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Meet the YFU’s 70th Anniversary Celebration Team

Global celebration is a novel project that has brought together former YFU exchange students, host parents, staff members and volunteers from more than 12 different YFU organisations across the globe to form our ACT. Each unique experience allows us to grasp the true YFU spirit that has been alive for 70 years, which is to explore and gain a deeper understanding of different cultures, open homes and hearts to people from other countries, and creating lifelong connections.

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BILL DANT
Volunteer with YFU-USA since 1985; YFU staff member in Washington 1987-1994; YFU-USA Board member 2013-present: YFU International Board Member 2021-present.

My whole life and career have been marked by my exchange experience --- now many years ago -- when I spent a year in Strasbourg, France. I learned French, I learned about France and French culture, but most of all, I learned about myself. Since then, I finished my university studies and went to West Africa to be a middle school teacher for two years in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and that launched me on a lifelong continuation of experiences with the whole world--as a teacher first, then as an international programs manager and director, and now as an independent consultant specializing in international education and evaluation. I lived in Washington DC for many years (which included seven years working on the staff of YFU-USA), but in recent years I have moved to rural Virginia, about 100 km from Washington, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains (a beautiful and peaceful place--come visit and I'll show you around!

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IEVA DIRVONSKAITE 
YFU Lithuania | EEE-YFU | International Board


My YFU journey started back in 1998 when I got a chance to go on a YFU exchange program in Waterloo, IA. And what an experience it was! Having grown up behind the iron curtain, the USA was like a different new world to me, full of adventure and possibilities. Since YFU Lithuania did not yet exist when I was on exchange (our programs were run by Open Society Fund), two years after I came back from exchange, I was surprised to receive a phone call inviting me to join the volunteers of YFU Lithuania. I did and I have not regretted this for a second! I had a chance to build and grow YFU Lithuania, having been a volunteer, a National Director and a board member. I have also served two mandates on the board of EEE-YFU and am at the moment volunteering for the International Board and EEE-YFU Board. At the same time, I am proud to have been involved with the YES - Youth Empowerment Seminar - for the last 17 years (this number sounds scary, my YES experience would actually be on exchange this year!). In short, YFU is an incredible organisation, which made me a better person, a greater professional and, most importantly, helped me understand that the whole world is my home. YFU is my family, it is my happy place, and I am proud to be a part of it.

As lame as it sounds, today YFU is more important than ever. It has always been there for us, and now we have to be there for YFU. Happy 70th anniversary!

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AGNES NERATH
YFU Hungary- I was an exchange student from Hungary to Belgium in 1992/1993. I am volunteering since Oct 2020

I was an exchange student from Hungary to Belgium in 1992/1993. I am volunteering since Oct 2020. YFU taught me that people are nice and generous across the globe, having the World My Home is great fun and exciting. And most importantly I realized thank you YFU, that You can make an impact, anywhere and anytime. So better invest in something good. Because of my special language skills, I got my 3 first jobs and thanks to my belief in people, loving to work with colleagues across the globe. My unique interest in why how and what others think and understanding my own need and having a special approach to issue resolution, gathering people around the same table and openly discuss problems, helped me to climb up the corporate ladder- now being a senior leader for quite some time. Obviously not everything happened from one day to another, but definitely, the YFU experience helped me to willing to learn and listen to feedback, not being afraid of moving out from my comfort zone and understanding it is OK to fail from time to time- was helping to be appreciated by the corporate world.

To continue for another 70 years to invest in the future generation in the right way to make the world a better place! Never give up!

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LUCIANO CRICCO
YFU Argentina


I joined YFU first as a Host Family in 2018 and later in 2019 as a volunteer. I started working a lot on my delegation's social networks, designing pictures and uploading them to Instagram and Facebook. I got better thanks to the help of other volunteers and managed to start working on YFU Argentina's social networks. I also was a contact-person for an exchange student that lived in my town. I've learnt a lot in all the years I've been volunteering in YFU. I've met a ton of wonderful people and travelled around the country thanks to it. I decided to join the Anniversary team to help them create a good-looking campaign, designing pictures, logos, and all that is needed for it.

