As a 17 year old in the suburbs of the Midwest, studying abroad seemed such a faraway and untouchable concept. It seemed that only adolescents in movies and TV shows went on exchanges. It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that the topic of exchange was broached. My friends were looking into different study abroad programs for the summer. When I became more interested in going abroad, I had missed the deadline of the program all of my friends were applying to, so I went in search for another program. That is when I discovered the Youth for Understanding program. At first glance, the price tag for exchange seemed particularly steep and was admittedly discouraging, but upon closer inspection, I found numerous scholarships that I could apply for to cut the cost substantially.
The application process was very straightforward and the questions were thought provoking. As I moved on to the interview portion, I was ecstatic to find that it was more lax and non-pressuring than I was used to. This was foreign to me because many interviews that I’ve had before made sure that I knew it was a competition. Of course, in this circumstance, I was essentially competing with other students interested in going abroad, as well as the students hoping to receive a scholarship. However, my interview with a YFU volunteer was more of a conversation that gauged my possible success abroad.
Through the period between my acceptance and getting on the plane, YFU guided me and my family through the preparation. I enjoyed the sectional orientation held by volunteers to help students going abroad in my area. I had the opportunity to meet several students whom were traveling to the same country as I and I learned some great skills to be successful abroad.
I also participated in the pre-departure orientation in Berkeley, California at the University of California-Berkeley. Unfortunately, for my group, we rushed to learn for a day and a half instead of a 3-day orientation. During the orientation, we met fantastic volunteers who were in our places a year or even ten years ago. We learned about some aspects of the culture we were going into. We also learned tips and phrases that would show respect, kindness, and gratitude to our host families during our first few days abroad.
I can honestly say that YFU fit me with the best family that I could have been placed with. Your host family is there to care for you and provide for all of your basic needs. Your placement can make or break your experience. As an only child, I worried about how I would be able to connect with my host siblings. I worried if I would like my host family and if they would like me. During my exchange, I learned that my worries were irrational. From day one, they made sure that I knew that I was welcome in their home. My host parent even reminded me of my natural parents, which kept me from feeling too homesick.
So, why YFU? Personally, I describe my exchange as my true transition from childhood to adulthood. Abroad, I was more independent in the way that I made most of my own decisions. However, YFU always made sure that I always had resources to assist me. Exchange really makes you aware of how big the world truly is. I’ve learned so much about a culture different from my own. These experiences that I have had, thanks to the YFU program, are sure to stay with me throughout my lifetime.