Alumni Spotlight: Rachel (Annie) Annette Cortes


Annie Cortes is a senior in high school with a long history with and love for Japan. Both of her parents have spent time there, and she lived in Sendai, Japan with them as a toddler. Through Youth for Understanding, Annie was able to create new memories in the island country, and discovered a whole new world in Okinawa. Forever grateful for to YFU for this amazing experience, Annie has transitioned into being an ambassador, and will be guiding young students beginning in 2017 as they apply for similar scholarships that will give them a life-changing experience overseas.

Why did you choose this program?

I heard that one of my acquaintances went to Japan through Youth For Understanding. She guided me through the process. YFU was the first international exchange program directed specifically toward youth that I had ever heard of.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My program gave me the orientation and information necessary for life in Japan. On my own, I researched further into these expectations and the language.

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

My best advice would be to study the culture you are about to immerse yourself in, and the language as well. There's already a boundary once you arrive and having overcome some of the obstacles beforehand will quicken your chances of establishing a lifelong bond with your host family and their country. Don't forget to be yourself, too!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

As a ambassador of my exchange program, I always have to check emails, as we are still in the process of settling into our ambassador roles. We have to go through a lot of training so that we can communicate with potential students who want to go abroad as well.

Once we do start initiating our roles as ambassadors, we will be constantly there to help these students as they go through the same process we once did.

Concerning my life as an exchange student, I had to adjust to my host family's schedule. They sacrificed time, money, and space for me so I felt inclined to help them and go about their routines.

I attended high school with my host sister, helped my host mother with grocery shopping, and went on a few excursions throughout Okinawa with my entire family. They did so much for me and I am so grateful.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear abroad was being unable to form a bond with my host family. As cliche as it sounds, I just let myself feel comfortable around them and came out of my shell. I was just myself.

I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when my family and I clicked, but I know it was when I showed them my true self. We've created a lasting bond, and they've even had the chance to meet me in my Kansas hometown!

How did you maintain a relationship with your host family once returning home?

Thanks to today's technology anyone can speak with anyone, anywhere! Make sure you get your host family's social media accounts and their address, too!

I personally love sending my family Christmas presents and birthday gifts! Make sure you find out their birthdays! They feel special that you want to know.