I wish YFU a hundred more years, fullfilling the dreams of people around the world, building international families and helping create a lot of memories for exchange students!

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ALEXANDRA TICHY
YFU Australia (current; President), and YFU Austria (former; exchange student, volunteer, board member)


Like for many others, my journey with YFU started as an exchange student (to Virginia, USA, in 2009. Not just my exchange year, but the many great memories of YFU orientations and the YFU spirit I saw in all the YFU volunteers led me to become a volunteer myself. Along my YFU journey I teamed and led exchange orientations, trained volunteers both in Austria and in Europe and eventually ended up on the board of YFU Austria, and more recently of YFU Australia. Even though my role within YFU was always changing, the experiences and things I learned on this path have had a big influence on my life: from my love to be internationally active, to specific skills I learned as volunteer and on the board that have shaped my career choices. What remained the same was and is my passion for the values that YFU stands for. This is the reason why I joined the anniversary team, to share these values on a global scale at a time when the world needs a bit more understanding.

I wish the YFU community that we can reconnect this year with all the great memories and relationships we have made through YFU, and that we as an organization can use these difficult times to come out stronger and show that our values are and remain important on a path for a more understanding world.

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CAROLINA SUÁREZ GARCÉS
I'm a representative of YFU in Mendoza, Argentina and belong to the volunteer's group of YFU Argentina.

I was an exchange student in Germany in 1989/90. This was possible thanks to the Eric Simon Scholarship that YFU offers every year. I consider that experience one of the most important ones in my life. After my year abroad I started collaborating with YFU as a volunteer, later on, I was host family and representative of YFU in my region. I feel blessed of having been able to live an exchange program and I keep contributing to this cause for giving other people this possibility. When I found out about the 70th Anniversary of the creation of YFU I wanted to help and make this milestone a global celebration for the whole world to know about our organization.

I hope that more people join YFU in our efforts to bring understanding and love to our world, to connect hearts and open minds for a brighter world!

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YUMENG DU
YFU China
I was an exchange student in the U.S. from 2015 to 2016, where I lived in Big Rapids, Michigan for a whole school year. That exchange experience changed my perspective about the world and ultimately led me to persuade a higher education in the United States. I credited my exchange for pushing me to jump out of my comfort zone, immerse myself in a completely foreign country, and teach me to stay open and appreciative of things. I have met the sweetest host families, and friends from across the world whom I am still in contact with to this day. It has been an unprecedented and challenging year for many of us, and I want to do my part to give back to this community that has given me so many unforgettable memories.

Happy Birthday, YFU, can’t wait to celebrate your 80th birthday!

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LENA GRONBACH
YFU South Africa – National Director

I joined the YFU community as an exchange student to Chile in 2006/07. After an unforgettable year in Patagonia I became a volunteer for YFU Germany and later joined YFU South Africa as a marketing intern in 2011. I immediately fell in love with the country and the wonderful people in YFU South Africa and today, 10 years later, I am the National Director of our organization. Leading YFU South Africa through a global pandemic has certainly been challenging. But at the same time, the mutual support and the ‘fighting spirit’ within the global YFU community has been incredibly motivating and rewarding. For me, YFU has never been just a job – it’s given me a second (and even third) family, lifelong friends, a new home and a different perspective on life. My main motivation to join the Anniversary team was to make sure the African continent is represented in the celebrations, and to play a small part in this amazing global project which will showcase YFU in all its diversity.

My birthday wish for the YFU community is that it continues to prosper, to inspire, and to build bridges between countries, cultures and individuals. YFU was born out of a global crisis and I am convinced that we will not only survive the current one but that it will make us stronger and bring our community closer together. Here’s to the next 70 years!

