole school. This included singing

a Chinese song and even a single, short

dance performance by me. I was given

the lyrics just a few days before. I wasn’t

able to read one word of it because

everything was written in Chinese

characters. Thankfully my host family

supported me with translation work and

writing the “PinYin” (basically how the

characters sound) below the lyrics. But

learning the text by heart and having such

a short preparation time still seemed an

unachievable task for me. I put myself

under a lot of pressure. On stage I tried

hard to act as if I knew all the lyrics since

a lot of attention was on me, being the

only foreigner in the whole school, so of

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LEARNING EXPERIENCES

course everybody noticed that. I wasn’t able to enjoy the moment while I was on stage.

But, looking back at it, I think it’s these kinds of experiences that make an exchange

year in a country far away from one’s home country so precious. I had a very tough

first 6 months in China. But, with continuous support from my host family and YFU, I

managed to finally overcome the obstacles. My Chinese got better and I got to know

many new friends whom I still frequently interact with via WeChat and other social

media platforms.

Probably one of the biggest lessons I learned from my exchange year is that, at least to

me, it is super important for one’s personal development to always try to reach outside

one’s personal comfort zone, to continuously try to explore unknown waters. While

doing so, one achieves improvements minute by minute, day by day. This will help

accomplish things that seemed unreachable at first.

Testimony of Jasper Thiedemann - YFU Germany

Exchange Student in China – 2015/2016

57


MAKE SURE YOU

ARE ON THE

RIGHT BUS

There were many crazy stories I remember from

my exchange, but there is one that stands out as

a very large learning experience, which occurred

about a month into my exchange back in 1990.

One of my new friends from school had planned a birthday party at his house

and I was super excited to go. One of my concerns was that I wouldn’t be able to

communicate to my host parents the details of the time and place, so I asked my friend

to call my host parents and ask them directly. He called that night and they told him it

was fine, but they weren’t going to be able to drive me since they were also going out

with friends that night. They told him to make sure that I got on the right bus – the last

bus of the night going to my town.

As you might guess, he put me on the wrong bus. I didn’t know for a while that it was

the wrong one, initially because the only difference in the route was that this bus ended

before it got to my town. When we got to the end of the line, the bus driver was of

absolutely no help and just told me to get off the bus.

This was before the days of the cell phone, so I was stuck. I didn’t really even know

where I was or how far I was from home. Then I spied a phone booth. I tried to call

my host parents, but as they had told me, they were not home. So I sat down on the

curb and started to cry.

As I was sitting there, a little old lady – or perhaps an angel in disguise – asked me if

she could help. Somehow, with my broken German and a flash of my passport, she

was able to understand what was happening. She took my hand and led me to the

police station where she found a police officer who spoke English. He agreed to drive

me home – in a police car.

As luck would have it, I pulled up in the police car just as my host parents were arriving

home from their dinner. Everyone thought the situation was hilarious except for me, at

the time. I was so mad that they were laughing at me. When I told my friend the next

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LEARNING EXPERIENCES

day at school, he and all my friends also got a good chuckle out of it. Looking back a

couple of weeks later, it was pretty funny.

I learned two valuable lessons that day. Lesson one was that sometimes you have to

laugh at yourself. Lesson two was to always have your host parents’ phone numbers,

your host neighbors’ phone number, and anyone else’s phone number who can help

you when you are lost!

Testimony of Megan Herndon - YFU

Exchange student in Germany – 1989/1990

59


60

Love

stories

YFU Adventures and Experiences

Share your story!


Index


HOW I MET MY

HUSBAND

I was an exchange student (from Switzerland)

in Chicago in 2009/2010. When I started school

in the US, I realized that a lot of my classes were

very easy... and boring. So, I talked to my school

counselor and asked to be transferred to honors

classes.

That’s how I ended up in the

honors US history class that my

now husband was in. I didn’t

pay much attention to him until

he sent me a friend request on

Facebook. After lots of messages

over a couple of months, he

asked me out to prom and we

officially became a couple soon

after. Sadly, I had to go back to

Switzerland very soon after that.

We tried long-distance for a few

months, but it just didn’t work

out. We stayed friends, though,

and always met up when I came

for a visit. Five years later, I

spent my summer in Chicago

and he insisted on going on a

date together. Everything else is

history: we dated long-distance

for two years until I moved to

the US, to his parent’s house, for

my master’s program. I’m now

working on my PhD and we just

got married in June of 2021!

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LOVE STORIES

Testimony of Micheline Kaufmann - YFU Switzerland

Exchange student in The USA – 2009/2010

63


JAMBALAYA

AND

SAUERKRAUT

I was a German exchange student and spent my

year in the US in Louisiana in 1998/1999.

For homecoming, this really

cute boy asked me out and

I said yes. We dated for the

rest of my exchange year

and when the year came to

an end, I had to go back to

Germany and he joined the

Marine Corps. We continued

dating, wrote letters, and

once a month we would

splurge on a long-distance

phone call.

After three years of longdistance

dating, I finished

my school in Germany

and immigrated to the

US. We married shortly

after I arrived and will be

celebrating our 19-year

wedding anniversary this

year. Of course it’s been my

dream to host a foreign

exchange student; the time

is finally right and we will be

host parents this fall.

High School Prom in 1999

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LOVE STORIES

Marine Corps Ball 2019

Testimony of Jessica Chapman - YFU Germany

Exchange student in The USA – 1998/1999

65


REUNITED

My parents, Louie and Lula Mapua, were avid

supporters of YFU and hosted a number of

exchange students from the US in the ‘70s. My

older brother, Steve Mapua, was YFU alumni ‘73

and I was YFU alumni ‘74.

The impact of YFU was a major force in

my life because after I was widowed, my

American boyfriend stepped back into

my life. I met Tom Schmidt as a 17-year

old and as the old adage goes, opposites

attract! I was a city girl from Manila; he

was an 18-year-old country boy from

Michigan. I was a petite 5’2 Filipina with

long black hair and he was a tall blonde

guy of German ancestry. He loved the

outdoors - hunting, fishing, sailing, flying

and camping; I was a bookworm who

would rather delve in themes of romance,

mystery and adventure.

When I turned 18, he threw me a surprise

birthday party and after the guests left,

went down on one knee and asked me to

marry him, complete with an engagement

ring!

Unfortunately, as much as my heart

wanted to, I used my head.

Tita Lourdes Cruz, head of YFU Philippines,

taught us to learn as much about the

USA as possible and take our experiences

back home and become better people

because of our travels. She ingrained in

all of us the importance of being good

Tom Schmidt & Cherry Mapua, Prom Night 1974

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LOVE STORIES

ambassadors of our country. I certainly

did not want to disappoint Tita Lourdes

nor my parents.

