Former YES Scholar continues Volunteer Work


It all started in 2010 when I was selected as a YES scholar. I travel to the United States to study for one academic year. As an Exchange Student, I was placed in Ann Arbor, Michigan with Youth for Understanding USA as my Placement Organization. I lived with the Lipka/Greeley Family and attended Ann Arbor Public School (Skyline).

At school, I learned and experienced new things that enabled me to discover more about myself. With the help of my host family, I learned about the American culture and shared Liberian culture through volunteerism. Looking back at sub-Sahara Africa especially Liberia where I came from, I was very passionate about making change in my Community back home.

With this idea of a community based project and the tireless effort of my host parents and area representative Jenny McKillop, I was able to do a book project in order to establish reading room back home that enables students have access to books for research. Countless people in the Ann Arbor community contributed over a 1000 textbooks and novels to the reading room project.

Returning home as YES Alumni, I realized that a lot has changed about me such as having more tolerance, being open minded, self-confident and positive about making the difference in my community. I than teamed up with the other alumni to embark community services such as setting up the reading room and promoting it, civil education on road safety regulation, awareness of peaceful and non-violence election, enhancing student and young woman capacity among other project.
Over the year, the reading room has been great help to high school students and the general public. Students who use the reading room for research and home work assignment often appreciated the effort of every individual that donated books and contributed to the project. Some students recommend that iearn-Liberia, YES Alumni, and all those that help during the books drift might help again by adding one or two laptop computer with internet to access to the library resources.

It is in this light that the YES Alumni are asking to help buy one or two second handed computer to put it in the reading room for the students. The executive director of Iearn-Liberia has promised to help with internet access.

– Mohammed: Exchange Student from Liberia to Michigan

Mohammeds Library Flyer 2013

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Testing Event

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4/28 Test Event


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4/28 Test Event


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4/28 Test Event


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Lisa – France Exchange Student – Summer Program Alumna – YFU Staff & Volunteer

25 Years Later – My YFU Story

Paris FranceMy YFU story is less about my exchange but rather what happened later. However, without my summer exchange to France my YFU story would not have been possible. Twenty-five years ago on June 22nd, 1988, I stepped off a plane in Paris, France, exhausted after traveling across the US and the Atlantic Ocean with a plane full of exuberant  fellow YFU students. I too was excited, but that first day I was also frustrated because I did not understand a word of French despite two years of study. In fact, I could not even communicate with a four-year old. I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  I hoped the next day would be better after I got some much-needed sleep. Little did I know at age seventeen that my YFU experience would become a core element of who I am and what I do in my life.

Loire  Valley, FranceI spent eight amazing weeks in France with my host family who were a seasoned YFU family – I was their seventh exchange student and all three of their daughters had been YFU students to the US; the youngest was to return in a couple of weeks. My host family was wonderful! I experienced a lot in eight short weeks – living in a village of only fifty people, managing to purchase stamps on my own, exploring Paris with my host sister who lived there, camping in the Loire Valley and living on an island for five weeks. I slept in a tent at the beach and explored the island on a bicycle. It was my idea of an amazing summer – a perfect match. My host family stretched my taste buds; they encouraged me to be less shy and to forget about being perfect when speaking. In the end, I felt as though I belonged, I was a member of my French host family. Not only did I begin to actually understand what was being spoken around me but also eventually, I was able to speak back in French. I was thrilled to understand 100% of what was said my first day back in French class at home; my exchange was a success.

As I said, my YFU story really began six years later when I received a newsletter about volunteering with YFU. I had just graduated from college and needed something to make my life have meaning. YFU was just what I was looking for to invest my time and energy. I was fortunate enough to be a part of a field with amazing volunteer managers who embraced me at age twenty-three as a volunteer and gave me meaningful tasks. It was here that I began to see the whole picture of YFU and the impact a student can have on a host family; it is not just about the student experience. I also began my lifelong passion for working with our American students to prepare them for this life-changing journey and connecting with them upon return to see how they have changed.

La Rochelle, FranceI have been fortunate through Facebook to reconnect with many of the YFU alumni and volunteers I have worked with over the past nineteen years. When I look at my friends on Facebook, I see students from many years ago who I interviewed and orientated. I see students who thought orientation was a waste of time and then returned to volunteer the next year because they came to recognize the value of YFU’s orientations. I see alumni who volunteered as interviewers and orientation facilitators. I see people I met randomly and helped become a YFU volunteer.  I see alumni volunteers I helped chaperoned an international student trip with. I see alumni I worked with to plan orientations and reunion events. I see amazing alumni who I worked so hard with to bring meaningful alumni involvement to YFU. I see co-workers, a student whom I hosted for two weeks, one of my host sisters and my host mom. I see volunteers and staff who encouraged me to find my voice, leadership and passion. I see me.

YFU is an integral part of who I am and how I view and navigate the world. Without YFU, I would not be who I am today.  I thank YFU for the opportunity, my host family who made it possible and the volunteers who welcomed a young alumna into their volunteer regimes and gave me something meaningful to do. I know that I make a difference in this world.