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VANESSA BERRY
YFU USA

My name is Vanessa and I am from San Diego, CA (USA). I am an alumna of YFU (1995-1996 school year). I was an exchange student during high school for one year with YFU in Germany, on the CBYX scholarship. I was also an exchange student to Mexico for one semester during my junior year of college through my university. I absolutely LOVED being an exchange student and would currently be doing that as my full-time career, if there were such a profession. Being an exchange student sparked my interest in studying foreign languages in college, and I now have a B.A. in Foreign Languages & Linguistics from California State University Fullerton (German, Spanish, & Linguistics). It also pushed me towards my very first job, which was as a tour guide at Disneyland in the Guest Relations department. I gave tours in all 3 languages, I was a VIP Hostess for celebrities, as well as a Guest Relations trainer & supervisor there for 12 years. I have also been an event planner (which I still do when we are not in a pandemic), a long-term substitute teacher for high school foreign language, as well as a private, in-home tutor for students ages 13-60, which is what I am currently doing. I also volunteer for YFU: I teach many of the southern California orientations, I have been an area rep, a host sister, and an emergency host “mom”. YFU has inspired the entire path that my life has taken and, for that, I am forever grateful.

Happy 70th Birthday, YFU! It is an honor to be on the global Anniversary Celebration Team and I am so happy to be a volunteer and giving back to an organization that has given so much to me. I look forward to many more years of YFU uniting hearts and opening minds across the world!

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BEI ALEX YAN
YFU China

I started as a volunteer for YFU here in Shanghai in 2015, supporting exchange students hosted in Shanghai as a helper. My friend was the Host Mom of a boy named Adam from the Netherland. Through various YFU events, I was more and more drawn to it by its visions and beliefs. Therefore when an opening in YFU China appeared in 2016, I applied and successfully got in, Hooray~~~ Since then, I've been inbound coordinator, outbound coordinator, new project development... 70 years marks an important milestone and what makes it even more remarkable is that the world we are living in right now is very much divided and is in dire need of the YFU spirit and belief.

I wish YFU 500 years MORE!!

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CAROLINA CIORDIA
YFU Argentina


My YFU life started back in January 2014, when I graduated from High School and found out about YFU's existence. Sadly, I had never heard of student exchange before. I actually wanted to go to a German-speaking country because of its close relation with Industrial Design but couldn't get into any of those since I was graduated and +18. Thankfully, I ended up with a design program in Sweden.
Since my return, I started volunteering at my home organization wanting to give new students the chance to experience what I had lived back in Stockholm. Fast forward to 2018, I got the chance to be YFU Switzerland's intern and learn so much more about YFU and how it actually works from the inside. After a beautiful and inspiring year there, I came back home where I still volunteer trying to inspire others to see the world and its people up close, trying to create understanding.

I wish the YFU community a safe and prosperous year, one in which we are able to reconnect with our past YFU experiences and all the YFUers we have met before.
I'm really glad to be a part of the Anniversary Celebration Team and to - even in the distance - keep getting to know YFUers all over the world that share the same spirit.

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ANNI KEKÄLÄINEN
YFU Finland

I was an exchange student in Tokyo, Japan in 2014-2015. The exchange year shaped me as a person and changed my life, which is why I wanted to give back and participate in the YFU community as a volunteer. Since I came back I've gotten to be a part of many orientation camps and meet many students and volunteers in Finland but little less so outside Finland, which is why I wanted to join the 70ACT - to get to work together towards a celebration for my dear YFU with other likeminded people from all over the world.

I want to wish the happiest of birthdays to YFU, a community that gave me the opportunity to live my best life in Tokyo for a year and that has kept on giving me amazing experiences and possibilities to meet new people who share my experiences. Without this community there would not be who I am today, and for that I am eternally grateful!

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MARIKA BERGENDAL
Sweden

My exchange in Colorado in 1973-74 is the base of my life today. The love and friendship of this year have influenced every decision I’ve taken since then. My studies, my marriage to a YFU student, my different careers, moving to France. Since 2011 I’m the regional coordinator of the greater Parisian area for YFU France. It started at a Parent-Teacher -Association meeting in November 2009, which led me and my family to host Mariana from Brazil 2 days later. Since then we’ve been sharing the Quality Essence of YFU with new YFU generations. I volunteered for the Anniversary Celebration Team of YFU because I believe that sharing your life with others creates ties and understanding.

My wish is that YFU continues to make the world a better place by inspiring such actions.

