Youth For Understanding (YFU)

Why choose Youth For Understanding (YFU)?

YFU participants gain intercultural understanding, learn mutual respect, and develop a sense of social responsibility. Your experience abroad gives you leadership competencies necessary to meet today’s challenges and benefit from the opportunities of a fast-changing global community. YFU programming allows you to immerse yourself in another culture, learn a new language and meet like-minded individuals who share in our mission.

With YFU, you'll appreciate the nuances of a foreign language, and test your confidence in new situations. When you join YFU, you join an expert global exchange network with almost 65 years of experience and over 40 countries for you to study abroad in. From application completion and travel accommodations to adjusting to your exchange, our experienced Admissions Counselors and volunteers are here to support you every step of the way.

For more information about YFU's study and volunteer abroad programs for teenagers, please visit our website.


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Yes, I recommend this program

Life Changing Experience - YFU is the best!

My child studied abroad in Sweden from the US (2018/2019). He not only returned with a more mature and expanded understanding of the world, but his personal social skills grew tremendously. I was worried a bit in the beginning with all the paper work and not getting placed until end of the summer. But, they made up for it with the extensive orientation and focus on the kids all forming a strong social network before they left and during their stay. The first few days of his arrival was also focused on establishing a social network with all the other study abroad students in the country, basically establishing their mini support group. The host family was amazing and I can't say enough good things about them. My son would also visit with the other students (from other countries) and learned just much about their cultures as well. He not only came back with a broader global perspective, but he also came back with a broader set of social skills. This was very helpful for his first year of college where he didn't know many people. What he learned and experienced was worth far more than the cost of the trip!

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
My son tried the stinky fish, just to cross it off the list. I don't recall the real name. He also tried lots of other foods that he wouldn't try at home. He's also more worldly now with his appetite. Surprisingly, he also came back a fan of Salmiakki (black licorice) candy.
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No, I don't recommend this program

Don't go abroad with YFU

I spent a year with YFU in Spain. They are a total mess. They charge exorbitant amount of fees and then do not deliver on any of their promises. The host family's background check was sketchy - to put it mildly (according to YFU the host mom lying about her age and birth date was OK and "met the local background check requirements"). They failed to mediate when I had issues with the host family, failed to inform my parents about the issues, and then simply ordered me to pack my stuff within 48 hrs and move to a new city!

The only person I could contact was the local rep - despite their claims that they provide 24/7 support.

When I contacted my parents and they talked to YFU in Washington DC they not only did not help resolve the situation, did not apologize, but insisted they had done everything they were supposed to do.

Response from Youth For Understanding (YFU)

YFU does, indeed, provide 24/7 emergency support for our students and it is, in fact, one of the things we pride ourselves on. The key word here is “emergency”, and if the situation is discovered to not be a true emergency and the student is currently safe with their host family, the situation will be addressed the following business day.

There are some situations like the one in this review that requires our students to change homes, especially when both the host family and the student discover that it is no longer a good fit. Sometimes there are situations that cannot be resolved between the student and family through mediation and a move is made as soon as possible. We want our students and host families to have the best year they can, and sometimes a move is required for that goal to be achieved.

Background checks vary from country to country, but YFU offices across the globe follow background checks established by the local authorities. What we consider to be a background check here in the USA may be a bit different than what an official in Spain considers it to be. However, each family is interviewed in person prior to placement and each student is assigned a local volunteer to monitor and mentor them during their time on exchange.

As for the fees, we have done a lot of work these last few years to lower our tuition costs. Fees include domestic and international airfare, health insurance, 24/7 emergency support, orientations, finding a host family (that’s a good fit) and enrollment in school.

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No, I don't recommend this program

Be careful!

The YFU Australia program is a mess! YFU USA offered none of the orientation that was promised before or after travel, and YFU Australia offered none of the orientation promised, nor any of the program support during the trip. The host family did not seem to have been background checked, and when it was clear that a move was in order, the program was not helpful or responsive. Rather than delivering on the promise to work together for a successful experience, they created a dangerous and damaging situation!