I flew back to Manila in 1974, and went on

to college at DLSU. Without telling me, Tom

joined the US Navy, hoping to get stationed

in Subic so he could see me. Lady Luck was

not on his side because he ended up being

stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

We both went separate ways, married

other wonderful people and both had

3 children on two continents: I had 3

handsome strapping boys and Tom had 3

beautiful blonde daughters.

Thank you, Tita Lourdes Cruz (+), Tita

Emy Celi, to the dedicated YFU staff, for

being a part of my life’s journey. My

husband and I, now in our mid-60s, are

always grateful and thankful to Jesus for

bringing us together after all these years.

We have a thriving business at our farm

called “The Little Red Barn of Nunica”!

We transformed our hundred-year old

dairy barn into a rustic, charming and

award-winning wedding venue. We

are passionate about propagating the

sacrament of marriage and are so blessed

to be able to work and play together.

All because of YFU. And Jesus.

After 27 years of marriage, life threw me a

curve ball and I lost my Filipino husband,

Mike, to cancer. It was a dark chapter in

my life, as I thought my world had ended.

I myself had survived cancer, and had a

special-needs child to take care of. Stefan,

my youngest son, had Autism and relied

completely upon me.

In God’s good time and in His infinite

mercy and kindness, He brought Tom and

me back together again. After 35 years of

not seeing each other, through the magic

of the internet, we reunited and decided to

marry.

On a tropical beach in Honolulu, Hawaii,

we “eloped” and got married in 2010 with

the help of my mom, my brother and my

cousins.

I now live on a lovely 40-acre farm in

Michigan with my son, Stefan, and am

happily married to the man I fell in love

with as a YFU Exchange Student. On Jan.

26, 2022, we will celebrate 12 years of

marriage and will go on a cruise to the

sunny Caribbean!

Tom and Cherry Schmidt in Sayulita, Mexico

Testimony of Cherry Mapua Schmidt - YFU Philippines

Exchange student in The USA – 1998/1999

67


MOONSTRUCK

(Excerpted from The Same Moon: a memoir — Camphor Press, 2020)

Ryota gave me the moon the summer I turned

seventeen.

I had just repacked my suitcases when

I heard his voice in the entryway of the

home where I had spent the previous

two months. I hurried downstairs, my

host family gathered, and we all shed

our slippers, stepped into shoes, and

meandered through a labyrinth of

stone-and-plaster-walled streets to the

neighborhood udon shop. There we

shared our last supper together, slurping

long fat noodles out of steaming bowls of

broth.

Later, ambling home, Ryota and I lagged

behind my family. He reached for my

hand and held it. This was our second

time. The other had been captured weeks

earlier in a photo taken by my host

sister Miho, right before Ryota’s baseball

practice. In it, he wears his crisp white

uniform and I am in a blue T-shirt and

blue-and-white-print skirt, what the high

school principal allowed me to wear in

lieu of the traditional sailor-style school

uniform they would have had to special

order to fit my five-foot, seven-inch frame.

Ryota’s left hand linked with my right, we

flashed shy grins and made peace signs

with our free fingers. I wondered by what

miracle I was clasping the hand of the

most beautiful boy at Hagi High School.

Arriving in Japan, I had all but started

over in the life-skills department, learning

how to eat with chopsticks, how to use an

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LOVE STORIES

Asian toilet, and how to manage a new

language.

But I had sheen. As the first international

exchange student at Hagi High School,

everyone knew me. Few foreigners visited

the little city of Hagi in those days, so

I was an object of curiosity: my blue

eyes, brown hair, fair skin and height;

my driver’s license back home and my

cultural connection to American music

and movies. Although I was less wellversed

in American pop culture than

many teens, it seemed in Hagi that I

embodied it, reminding other students

of Hollywood teen movies they had

seen. When I went to the beach, younger

schoolgirls told me I was sexy in my

swimsuit, but I knew this was sexiness by

association.

America. We can think of one another

when it shines down on us, you in

America, me in Japan.”

It was the most romantic thing I had ever

heard, on the big screen or off. I nodded

yes, I would think of him every time I saw

the moon. Untouchable though it was,

the moon would be the perfect souvenir

of this moment, this boy, this summer on

the other side of the world, in a place I

found myself feeling in some ways more

at home than I did in Minnesota.

Our evening did not end with a kiss — but

so what? He had held my hand and given

me the moon.

It was enough.

Now, for the second time, I was holding

the hand of this handsome baseball

player. Ryota and I lingered in the dark

shadows of centuries-old stone walls in

my adopted neighborhood as my host

family walked ahead and disappeared

around the corner. High above us, stars

glistened in crystal constellations, like

mobiles stilled by the falling summer

night.

“Mite — Hokuto Shichisei,” he pointed to

the sky.

“The Big Dipper? I see it,” I replied,

scanning for another formation,

something, anything, that would prolong

the delicious moment that had my heart

spinning in my chest.

Then Ryota pointed at the slim crescent

glowing above us. “The moon,” he said,

alternating between Japanese and

English. “It is the same, here and in

Testimony of Sarah Coomber- YFU USA

Exchange student in Japan – 1986

69


THE LOVE STORY

FOR TIANCHEN

AND JENNY

Both of us are from YFU China, and we both had

our exchange experiences in the US.

I was there in 2004-2005 and she was

there from 2008-2009. After returning to

China, we were both doing YFU volunteer

work every year. However, Jenny was

always in Shanghai, and I was in Beijing,

so we never met. But in the year of 2011,

YFU in Shanghai, China, needed some

extra staff for their PDO, so I volunteered

to go to Shanghai and help out. Then I

met Jenny, a beautiful girl who shared

the same values as me, who was also

very warm-hearted, and loved to help

others. Then we started dating. Luckily, my

grad school and her college were both in

Illinois, so we were not kept far away. But

since then, we haven’t had the chance to

go back to China again due to busy school

and work schedules.

Five years later, I asked her, “Hey, how

about we both take a vacation this

summer and go back to China to do YFU

PDO volunteer work again?” She replied

“Yes!” with a big smile on her face. So we

went back and did the PDO; the place

where I first met her. On the second night,

in front of all the students and other

volunteers, I dropped down on one knee,

pulled out the ring, and asked her if she

70


LOVE STORIES

wanted to marry me. She replied “Yes!” again, but this time, with full tears in her eyes.

We are happily married and living in Chicago right now. But we think about YFU all

the time. We are both very grateful for what it gave us and we hope that more young

people can meet the person they love through helping others. So we actually started

a small fund during Christmas 2014, to which we will donate some money each year.

They call it the “Tianchen Alumni Fund”. This fund is used to pay for volunteer gathering

events each year in China, and to help improve working conditions for volunteers.

We hope that by doing this, more students will be attracted to the YFU volunteer

organization, and will find the person they love just like us.