Lisa Chinnery
Staff member and Volunteer

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Barb – Germany Exchange Student – Summer Program Alumna – YFU Field Director

40 Years Later – My YFU Story

June 17, 2010

It was 40 years ago, but it seems like yesterday when I stepped on that plane on June 17, Reunion 20001970. I was bound to Germany to spend the summer as a Youth For Understanding exchange student with a family I’d never met, a family that became so much my own that I grieved for months after my return just eight weeks later.

After the proverbial flurry of planes, trains, and automobiles, I met up with the Carl family in Verden, Germany, and headed back to their beautiful, old home surrounded by a walled-in garden. Mami, Papi, sister Anette, little brothers Oswald and Schorsi, plus three dogs and two trained turtles, were all eager to make my acquaintance despite my jet lag. My first night I met with an embarrassing disaster when I locked myself in the third floor bathroom and a neighbor had to use a ladder to climb through the window to come to my rescue. I contemplated heading back home as soon as possible, thinking they probably thought I was a total idiot, unable to cope with the culture, the language, and all the adjustments I would need to make.

My host sister and I shared an interest in tennis and played eagerly together (promising to meet at Wimbledon in five years). Other than that, we were very different with contrasting tastes in clothes, music, friends, but still we became sisters. As adults, we have laughed about our silly youthful activities, as documented in my copious diaries.

My brothers at ages 14 and 12 were my most enthusiastic language teachers. We’d play catch in the backyard with a Frisbee while they laughingly taught me to conjugate verbs. When I would clumsily drop the Frisbee and say “Missed,” they laughed hysterically, thinking I was saying the German word Mist (manure), not yet part of my meager German vocabulary.

On the Fourth of July, I promised to make a secret American meal and holed up in the kitchen all afternoon. Little brother Schorsi kept pestering me about what I was making, and I finally told him, asking for a promise not to tell. He looked at me horrified when I told him what we were going to have and asked if we really ate that in America. I assured him we did, all the time. When I brought out the fried chicken for dinner, he laughed in relief, “Oh, haenchen, not hundchen.” (Chicken, not puppies.) Just a typical and memorable pronunciation error for an exchange student!

Our family spent a lovely two-week vacation in a thatched roof cottage on the North Sea Island of Sylt. I loved the daily walks in the sand to the local harbor where we bought paper bags of little shrimp to snack on while sitting out on the docks on the windy, overcast late afternoons. But it was more of a stretch for this Midwestern girl to visit the local nude beach where folks from 8 months to 80 years old cavorted in the sand, digging craters around their beach chairs to block the incessant winds. I discovered a new cultural version of family values. Another favorite pastime was accompanying my host dad, a small-town physician on afternoon house calls, zooming around in his Mercedes from one village to the next. During these car rides I was trying to calculate if it was really true that 180 km/hr equated to over 110 mph. It was like living in a TV drama, and I strongly considered a career in medicine for the next year.

My host mom was my inspiration, and to this day, I still remember well many of the lessons I learned from her. She had experienced great hardship during World War II, and we had long deep conversations about those experiences, sometimes while we were cooking, walking, or marketing together. But she also brought a winsome sense of fun into the home with her lively and unpredictable sense of humor.

The last weekend we went to the Lueneburger Heide, a nature preserve of moors and heather, for an afternoon of family hiking. I was feeling pretty broken up at the prospect of leaving already, and I tried to express my thanks which seemed totally inadequate to the incredible experience they had given me. My German mother said, “No, stop trying to thank us. You don’t need to do that.” I insisted that I did, but she said, “No, you don’t have to do that because someday you’re going to be doing something like this for someone else.”

The words hung in the air and seemed far-fetched, but the prospect didn’t really sink into my 16-year-old mind until many years later when my own daughter was just about the same age. Then, the prediction came true, and we’ve paid it forward like so many other YFU host families by making our sons and daughter from Switzerland, Japan, Germany, Sweden, Brazil, Korea, Denmark, Finland, Spain, and Thailand part of our family.

Barb Kilkka 40 Years AgoSo, as I celebrate this 40th anniversary of that German YFU summer that changed my life, I reflect on these and many more memories. I didn’t know then what effect that journey would have on who I would become. I couldn’t have predicted how much I would come to treasure my German family and all that they shared with me and taught me during my experience. My YFU connections led to important life lessons and caused me to meet some of the most influential people of my life: not just my host family, but also my husband-to-be at a YFU party the next summer, two of my closest friends who were fellow YFU students that year (from Finland and Chile to the U.S.), the many wonderful sons and daughters we have hosted, and all the students and wonderful families and volunteers I’ve known since that time.

Each YFU host family offers a huge opportunity to a young person. That’s why I want to express my thanks to the whole YFU community of families and volunteers who have given 240,000 of us YFU exchange students this incredible opportunity. Families can rest assured there are life lessons emerging even when you can’t tell you are getting through to a young person. We exchange students do grow up. We do remember. And we are thankful, whether we can express it in words, or simply in something extra that we someday do for someone else.

I encourage families to be a link in YFU’s chain of international friendship. Consider the chance to host a young person who is waiting with shining eyes and an open heart for this opportunity. You take a chance; you truly change a life.

Forty years later, I am filled with awe and wonder at the potential majesty of this experience that YFU founder Rachel Andresen set in motion almost 60 years ago. And it begins anew each year for every eager teen who sets forth to become part of a warm and welcoming host family. Join the wonder—help be the force that sets in motion another brand-new YFU story.

~ Barb Kilkka

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