The only contact there was with YFU staff in Australia was with the local volunteer, and when the program could not provide a host family for the second leg of the trip, they refused to refund the money we had paid.
Mixed response: relieved to be home, and profoundly disappointed at the loss of a great opportunity.

What would you improve about this program?
YFU USA needs to partner with organizations that can deliver on the promises they are making.
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Yes, I recommend this program

exchange year

YFU program is super supportive program in my opinion. They took care of me very great and I was super fun that once I could have such a great opportunity to become a YFU exchange student in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin 🇺🇸. This program provides the home that located in the safety state which is very nice to me and of course my parents that we would not be worried about that at all year long. In every two or three months the program will have a student conference in Milwaukee so I can hang out with other people from all around the world (I mean we could get to know so many international people from around the world)

Yes, I recommend this program

once in a life time experience

I was very fortunate that I was given an opportunity to spend my exchange year and created lifelong friendships. Mostly due to all the supports from many of my friends, I really feel confident about announcing that my exchange year has been tremendously successful regardless of the difficulties and issues that I was confronted with. I cannot express how much this exchange year meant to me. All I can say is that It has definitely given me a new perspective about life itself. Realization of something that is difficult to notice unless u get out of your comfort zone and dive into whole another world. I, also, cannot describe how grateful I am to all my friends, teachers and host families who made this year so amazing and unforgettable. I couldn’t have chosen any other people to spend the best 9 months of my life. My exchange year wouldn’t have been the same without everyone I met.

What would you improve about this program?
make sure the host family can provide good enough environment to host students


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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

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.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Sonja Bienert

Job Title
Director, Support Services
Sonja is a German alumna of the YFU CBYX program. Having spent her exchange year in Nebraska, her subsequent travels have taken her around the world to bring her back to the USA where she currently lives and works.

What is your favorite travel memory?

One of my hardest but best moments of travel was when I visited our partner office in Bangkok, Thailand. Staff, volunteers and a host family did an amazing and loving job of integrating me into their lives in a very short time. When I said goodbye to spend my last weekend on a popular vacation island I felt empty and depressed, despite the fact that gorgeous beaches were waiting for me. This moment showed me once more how meaningful and moving a personal connection is during travel - so much more valuable than just setting foot in a place, no matter how beautiful.

Which destination is most underrated? Conversely, which is most overrated?

Estonia is one of the most underrated travel destinations. That country is a little gem on the Baltic Sea. Many people think of it either as a nondescript part of the Baltic Countries or a broken off piece from Russia while modern Estonia has so much going for it. It's a fascinating blend of modern technology, being the country where Skype originated, and tradition. You can find untouched nature both forests and beaches, then turn around to return to the city where free wifi and modern amenities wait.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

Our company is a not-for-profit company, so success is clearly not measured monetarily, the only exception being the number of scholarships we can offer. YFU sets up the framework for individuals to go abroad and make their own memorable intercultural learning experience. Success to me means enabling each individual to enjoy their time abroad and to not shy away from tough situations that may bring the biggest aha-moments and the deepest connections. Combing more than 60 years of experience in our student, host family, and volunteer orientations helps us set up our participants to be successful and that ultimately is the only success that counts.

What unique qualities does your company possess?

Youth For Understanding is an amazing non-profit that organizes exchange experiences. For over 60 years, individuals in the United States and around the world have contributed to the goals and mission that originated with one volunteer. Not only do we have decades of experience to look back on, we have a dedicated team of volunteers and staff. Around the world we practice what we preach, working inter-culturally sensitive with each other, growing and developing our staff through training and meeting that bring us back to our core work on a regular basis. This love of the mission shines through and is something that the participants can feel and experience.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

I recently heard an amazing story from a host family in Hungary. Hungary, being located in central Europe, is a major stopping point for refugees coming to Europe to seek shelter. Unfortunately, the political tendency has been more nationalistic than open in recent years. We have a host family where the father is an active politician in the conservative party. This year, when they picked their student, they chose an American girl who is the daughter of a lesbian couple with very progressive views. Our partner in Hungary started a conversation with the family to share why they don't think it is a good idea for this family to host this student. As it turns out, the family deliberately picked the student. They aim to get to know, love and make part of their family a person that is different from them and that will help them gain a broader understanding and perspective of the world.