In the end, I would also like to share a couple of photos of Jenny and myself, the

proposal, the wedding, and the daily messing around.

I hope you enjoyed reading our story. If there is anything else that you would like to

ask me, please feel free to contact me anytime.

Happy Birthday! Live long and prosper.

Testimony of Tianchen and Jenny - YFU China

Exchange students in The USA - 2004/2005 - 2008/2009 and YFU China

volunteers

71


72

Understanding

and peace

YFU Adventures and Experiences

Share your story!


Index


WAR & PEACE

The Intangible Effects of

being a YFUer

For a long time, I’ve focused a lot of my education

and free time on Armenian studies and activism.

I’ve always been passionate about Human

Rights and, living in a Buenos Aires – a city with

one of the biggest and most vibrant Armenian

communities in the world – I felt compelled many

years ago already to get involved in their demands

for justice and recognition related to the Armenian

Genocide.

As some of you might know, in September 2020, a war erupted between the Republic

of Armenia and its neighboring country, Azerbaijan. Due to my involvement in the

Armenian community, I was quick to align myself with their cause and even participate

in their rallies demanding a stop to the war. Argentina is really far from the Caucasus

and has no Azerbaijani community at all, so I always heard only one side related to

the conflict that was behind this war, the continuation of a war that had happened 30

years ago.

Even though I am, and have been, very involved in the YFU network for over ten years,

I’ve had almost no opportunity to meet Azeri students or volunteers before. One day

during this last war, I received an Instagram message from a volunteer from YFU

Azerbaijan, Gülüş. It was just a shy and polite “hi”, but it started a conversation between

the two of us. Many people always assume I’m Armenian because of my Armeniansounding

last name and my activism, so I assumed at that moment, since there is no

YFU Armenia, she might have seen me as an Armenian to reach out to. After all, we

all know that if we are YFU volunteers, reaching out to a fellow volunteer is always a

guaranteed way to have a safe and friendly conversation.

I guess what made her say hi to me was the same reason that led me to answer right

away and fuel our conversation. We’re both very active YFU volunteers; an organization

built to promote peace in the world, and suddenly one of its member countries is at

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UNDERSTANDING AND PEACE

war. This puts some of our YFU values at play. What are we doing to promote peace?

Did we fail?

Our interactions made me quickly realize that I had never heard the “Azerbaijani

version” of the conflict in depth. But it was so much more than that. It woke up

something in me.

I started to get more and more involved in the war that was going on at the moment,

and realized that there were so many things that I assumed were common sense

for everybody, and suddenly found out they weren’t. The online discourse between

Armenian and Azerbaijanis was so full of negative stereotypes, dehumanization, and

racism that I never imagined could be so blatant. I was used to most racism being

“subtle” and indirect in my surroundings; the blatant kind I saw when discussing the

war, and the violent narratives and actions it fueled, was really shocking. It made

me realize that me, her, and almost everyone I know in the YFU community, share so

many values that we are unaware of. Maybe we are also unaware of how important

and strange these might be in some contexts. Somehow, I realized I had a “gift” of

tolerance, respect, and understanding that my involvement with YFU for so many years

had not only given me, but also led me to naturalize this openness. I assumed everyone

was like that because I was always surrounded by like-minded people,

but they aren’t. And this created some conflict inside me. How much am I promoting

peace by fostering exchange between Argentina and, let’s say, Latvia? Is there really

a bilateral conflict that these exchanges can help improve or avoid? Am I actually

following YFU’s mission of promoting world peace by helping improve relations that

aren’t broken to begin with?

I quickly started to try to communicate with my Armenian friends and try to see how

I could somehow help build bridges with other Azerbaijani people. I invited Gülüş to

some online meetings with an Armenian friend to try to see what can we, as regular

citizens, do to make a difference in such a terrible situation. Just sitting and watching

was not enough for me.

The war lasted for only 44 days, but had devastating losses on both sides. The nephew

of one of my best friends was one of the almost 7,000 soldiers that died in the war. The

majority of soldiers there, just like him, were young conscripts doing their mandatory

military service; most of them between 18 and 21 years old. The age of many YFU

volunteers.

After talking with several friends, participating in social media debates, webinars,

watching the horrors of the war, and much more, an idea started to take shape in

me. In December 2020, just a few weeks after the war was finally over, with two online

friends, an Armenian and an Azeri, we decided to start a project of dialogue between

Armenian and Azerbaijanis, called Bright Garden Voices. The idea and the format were

innovative, and, after a successful first meeting in January, it gained a lot of social and

press attraction in both countries and is still going strong to this day. From our initial

team of 3, we quickly grew to a team of over thirty Armenians, Azerbaijanis and others,

working in a platform which we believe does its small part in fostering peace between

both nations through dialogue.

75


After some months, I was talking with my Azerbaijani co-leader of the team, Rauf, and

he told me he had lived in the US as a teenager. “How come?”, I asked him. He replied,

“I was an exchange student when I was 16”. Yes, he had been a YFU exchange student

from Azerbaijan to the US through the FLEX program almost 20 years ago.

And then it hit me. And it all made sense.

Being a YFUer, and everything we do in YFU, builds you up as a human being with

extremely important, yet unknowingly rare values, which will come into use when

you least expect it. Our YFU exchange and volunteering is like a “training ground” to

develop these important personal traits and core values that do, indeed, help make a

difference in the world. It was not a coincidence that two of the three organizers of this

project were former YFU exchange students; it was the values that the YFU experience

instilled in us; those same values that inadvertently brought us together. Listening to

the “other side”, trying to have empathy and understand your “fiend”, realizing the

other person is also a human being with feelings, believing peace is the only solution,

being fervent anti-violence and anti-war; these are some of the values and practices

that I wasn’t totally aware YFU had developed in me. I have now realized through

this experience, not only in me, that we share these common traits in the wonderful

YFU community. It makes me realize why our mission and tasks are as important and

relevant now as they ever were.

Stills from Bright Garden Voices meetings

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UNDERSTANDING AND PEACE

Stills from Bright Garden Voices meetings

Testimony of Diego Ardouin - YFU Argentina

YFU Volunteer – 2020/2021

77


LOVE AND

UNDERSTANDING

after 50 years of distrust

In the fall of 1990, I was part of a group of German YFU students who spent four weeks

in southern Poland to try and establish contacts there in the hope of starting long-term

exchange programs between Poland and the world. I was placed with a wonderful

host family in Będzin. One Wednesday, our group had spent the day visiting the former

concentration camp in Auschwitz an hour to the South. Thus, when I sat down to

dinner with my host family that night, I was in a rather somber mood. I noticed that

the television was running during dinner, something which was unusual and which

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UNDERSTANDING AND PEACE

unnerved me a bit. My Polish was not

good enough to follow what was being

said, so I paid it no further attention.

