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About YFU

The YFU Story

Although YFU now is comprised of a global network of over 50 partner offices and organizations that support more than 4,000 exchange students annually, YFU's global history began very humbly in the United States. In 1951 an American minister, John Eberly, proposed to church leaders that teenagers from war-torn Germany be brought to the United States to live with a family and attend high school for a year in an effort to heal the wounds of World War II. This proposal met with approval from State Department officials.

The hardships prevalent in Germany after World War II were having devastating effects on the country's youth. It was felt that an exchange experience could help them to break out of this cycle of bitterness, hopelessness, and despair. By teaching a group of young people how families lived together in the United States, the hope was that they would be motivated to go back to Germany and rebuild a new country, a democracy, according to what they had observed while living in the United States.

In 1951, 75 German teenagers from Germany and Austria were selected by the Army of the Occupation to come to live in the United States with American families for one year under the auspices of the US Department of State.

The students selected were from the oldest age group, which had not been part of the "Hitler Jugend" (the youth organization of the Nazi regime). The students were between 15 and 18 years old and, as it later became apparent, it was exactly this age group which seemed to be most able to naturally participate and adjust to the lifestyles and values of a foreign family and community.

Dr. Rachel Andresen, Executive Director of the Ann Arbor/Washtenaw Council of Churches, educator, and social worker, was asked (along with Rotary Districts 222 and 223 in the southeastern part of Michigan) to lend her assistance and helped place these first students in American homes on a voluntary basis.
In 1952 the Council of Churches received permission to act as the official agency for this program. It was named "Youth For Understanding." Then, as now, family and community living were at the center of the YFU international learning experience. Andresen served the program as Executive Director for over 20 years until she retired in 1973.

In 1955, the first American teenagers went to Europe for ten weeks during summer vacation. These students were placed in European families with the assistance of returned exchange students and their parents.

These initial exchanges, which grew out of an effort to heal the wounds of World War II, established the family living experience and provided the impetus for YFU expansion to other parts of the world. In the mid-fifties, the program grew to include Scandinavia, and later to western and central Europe. Youth For Understanding bridged the Pacific in 1958 when the first students came from Japan. The Pacific program now also includes Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, and China.

Youth For Understanding was introduced to Latin America in 1958, beginning with Mexico; South American countries opened their doors to YFU in 1959.

As the program increased in size, particularly with the addition of the South American programs, it became clear that incorporation as a non-profit educational organization was necessary. This status was achieved in 1964. As organizational relationships with international corporations and groups were forged over the years, YFU was determined to strengthen its national and international.

Today, Youth For Understanding is one of the world's oldest, largest, and most respected international exchange programs. Since its inception in 1951, YFU offices around the world have exchanged over 240,000 students.
YFU Alumni

Why YFU?

One of the world's oldest, largest, and most respected exchange organizations, YFU has exemplified excellence in exchange worldwide since 1951.
YFU Canada administers the Youth For Understanding programs in Canada, and is committed to preparing young people for their responsibilities and opportunities in a changing, interdependent world. Working in partnership with governments, corporations, foundations, schools, and educators worldwide to create global learning opportunities, YFU promotes international understanding and world peace.

Our international offices and partners have a long and successful track record - more than 240,000 students and their host families have benefited from YFU exchanges worldwide. Youth For Understanding is a worldwide coalition of committed organizations and individuals. These people are joined by the belief that full cultural immersion is the most effective means to acquire the skills needed to thrive in an increasingly multicultural, interconnected, and competitive global society.
Thorough preparation and program support differentiates YFU from other student exchange organizations. We have earned an excellent reputation for our comprehensive orientation programs for students and host families. A global network of YFU staff and volunteers, subscribing to a common set of quality program standards, helps our students every step of the way. That is why YFU offices have been selected to administer more government and corporate scholarships than any other high school exchange organization. And that is why thousands of parents across the globe trust YFU with their teenagers every year.