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 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." 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-1950s, 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.
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, it became clear that incorporation as a non-profit educational organization was necessary. This status was achieved in 1964.
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 250,000 students.