Now, I must add that aside from two

warm-hearted parents and two brothers,

the family’s grandmother also lived at

their house. Like many teenagers too

absorbed in their own little world, I must

admit I had not paid much attention to

her. I had tried to greet her in a friendly

manner when I first arrived, but my five

words of Polish had prevented me from

entering into any further conversation. I

was in for a surprise!

That night, somehow, the atmosphere at

the dinner table seemed to be different

from other evenings. At first, I blamed

this on the visit to the concentration

camp which had deeply impressed me,

and most likely my host brother, as

well. It wasn’t until a while later that I

realized the television was tuned to a

live broadcast from Brandenburg Gate

in Berlin – the celebration of German

unification: Today was October 3rd!

Seemingly out of the blue, the

grandmother said in perfect German:

“This must be a proud moment for you!”

These were the first words of German I

had heard from her mouth, and I was

so surprised that I did not know how to

react. How had she learned German?

Why had she been quiet before, not once

talking to me? Thus, my first response

was very cautious, trying to assess her

mood. What followed was a very intense

conversation about her life in Poland,

neighbor to Germany before, during and

after World War II. Over time, she opened

up about her fears of the neighbor to

the West becoming a ruthless, powerful

giant which might squish Poland once

again. All of a sudden, many things fell

into place for me: The mumbled remarks

of elderly passengers on the tram who

had overheard us speaking German, the

fact that somehow it seemed to be easier

to get into contact with people when

speaking French instead of German, even

though France was far away and this

region had been a neighbor to Germany

for so long. Thus, I could assure her that

her fears were the very reason why we

were here in the first place: To establish

contacts with people, to create a bond

across cultural and political boundaries,

to show that there were Germans who

wanted to learn about the world, not

conquer it.

Thinking back to what I said that night I

cannot help but chuckle to myself: What

a load of hogwash! We were young, we

wanted to meet other teenagers, spend

time together, dance to different types

of music, go places our classmates at

home had never been to. But by doing

so we did exactly what I had talked

about that night: We created bonds

between individuals which have become

elements of a large web of friendship and

understanding linking two neighboring

countries – at last.

Testimony of Christoph Timm - YFU Germany

Exchange student in The USA – 1988/89 and Poland in the fall of 1990

79


HOW TO MAKE

THE WORLD YOUR

HOME

Would you like to have the most unforgettable

experience? Do you know that YFU has been in

more than 50 countries hosting exchange students

for 70 years? Well, here are some things I´ll be

happy to tell you about my wonderful experience

with YFU.

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UNDERSTANDING AND PEACE

First of all, you don’t need to be able to

speak another language. In fact, it’s better

if you don’t. You can improve people with

total immersion in your culture. Don´t

make the mistake of thinking that you

can only be involved by becoming an

exchange student; you can also be a host

family for a student or a volunteer for

YFU. You’ll be able to share new ideas,

customs, and beliefs, while creating

friendships around the world.

Second, if you want to have an amazing

experience, you can be the next person

to get involved. I have hosted more

than 100 people in my home during the

last 7 years with my family. Because

of that, one of the funniest guys I’ve

met from Denmark started to call me

by the nickname “Mamarisa”. Putting

together “Mom” in Spanish and my name

Marisa. Nowadays, many people call

me by this beautiful name. Make the

world your home; it’s impacted my life in

so many ways. Share a transformative

journey, encourage people to have the

experience of studying in a foreign

country. You need to keep an openminded

attitude so that you might be

one of the welcoming members of these

life-changing experiences. It’s a once in a

lifetime opportunity. Be confident, dare

to explore, open yourself to a new way of

living lovely moments.

Last, but not least, we´re expecting a

seventeen-year-old group of European

students for next January in Argentina. I´ll

never be grateful enough to YFU for giving

me the chance to be a host mother.

I´m looking forward to seeing all of you

sharing your wonderful memories that

YFU has provided to you too.

Testimony of Marisa Suan - YFU Argentina

Host family from Argentina – 2017/2018

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82

Friendship

strories

YFU Adventures and Experiences

Share your story!


Index


FRIENDSHIP

WITHOUT

BORDERS

Let’s start with a phrase “Sometimes life takes an

unexpected turn in the right direction”. Well, this

is basically what happened to me.

My experience with Youth For Understanding

was through a bond of friendship that I

formed with a German exchange student,

Wieland who went to Paraguay. I met him in

my high school. At first it was difficult for me

because I was always shy, but shortly after

his arrival we started talking and we became

friends. Despite the time that has passed and

the great distance that separates us, that

remains true today.

I remember a time not long after his

arrival at the end of July, and where we in

Paraguay every July 30th play a game called

“An invisible friend” for friendship day. It is

played by cutting pieces of paper with the

names of all the classmates that you place

in a glass, and then without looking you put

in your hand and draw a name. Then name

that you have obtained is your secret friend

and you must give him or her a gift as a

symbol of your friendship. Well that day we

played this, and guess whose name I got?

“Wieland”, and I said “wow, it can’t be true!”.

It was amazing and we had a great time that

day. (I still have the paper with his name as a

souvenir of that moment :) )

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FRIENDSHIP STORIES

I can say that an exchange program is not only a fascinating and exciting experience

for the exchange student but also for other people close to them. Over time you

generate great moments that you will never forget. You also learn to see life in a

different way and from the perspective of another culture, which is incredible.

They say that special friendships reach the heart from anywhere on the planet. I

believe that is true, it really is. I have met a great person who has given me and taught

me the true value of friendship and I have also learned many things through him.

Before my perception of learning a foreign language, knowing other cultures and

places was very low since I had no interest in it. But thanks to YFU and the experience

my German friend gave me through a bond of friendship, I can affirm that this has

totally changed, I recognize and value the essentials of cultural diversity through the

exchange. This has awakened in me the desire to learn new languages to be able to get

to know other cultures and also to be able at some point in my life leave my country to

be a YFU volunteer. It would also be great to be able to study a postgraduate degree or

perhaps even better work abroad.

So as the purpose of YFU states. An exchange program really creates an effect that

shapes our lives, defines our personalities and influences our paths in life, brings

together people from different parts of the world who will continue to be our friends

and family for a lifetime.

Testimony of Elvidas Villamayor - YFU Paraguay

Friend of an exchange student

85


THE BEST

SUPPORT

ABROAD

I still remember my first feelings when I entered

my new school in Michigan. The high school,

Plymouth-Canton Education Park, was definitely

huge. It had three buildings and a lot of

classrooms…

I felt so anxious and lost. Then I figured

out that there were 14 more exchange

students in the school! We were too lucky

to find each other because each of us was

outgoing, loved to socialize, meet with

different people, and also bring others

into our group.

