Youth for Understanding (YFU)
History - from idea to reality
YFU's history began in 1951 when American John Eberly introduced his idea of inviting young Germans to the US for a year to go to school and live with host families. The idea was based on his experiences through travels in Europe, where he had found a general feeling of despair, hopelessness and bitterness in the young people after the Second World War. He wanted to give the young Germans a chance to see and experience another way of life in American families, in order to motivate them to return to Germany and rebuild their country based on democratic values.
In 1951 51 young Germans were selected by US officers from the army, and were sent to the US under the protection of the government. The students were between 15 and 18 years old, as this was the oldest possible who had not been a part of Hitler Jugend (the nazi-regime youth group). Later on this exact age group proved to be the best at being motivated to take part in and adapt to a new lifestyle and culture.
The students were placed with host families found by the Michigan Council of Churches, who in 1952 got official permission to manage the programme under the name of Youth For Understanding. Dr. Rachel Andersen from the council was chosen as manager of the programme, and stayed in this position until 1973. It is important to mention that YFU today is completely non-religious in spite of its origins in the council of churches.
In 1955 the first American students went to Europe on a 10 week summer exchange. They were placed with help from former exchange students and their families. Following this YFU quickly expanded to other parts of the world and became the volunteer based organisation it is today.
YFU in the world
By the mid-50's the programme expanded to Scandinavia, followed by Western and Central Europe. Later on Southern and Eastern Europe has also joined. The Pacific was included in 1958 when the first students arrived to the US from Japan, and today many other Asian and Oceanian countries have joined as well. YFU was introduced in Latin America in 1958, starting in Mexico and South America started YFU organisations in 1959.
As the programmes grew it became necessary to organise and formalise the structures of the co-operation. In 1964 YFU International was established and the main offices were decided to be based in Washington DC thereby moving away from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Today YFU is one of the oldest and most widely respected exchange organisations in the world. Since 1951 YFU has sent around 250 000 students abroad. Every year 4 500 young people from the whole world participate in a YFU programme. The world has changed in the last 60 years – but even so, the aim of youth exchanges is still the same; fostering intercultural understanding between people of the world.