Alumni Spotlight: Misha Putnam

Misha is a recent high school graduate with too many things she wants to do before she's 30, and not enough time for half of them. Having spent her sophomore year in Gothenburg, Sweden with Youth For Understanding, she's seen enough to know she wants to see it all. Living a life abroad is the dream, so long as she has an abundance of herbal tea, short stories, and music.

Misha Putnam

Why did you pick this program?

My family has been connected to YFU for two generations now. My mom went abroad as a senior from Tokyo to Colorado (which is where she met my dad), and my older brother spent a semester in Japan during his senior year.

For me the question was never which organization to choose, but rather where to study. I grew up thinking I would go to Japan, but as the time came closer I started to feel a little restless and I knew I wanted to do something completely original. I would only have one chance to go abroad in high school, and I wanted it to be an adventure.

Once I knew it wouldn't be Japan, literally the whole world became a possibility. However, I kept daydreaming about Sweden after reading the short blurb for the program on the YFU website. Pretty soon I knew it was where I was meant to be.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

Studying abroad in high school is probably the most important thing that you can do for yourself. At such a young age you are impressionable and free-spirited; the perfect combination for a lasting, life-changing experience.

Going abroad will change the way you see the world. You can't begin to imagine the diversity of life and culture that exists out there until you seek it out.

Putting yourself in a position to discover not only these opportunities, but yourself, you are building yourself a basis as a global citizen. I can't begin to explain all the benefits of going abroad without sounding like some sort of wannabe lifestyle guru, but no matter what your reservation is, it is worth it.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

My advice would be to make every effort to make your new country your second home. That means everything from bonding with your host family, and wandering your city, to learning as much as you can about the culture and language.

Also, keep your eyes wide open because you're going to miss things unless you're fully present. This is a time of discovery and exploration, both inward and outward, so try to be aware of what you're experiencing. Writing things down in a travel blog or a journal are amazing ways to not only articulate your thoughts, but to track your progress both during and after your exchange.

Lastly, keep your expectations of the program low, but your expectations of yourself high. Resolve yourself to accomplish something during your year, whether that is to speak the language or to form indelible relationships, and it will be impossible to have a bad experience so long as you put in the work. And of course, have fun! Make the most out of your time, because it flies by faster than you'd think.

YFU Host Family in Sweden

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

My exchange year is just a patchwork quilt of countless fond memories. Yet one of my most special moments occurred on a regular weeknight at home. My host family is a mixture of two families, adding up to be one big, confusing and beautiful group of incredible individuals.

In the living room of my home, a school photo representing every one of the seven kids was framed and lined up in order by age. My host parents often referred to the photos when we sat for hours on the couches, sipping tea and conversing by the lamplight. After one casual question, "Misha, do you have a photo we could put up there?" - my whole year felt like a success.

My photo now stands in between two of my host brothers, lined up exactly like the other seven. "Now we have a picture of all eight of our kids!" was the comment my host mother made. Two years later and my photo is still there.

How do you deal with wanderlust after the fact?

You satiate it! :)