Thanks to this huge group of exchange

students, we managed to meet a lot of

local people. Each of us had joined such

different clubs and involved ourselves

in many different sports, so we always

went to each other’s events to show our

support. Our host families also did feel

lucky because, for them, it was like having

many children at once.

We found ourselves participating in sports

a lot. We were jogging with Mariana, from

Brazil, often (we did a lot of 5km runs...).

I remember one time, we were doing a

10km, however, and at some point I had

a breakdown and felt like I could not

move my legs anymore. I told her to run

without me but she did not leave me. She

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FRIENDSHIP STORIES

was motivating me and thanks to her encouragement – we managed to finish 10km

somehow!

We did a lot of activities together. I remember how Iris, from France, was talented in

theatre and I always enjoyed watching her plays. We went together to concerts, saw

many movies and plays. David, from Mexico, was always the star of parties with his

dance moves, and once he started to dance, everyone was just circling around him.

After 10 years, we still regularly exchange messages and arrange long sessions on

Facetime!

With all of our hearts, we know that each of us has a home in different countries and

will be always be welcome in each other’s homes anytime! Seeing each other and being

able to exchange during the COVID-19 lockdowns made life easier for us. Sometimes

we even eat together while we are Face timing and preparing cocktails.

Testimony of Gizem Ece Tığlıoğlu - YFU Turkey

Exchange student in The USA – 2012/2013

87


FIRST AWKWARD

MOMENT TO

FRIENDSHIP

This story of friendship connects Gizem from YFU

Turkey and Cai Yi from YFU China who met during

their exchange in the United States

“The best thing that could happen during

my entire exchange year was finding

good friends. Before my exchange, I could

never imagine how important they were

going to be in my life. Usually, everyone

tends to think that after a year later, you’ll

never be in touch with the friends that you

made during your exchange year but it

is completely wrong! Even after 10 years,

me and my exchange friend Cai Yi (Shelly

for me) are still regularly exchanging

messages, randomly telling things that we

are going through and having video calls

with Cai Yi.

When I first arrived in Michigan around

August 2012, I was trying to get to know

my host family better and get used to my

new home, new room. Through the YFU

Network, my host mom and Shelly’s host

mom knew each other and arranged a

meeting in downtown Plymouth for us.

When the meeting day arrived, I clearly

remember that I was extremely excited

to meet someone foreign in a foreign

country!

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FRIENDSHIP STORIES

When I went into Panera Bread (which

became our favorite place to eat), my

eyes were looking for Shelly and I tried to

recognize her from the picture that my

host mom showed me. Then suddenly, I

saw her and since I was so excited I gave

her a huge hug (as it is something that

we do in our culture when we meet with

someone) and squeezing her very tight.

However, something was clearly wrong

because I was hugging and she was not

hugging me back and did not even react

to me. Then I backed up and looked at

her, she was like “Oh hi” with a quite

neutral tone and face. I remember that

I felt quite awkward and apologized to

her several times. It was perhaps my first

cultural shock

However, in a couple of hours, we were

laughing and strolling around downtown,

trying to explore places. That first

awkward moment took us to 10 years

of friendship! We were unfortunately

not in the same school but we somehow

managed to hang out frequently! That

10 years of friendship includes a lot of

sleepovers, camping, movies, crying,

laughing, costume parties, community

service, YFU orientations, the YFU East

Coast trip in the US, ice-skating, baseball

and hockey games, singing Empire State

of Mind like crazy in New York, buying

VIP tickets to be able to ride all the roller

coasters at Cedar Point, many delicious

foods, and then many text exchanges,

showing each other around on our

respective university campuses as well as

through our houses over facetime, again

with a lot of laughing and sometimes

crying when sharing sad moments…

Even though we were not able to meet

physically since 2013, we always have

written letters to each other and sent

them with little gifts. I am very grateful

and lucky to have her in my life thanks to

YFU!”

Testimony of Gizem Ece Tığlıoğlu - YFU Turkey

Exchange student in The USA – 2012/2013

89


MY YFU BEST

FRIEND WAS THE

LOVE OF MY LIFE?

This story begins the way it ends:

good (or not so good?)

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FRIENDSHIP STORIES

It all started in February 2020, where I

had to travel to Buenos Aires (capital of

Argentina) to train in public speaking.

It was the first time that I had to travel

completely alone and that I had to come

to an office where I didn’t know anyone.

When I entered that office I saw a couple

of volunteers who were talking, all waiting

for the training to start. Of course, one of

them caught my attention. I thought he

was super cute and wanted to get to know

him more, but my shyness at the moment

prevented me from doing so.

was able to find an unconditional friend,

a person who knows me more than

anyone, who has gone through different

experiences with me, a person who

supports me, who loves me, and that I am

sure I will love for the rest of my life.

This is my story, even if I ended up with a

broken heart, I also won my best friend

for life.

This is when the introduction of us and

the first activity began. At this time of the

training, we had to make a bridge with

a cardboard box receiving instructions

from someone who spoke in another

language (to sum up it was an activity

about communication). The cute guy

and I looked into each other’s eyes and

went to the box at the same time, as if

we were somehow connected. We always

laugh when we remember that moment

because we say that that bridge brought

us together.

It was an extraordinary feeling, when

I connected with his eyes it was like

connecting with a lost soul mate. After

that moment we were inseparable, we did

all the activities together and we spent

24/7 talking and getting to know each

other.

The training ended and each one had to

return to their province. Needless to say, I

completely fell in love with him. Although

the distance and other factors prevented

us from being together as a couple, I

Testimony of Abril Villfañe - YFU Argentina

YFU Volunteer

91


MAKING

FRIENDS

THROUGH YFU

“You saved my life.” I was surprised and happy

when Rick said this to me. We were talking about

how we became friends through hosting with YFU.

I was a YFU student to Japan in 1985 and it was a

transformative experience for me.

I returned to Japan after college and lived

there for eight years. My wife is Japanese

and we moved to my hometown of St.

Louis in 1999. In 2005 with four young

children I told my wife that I wanted to

give back to YFU and host a student.

She thought I was crazy, but I finally

convinced her to host a student from

Japan. At the end of the year we were

hooked and now we’re getting ready to

host our 21st and 22nd students.

As a volunteer, I’ve placed most of the YFU

students in St. Louis since 2008. In the

Spring of 2014 Rick was teaching history

and psychology at a school where I had

placed two YFU students, Steffen from

Germany and Frederik from Denmark.

Steffen and Frederik loved taking Rick’s

class and talking with him at lunch. They

told him he would make a fantastic host

dad, but Rick wasn’t so sure.

