It's amazing how many lives one person can change. Rachel Andresen saw firsthand the destruction that World War II brought to Europe, and she wanted to help prevent that from ever happening again. She believed that if young people had the opportunity to live in another country, then that experience would increase their understanding and respect for people of other cultures.
Andresen became the first executive director of a nonprofit called Youth For Understanding (YFU). The first YFU students were German youths chosen by the U.S. Army of Occupation in 1951. They lived with families in Michigan, and since that time, YFU has expanded to serve families in 60 countries and has sent 250,000-plus young people abroad.
I am one of those 250,000. I was a YFU student to Japan 27 years ago. I still keep in touch with my Japanese family, and I had the honor of attending my host brother's wedding. In Japan only family members attend the ceremony, and then they move into a large reception hall where friends are waiting. I really appreciated my host family treating me as a family member, and it was very interesting before the ceremony began when my side of the family was introduced to the bride's side of the family. When my host father got to me, he said proudly, "And this is my American son, Stephen." You could see everyone in the bride's family tilt their heads quizzically, and ask each other, "Did he say American son?"
I loved Japan so much that I lived there for eight years after college. I met my Japanese wife at an Italian restaurant in Tokyo. When we moved to St. Louis, I told my wife that I wanted to give back to the same organization that gave me the opportunity to live abroad. We hosted our first student when our own four children were only 5 years, 3 years, 1 year old, and 6 months. He was from Japan, and attended Parkway North. A couple years later we welcomed a son from Thailand who attended Parkway Central. Now it's a couple years later, and we're talking about hosting again; this time a Korean student.
You, too, can host a student from another country. Here's how: apply online at www.yfuusa.org. Applying is free. Approved families have access to pictures and profiles of available students, and pick the student that best matches their family.
Some families pick students who are quiet and like to study. Some look for students from a particular country. Some pick sporty kids, and some pick a student who plays a particular musical instrument. Some kids belong to Scouts, some like camping and others love horseback riding. One family who belongs to the St. Louis Rowing Club picked a student who loves rowing. The choice is up to you.
Host families provide meals, a bed and ensure the student can get to school. Students bring their own spending money and have their own health insurance. Families are assigned a YFU rep who supports them throughout the year. For any questions on how to join the YFU community in St. Louis, either as a host family or volunteer, please contact me at 636-812-2338 or firstname.lastname@example.org.