Gretchen – German Exchange Student – Year Program Alumna

In 1959, newly-graduated Gretchen Holstein (17) of Manchester, Michigan boarded a sixteen-hour Flying Tiger Airlines flight bound for Amsterdam. The plane was packed with lively, eager YFU teenagers from across Michigan on their way to an exciting summer program in Europe.

By the busFrom Amsterdam, Gretchen took a long train ride to Balingen, Germany where she was greeted by her new ‘sister’ Renate at the train station.  “I remember talking a mile a minute to Renate, the only one in her family to speak English.”

YFU ‘Sisters’ Celebrate Fifty Years of Friendship

Gretchen continues…

Around a Table“At the time I thought that I was the first American the people in Balingen had ever met!  I felt like ‘Miss America’ in the school classes that I attended with Renate at our local Gymnasium. School was interesting even though I didn’t understand any German.  Dances and parties were frequent as well as walks through the town and weekend trips to castles.  Longer trips took usto Schaffhausen am Rhein, Koblenz and the Black Forest.

WundebarEverything was wunderbar in Balingen. Food, fun and friends made the summer full of many memories.  I remember the Kartoffelpuffer, Koenigsberger Klopse and Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte mit Schlag just like it was yesterday.

German became more familiar with daily doses from Tante Hannchen and Renate’s Oma who lived with her family while helping with lunch dishes. I heard stories about their early life in Koenigsberg, now Kaliningrad and their flight to southern Germany during the war. Rubble was still evident in Koblenz; clean-up and rebuilding from the war took many years.

Returning to GermanyThe YFU experience impressed me so much, that I chose to return the next two summers as well as for nine months in 1963-64. Meanwhile, Renate braved an eight day trip by ship, the Groote Beer from Rotterdam to New York, to come to Michigan to live with my family for almost a year.  Being an only child, she loved the big family of five kids and our dog named Heidi. There was always something happening.  She kept busy with classes in American history, literature and French as well as volunteering at the International Institute of Detroit where she met many interesting people from all over the world. Living in the U.S. sparked her interest in international travel and learning about other cultures.

Strong FriendshipThe bond between us remains strong; we have visited each other about nineteen times over the years- both in the US and Germany.  My parents also visited her parents several times and were present for the groundbreaking of Renate’s house in Vaterstetten in 1976.

Recent PhotoMy love for YFU led me to volunteer as an AO Representative, a Flight Leader, an Alumni Coordinator, and a host parent for a student from the Netherlands. Renate and I recently celebrated our fifty years of friendship with a two week trip in New York City, Maine, and Boston. I can’t believe it’s been fifty years!  Wunderbar!  Vielen Dank YFU!

Gretchen Holstein Hull
Renate Sauerbaum Bruessow



About Youth For Understanding USA

Youth For Understanding (YFU) advances intercultural understanding, mutual respect, and social responsibility through educational exchanges for youth, families and communities. The global YFU network, consisting of partners in more than 60 different countries, is united by the belief that full cultural immersion is the most effective means to gain the skills needed to thrive in an increasingly multicultural, interconnected and competitive global society. YFU has remained a trusted leader of intercultural exchange programs for more than 60 years because of its commitment to safety, reputation for quality, and exceptional support services. Backed by a global team of volunteers, YFU provides cultural education and guidance to all participants. Selected to administer more government and corporate scholarships than any other high school exchange program, YFU is the only organization awarded full-listing for J-1 inbound, outbound and short term exchange by the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET). Through creating global learning opportunities, YFU has promoted international understanding and world peace to more than 250,000 students and their host families. Thousands of parents across the globe trust YFU with their teenagers every year, and thousands of students every year choose YFU to help them discover their inner selves.
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