Frederik called me and asked me to talk

to Rick. I called him and he told me that

he would love to host, but he and his wife

were just turning sixty and their own kids

were long gone. “Who would want to live

with an old couple?” Rick asked. For the

next two months Rick and I continued the

conversation about hosting. He told me

he loved sports and music. He said he and

his wife loved Germany and hoped to visit

there someday.

I logged in the system and searched for

the German kids who were still unplaced.

A boy named Jasper from Hamburg

made excellent grades, played soccer and

studied the guitar. I called Rick and said,

“I think I have the kid for you.” Rick looked

at his profile and discussed it again with

his wife before calling me with the good

news that they would try it.

Jasper arrived at the end of August in

2014. It turned out to be a perfect match.

Rick and Toni loved Jasper. I asked

Jasper how he felt about not having host

siblings. “Great!” he replied. “I don’t have

to compete with anyone for attention

because I’m the center of my host

parents’ universe.” That same year I had a

wonderful YFU son from Denmark named

Emil. Rick and I got the boys together

often and organized activities for all of the

YFU students in our St. Louis community.

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FRIENDSHIP STORIES

“You saved my life.” Rick said. “Before

Jasper I was just going through the

motions, but it’s awesome being a dad

again and having such a positive impact

on a kid from another country.” Rick and

Toni went on to welcome five more YFU

sons from Germany and also hosted boy

from Denmark, Turkey and Finland. This

year they’ll welcome a new YFU son from

Austria.

Rick and I have become close friends.

We still organize our YFU community’s

activities, help run the orientations and

coach our YFU indoor soccer team. We

regularly meet on Saturday afternoon

and we can talk for hours. This year we

invited any host family who wants to join

us. If any family wants to talk about their

experience or has a question or concern

they know they can always join us.

This past year was especially challenging

and I was so thankful to have Rick’s

support. We hosted an exchange son from

Barcelona named Tomas for the 2020-21

school year. I had never worked so hard

to get a student here. Through embassy

closures, threats from our school not to

accept him, and programs shutting down

we could have given up easily. Fortunately

we got Tomas here and he was a bright

shining light in what was otherwise a very

challenging year.

Rick’s student could not come so I asked

Rick and Toni to be Tomas’ host uncle

and aunt. I could not have asked for

better support. Tomas saw Rick often

and sometimes would sleep over for a

weekend at their home. Tomas wrote “Tio

Rick” in his phone contacts – “Uncle Rick”

and he keeps in touch with both of us.

Rick and I are ready for another great

YFU year together. We have the monthly

activities planned for our community and

recently held a meet and greet with new

host families at a local shopping mall

food court.

I’m thankful to YFU for a lot of things.

It gave me a life changing experience

to Japan and a second family who still

keeps in touch with me more than thirty

years later. I’m grateful for all of my YFU

sons all over the world, and I’m grateful

that YFU gave me one of my closest and

dearest friends.

Testimony of Stephen Rutherford - YFU USA

An Exchange student, volunteer and Host family

93


A ROADTRIP

FOR A LIFE

It wasn’t easy to write about a friendship created

through YFU – I feel I can’t choose just one. I have

to say I have been very fortunate in meeting many

people through YFU.

I have to say I have been very fortunate in meeting many people through YFU. Be it

volunteering for YFU Flanders or even more - through volunteering at the YES. More

than one of them I consider a friend or even family. Even though our meetups are far

and in between or we currently don’t have contact I’m happy all of you have been part

of my YFU journey. So a little shoutout to some of them: Nina, Johanne, Kubbu, Ieva,

Hanna, Christian, Fiete, Valts and Anne.

But then I thought that I have one YFU friend that has been with me since 1999. Yes,

we have known each other for over 22 years now. Wow, time flies. Anyway, her name

is Lina De Groe. We met at the YES 1999 which was held in Flanders. She was freshly

returned from her exchange and I was helping out at the event. We kept crossing paths

because both of us became very active as volunteers for YFU Flanders, also because I

was studying in her home town of Leuven.

She by far is the more adventurous out of the two of us which means she is up to

almost everything I propose. Be it a last-minute trip to NYC because I wasn’t feeling like

going alone, a day travelling to Paris because I wanted to see an American In Paris but

was too scared to drive in such a big city or taking a road trip in Normandie. Actually,

that was her idea. Because I was borrowing my parent’s car it meant I was driving and

you guessed it right – it was very stressful, but having Lina with me was enough to do it

anyway.

To me, she is not only my favourite travel buddy but someone I can count on to

celebrate each other’s successes and to have each other’s backs. Lina is one of the

people I trust most and I know 100% that I can call her in the middle of the night if I

need to. I hope she knows that works both ways. Sometimes people think we are sisters

which I don’t mind at all since that is what I consider her anyway.

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FRIENDSHIP STORIES

This is the oldest I could find. it’s from 2001 at the YES. Lina is on the right. I’m in

the middle and Nele another one of our YFU friends is the blond on the left.

At Mont Saint Michel from the trip to Normandy

Testimony of Hilde Stouten - YFU Belgium

Exchange student and volunteer

95


TRAVEL

BUDDIES

There are some things that we, as exchange

students, can relate to each other. That is the

case when I want to explain where my best friend

is from…so let me introduce you to Ayaka. Her

family is originally from Japan but was born and

raised in Canada. I met her during my exchange to

Switzerland back in 2014. I’m Santiago Salcedo,

from Mexico City.

Both of us were lucky enough to have arrived not only at the bilingual city of Fribourg,

but also at the same school. One day, Kenna, an exchange student from the US told

me that there was a Canadian at our same school, Ayaka. That’s when I decided to

ask for her phone number to text her to see if she wanted to hang out the next day

after school. That next day, we were both waiting outside the school building; Ayaka

expecting (maybe) a more latino appearance and me, a Canadian blonde girl. We were

next to each other until she said: “Are you Santiago?” and I replied to her question with

a second question: “Ayaka?” We went for ice cream, took a small walk downtown and

that my folks, was just the beginning of a great friendship…

We later realized not only were we in the same high school and the same city, but we

were also neighbours. We took the same bus to go to school in the morning. As a part

of our commitment to learning the language, we decided to speak in French to one

another. I can say that Ayaka was a great support during my exchange year.

She helped me see things in different ways, and talking about our challenges always

seemed easier with her by my side. She was the only one that could truly understand

me because we shared similar stories.

We decided to travel throughout Switzerland as much as we could. She went skiing with

me for the first time in Switzerland together with my host family, she was always by my

side (even though she was an expert and could have left me on the beginners’ slope).

We all have moments that will always remain a special memory in our hearts. Some

of these adventures, trips, anecdotes, laughter and joy are: we went all the way to the

Italian side of Switzerland for a full day; when I taught her how to dance salsa, visiting

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FRIENDSHIP STORIES

many castles, discovering the magical Swiss traditions; and enjoying the beautiful

Alpes. One of my best memories is when we dressed up for carnival and spent the St.

Nicolas Holiday together. One day we crossed the border and visited the city of Evian in

France. For us, it was amazing to spend the day in another country, something which

we are not used to at all being able to do. The trains were perfect for our endless talks,

and silence taught us to just BE. In addition to that, another friend and YFU exchange

student from Belgium, Helena, would sometimes join us in our adventures. Before our

exchange was over, I was able to visit Helena near the city of Gent, she hosted me for

the weekend at her house. Ayaka, after all our trips together she decided to call us

“travel buddies”. We did travel a lot. We got lucky.

It may seem that the only thing during our exchange was travelling, but we were

good students as well. Ayaka as a sports fan, signed up for Badminton because one

of her cousins from her host family was a coach there. To her and my surprise, when

she arrived, she saw me there as well, in the same club. It was so funny that we were

doing the same exact thing without even planning it. To this story, I have to add

that we would always meet by a lamppost right outside her apartment so we would

go together to badminton practice. I have to admit that my new friend learned that

Mexicans are not always punctual. The next year, my host family decided to host once

again, but this time a Swedish boy, Leo and Ayaka’s sister, Carmen, also went the next

year to Switzerland. Guess who became really good friends? You are right, another

friendship was beginning…

97


Ayaka and I are similar in terms of

personality, being one of the traits that we

like some “the old-school” things. After our

exchange, we decided to write each other

letters by mail. Seven years after, we still

do. I have kept all and every single letter

she has sent me. Our travelling doesn’t

end here…two years after going back

from exchange, I got exciting news from

Ayaka: she was visiting me in Mexico!

Two days after, when Helena found this

out, she said she was coming as well.

As exchange students, we all have that

hope that we will meet again, considering

that’s one promise we always make when

saying goodbye but has not a clear date.

They stayed in my house for two weeks,

and all the things we used to discuss

about each other’s culture, now they saw

by themselves. They considered me their

“tour guide” when I was explaining the

historical Aztec and Mayan patrimony

together with the Day of the Death

offerings. Ayaka said Mexico has been

one of her favourite destinations and has

kept asking and learning about Mexican

culture. Our friendship was even stronger

after that trip.

We kept in touch with all three of us,

but especially Ayaka and I, through

letters, WhatsApp and Skype. All three

of us started university, we continued to

be amazed about learning about new

cultures and kept admiring the wonders

of the world. We decided to study similar

careers (not surprising anymore) and all

influenced by our exchange year; Ayaka

applied for International Development,

Helena for International Relations, and

me International Business. I guess we

somewhat wanted to continue to be

internationals.

In the second semester of 2018,

unpredictably, all three of us were on our

second academic exchange at the same

exact time (it seems one exchange wasn’t

enough); Ayaka wanted to experience

Japan not as a tourist or temporary visitor

as she was before, but this time as a local

so she could get to know more about her

origins; Helena decided to go to the US

because of the good quality education

university program she signed up for and

also because she was really good friends

with Kenna and wanted to visit her; and

I decided to go to China mainly because

of two reasons: firstly because I was born

and raised in Latin America (Mexico), I did

my exchange in Europe (Switzerland), so I

wanted to experience a different continent

and for Mexicans, China is considered to

be the furthest place from us, so for me

what seemed to be the most challenging

and different, the better; secondly,

because of the academic experience

considering China is a world leader in

trade and business which fit perfectly for

my career.

Discussing together how awesome it

was for us to be on the exchange once

again at the same time, I proposed to

visit Ayaka in Japan. We both agreed it

was a good idea to spend New Year’s Eve

together in Yokohama. We weren’t able to

make this plan without telling Helena, so

we did. Helena was not going to let this

opportunity go so easily. Then our initial

plan changed a little, but I would rather

say it got a better version. Helena joined

our trip all the way from the US while

Ayaka all the way from Japan grabbed

her bags heading also to the futuristic

city of Shanghai, where they joined

me. After we spent a few days together

visiting Shanghai (my home back then),

we headed off exactly on December 31st

to Tokyo. Helena for some reason was

“stuck” with the Chinese police at customs,

Ayaka and I were waiting for her watching

the clock getting closer to our departure

time. Lucky enough, Helena appeared

again after 1.5 hours. She explained to

us that the Chinese migration agents got

Helena’s stay date wrong and thanks to

that we remember that stressful time

back then with laughter.

Now in Japan, our tour guide was Ayaka,

hosting us at her university dorm, yes, all

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FRIENDSHIP STORIES

three of us sleeping at her dorm. Ayaka

took us to the best local restaurants,

made us try all sorts of dishes and

introduced us to the Japanese New Year’s

Traditions including watching the first

sunset of the year. I remember freezing

while we were doing the countdown… 3,

2, 1…Happy New year!! At that moment,

once again, we only had the three of us.

We just hugged each other and were

grateful to be reunited again. Japan for

me, has been my favourite country I’ve

ever been to. Sadly, all good things in

life don’t last forever. This amazing trip

was coming to an end. Helena took her

plane back home, to Belgium. I stayed a

couple of days more before I came back

to Shanghai.

In 2020 I was working as an intern for

YFU France in the city of Tours. Ayaka was

planning a Euro trip with her family, and

of course, she was planning to do our next

trip, but this time to Spain. Unfortunately,

due to the covid-19 pandemic, our plans

had to be cancelled but it is definitely

a trip we are looking forward to doing.

Personally, I promised Ayaka I would visit

her in Vancouver.

Throughout my exchange, I did learn

about Switzerland but also about Ayaka’s

mix of cultures. I have learned about

Ayaka but also about myself. Making

friends at the beginning wasn’t easier

but knowing I had one true friend was

just enough for me. Even though we

don’t message or call every single day, I

know she will always be there for me. She

has been there in my greatest moments

and the moments where I’ve needed

her the most. We both have seen and

followed up on each other’s success and

also advised on our upcoming projects.

Without a doubt, I can consider her my

best friend. Throughout time, we have

seen each other grow and we’ve kept on

building our friendship. You can imagine

we have lots of stories and anecdotes to

tell. We still have lots of things together

to be accomplished, lots of trips and

adventures. We don’t have an exact date

or destination where we will meet next,

but one thing is sure: as travel buddies,

time is relative and the world, our

destination.

Testimony of Santiago Salcedo - YFU Mexico

Exchange student in Switzerland - 2014/2015 and volunteer

99


THREE

MUSKETEERS

It was in 2015 in a small town in the centre of

France. It was the YFU Pre-Departure Orientation. I

was the youngest student of the year. I was sharing

my room with five other girls, all older than me

obviously.

At the time I was really shy, didn’t want to take part in anything and just wanted to stay

on my bed and read a book. I remember that all the girls in my bedroom started being

friends and started hanging out with some guys in YFU. One night they all decided,

even if it wasn’t allowed, to hang out all of us together after the curfew the volunteers

gave us. I stayed in the room all by myself, thinking that I would have loved to meet

other people that were going to live the same experience as me. But I didn’t have the

courage to go to them. I stayed up all night waiting for them, thinking that someone

might come to get me. But no.

My exchange really changed my way of living and thinking. I stopped thinking and

caring what people were thinking about me because most of the time a few minutes

later they would have forgotten about it. That is why I decided to become a volunteer

for YFU. I really started to talk to anyone, being different from the person I was a year

ago.

That’s when I met Marion and Paul, two wonderful people that also decided to take

part in YFU’s volunteering. We were the three musketeers. Always together, at events,

helping the organizing team, the new volunteers and even the students. Paul and I

went a year in the US and Marion went to Chile. We were very different from each

other, being from different places and doing different educations. But we stuck

together because we lived the same experience and wanted to promote it all around

the world.

Marion lives in a small town near the location where YFU France does the On-Arrival

Orientation. I was never able to participate in this event because we had to be part of a

region as volunteers and I wasn’t. But with Marion, we decided to get together and stay

at her place for a week and every night we would go to the event and hang out with

our volunteer friends.

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FRIENDSHIP STORIES

Paul now lives in Paris, 20min away

from my place. He works like me in event

planning which is really interesting

because he has more experience than

me so he helps me whenever I need

to. We have been planning to organize

YFU events for volunteers but they have

not been approved by the office yet.

I remember one night last year, we

decided to find a website that could send

us American food, like hot Cheetos and

real beef jerky. At 5 in the morning, on a

random Tuesday night, we paid like 100€

just for American food and we were so

happy about it.

And then there are other volunteers that

I met later, like Camille. Camille never

really went on exchange in highs school

but she did work in some YFU offices

around Europe. We met at an unofficial

YFU gathering in the Czech Republic. We

were the only two French people, and

we celebrated my birthday on a random

bus in the middle of Germany on our way

there. Since we haven’t been able to leave

each other.

I don’t know why I love these people so

much. I really don’t. Maybe it’s because we

loved our exchange so much that every

time we see each other it’s like we live it

again. Every YFU France event you will see

us always together, having a good time,

showing all the little students that an

experience like this can last you a lifetime

and not just 11 months.

PS: It was just a few months ago that

I realized that Marion was part of the

group of girls who were in my room for

the Pre Departure Orientation. What was

so crazy about this is that she slept in the

bed right next to me. And that now she is

my best friend :)”

Testimony of Clara Theys - YFU France

Exchange student and volunteer

101


Conclusion

The Anniversary Celebration Team would like to give an enormous THANK YOU to

everyone who shared their personal experiences; how daring to take a step out of their

comfort zone has changed their lives! We were delighted to read how YFU impacted

your lifestyle choices, attitude, career path, or how you have carefully cultivated and

maintained relationships that were made during your exchange year! Even more, we

are extremely grateful that you are part of the YFU family and for your continued

involvement and support with the YFU organization!

Thank you to all the host families who selflessly open their homes and hearts to provide

young people a safe and loving place to gain an understanding that helps them to

become better leaders and story writers in their community. Thank you to all the

volunteers who assist the students during their exchanges, who teach orientations, and

who find and interview families and students. You continue to communicate the spirit of

YFU as global citizens. Thank you!

We encourage every YFUer to help to spread the word! It is in our power to help more

and more people learn about YFU. We can inspire people to have the courage to get

involved and experience a life-changing endeavour with YFU, one which will contribute

to a more peaceful world. Share your YFU story with others: with your friends,

colleagues, neighbors! Tell about it on social media, invite families to host a student,

and/or become volunteers. The more people who are active in YFU, the more lives can

be changed for the better. Let’s open our minds and hearts for a better world and let’s

celebrate!!!

Anniversaries are milestones where you can pause and look back at successes and

achievements, to cherish all of the wonderful memories, and to be reminded of all

the excitement, adventures, and positive change that is yet to come! Happy 70th

anniversary, YFU! Here’s to 70 more years of opening hearts and minds for a better

world!



AFTERWORDS

FROM BOOK

CREATORS

Gao Peng

Program Promotion Director of YFU China

Program Promotion Director of YFU China

The real stories can show the most beautiful side

of YFU, and it is also the best gift that YFU brings

to the world and time.

These stories, written together by people who

have dreams and love from all around the world,

and the true feelings between them, make me feel

like my work has unparalleled significance.

Alex

Project Coordinator & Program Development

of YFU China

This is our attempt to preserve some of YFUers’

most treasured moments in life.


AFTERWORDS FROM BOOK CREATORS

Vanessa Berry

YFU USA Alumni and volunteer

My name is Vanessa and I am from Southern

California. Being an exchange student to Germany

my Junior year of high school was one of the

best things I ever decided to do in my life. That

experience has shaped my entire life- my course

of study in college, as well as the path of my

career. And I have YFU to thank for that! I have

continued to stay active with YFU as a volunteer

teaching several orientations, as well as being an

Area Rep for exchange students here in California.

Participating in the Storybook project group was

very special to me because I was able to share

in the experiences that so many of us have had

as exchange students, host families/ siblings, or

volunteers. Reading and assembling this collection

of stories allowed me to take a walk down

memory lane and reminded me that, regardless

of when each of us were exchange students, we

all have a common bond that connects us. I am

hoping this storybook will bring inspiration and

joy to others the same way it does for me!

Melisa

YFU Turkey Alumni and volunteer

Even though the exchange year is called a “year”,

it sure is a never-ending experience. It changes

a teenager’s view in a way no other experiences

could. Each year there are thousands of students

having unique experiences and memories thanks

to YFU and we are one of those students. Here in

this book, we tried to collect a selection of these

memories, remember them and share them with

the rest of the community. We, as the anniversary

celebration team, happily put so much effort and

devoted a lot of time putting this book together

and are very happy to share it with you. We hope

you enjoy it as much as we did.


Graciela Galbán

YFU Venezuela Alumni and volunteer

Hi! I’m Grace and I’m the graphic designer behind

this project.

My experience as an exchange student made

me who I am today. I grew into my own person

and for that I’m always grateful. This project

is a compilation of wonderful stories of people

growing, learning and creating connections that

will last forever.

We celebrate 70 years of changing the world, one

person at a time.

Inese Boša

YFU Intern - YFU Global office

YFU is created by our stories! It lives in our

experiences, connections, friendships and

understandings we have made. And as long as we

tell our stories and share our learnings - YFU lives!

I’m sure that understanding is the road to peace

and more love in the world and I wish more and

more people will learn and join the YFU mission!


7

th

anniversary

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