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MELISA BALCI
YFU Turkey

My YFU journey has started in 2013, when I first found out about the international exchange programs it offers and sent my application. Then I got my place to be an exchange student in the USA in 2014-2015. :) It was my dream to be an exchange student since I was in middle school. But unfortunately, unlike YFU, not many programs in Turkey are cultural exchanged focused, so most of the programs I found before were financially unaffordable for me. Being a cultural exchange program and mostly working with volunteers, YFU gave me a chance to make that dream come true. :) I wanted to be one of those volunteers to help people like me to see the opportunities they might not have realized they had. :)

I wish YFU and the whole community a wonderful anniversary and I hope this celebration finds its place as one of the earliest celebrations. 

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FLORIAN EICHBLATT
YFU Germany

My volunteer experience started after my YFU/CBYX exchange year in Lawrence, Kansas (USA) in 2012/2013. Since then, I have met legions of inspiring volunteers, exchange students, host families and YFU staff. At the same time, I have grown to appreciate the countless YFU people before my time as I dug deeper into YFU´s history. This penchant for the rich past of our organization(s) prompted me to join the Anniversary Celebration Team.

I hope that we use YFU´s 70th birthday to look back at the many legacies that YFU created to uphold the spirit to continue the ever-so-important quest for understanding in the 2020s.

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PENG GAO
YFU China 


I met YFU by chance. Her idea made me resolutely join it. I always believe that education is a cloud to promote a cloud, a soul awakes another soul. YFU is the wind carrying the clouds. She seems invisible, but she has endless power. No matter how the world changes, in my mind, YFU people are the noblest and most selfless representative. Our world needs YFU, our spiritual world needs YFU as well. I joined the Anniversary team because I think the world needs to know more about Asia, especially China.

May we always advance in the prosperity of friendship and peace.

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JIM MESKAUSKAS
YFU USA


I was an exchange student to Wallonia, Belgium in 1987 and have had some form of involvement with YFU ever since. I studied English literature and philosophy at UC Berkeley, and Victorian literature at University of Oxford. I’ve worked in advertising for the last 25 years, but have had jobs as diverse as being a line cook in an Italian restaurant to cleaning oil spills in El Paso. I currently live in Manhattan with my wife and 3 cats. Current enthusiasm is medieval cookery, history of England between the Roman occupation and the Norman invasion, and what’s next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

My YFU exchange experience was one of the most significant events in my life. It taught me that there is a larger world than that which is outside my door. It also taught me that the world is a good place where bad things happen rather than a bad place where good things happen. I was motivated to join the anniversary team because I want to share my enthusiasm for YFU with the rest of the YFU community and do what I can to keep the mission alive.

When Rachel Andresen talked about seeing the lights go on, and wanted to be sure they never went out again, the lights were not just those in windows or on streets. The lights are us. We are the lights that must never go out. YFU has kept them on for 70 years. Here’s to 70 more.
Happy Anniversary, YFU!

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ERIK SUNDBERG
YFU Sweden in normal times (these days perhaps more YFU international in a wider sense)


Ever since I came back from my exchange outside of Chicago in 2011-2012 I've been an active volunteer with YFU, both nationally in Sweden as well as internationally. In this, I've been involved in organizing for example the international volunteer seminar Voluntaria, the YES, and several international trainings. I also had the fantastic privilege of doing a one-year internship in YFU Uruguay. This experience really made me realize what a special connection YFUers share all across the world – but also that we could and should work even more actively to strengthen that connection!Like for many, YFU holds a very special place in my heart. I have it to thank for my American family, my Mexican brother, and friends for life spanning the globe. Not least perhaps, my YFU experience(s), has shaped my view of the world and my place in it. For this, I'm eternally grateful, and I know I'm not alone. To celebrate experiences like this, and make possible many future ones like it, I'm excited to be joining this exciting project and contribute in whatever small way I can to making this anniversary a smashing success! 

70 years is barely an entire lifetime, so although I’m super proud of everything that YFU has achieved, I’m convinced that YFU still has our most important work ahead of us. To 70 amazing years, and to 70(+++) amazing more of bringing the world closer together!

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INESE BOŠA
Latvia, YFU Global Office


This October was my first time when I learned about the YFU environment when I was starting my internship in the YFU Global office. I feel blessed to be here and work with professionals for whom YFU is the mission, not work.
NGO sector is very dear to me and till now I have been more connected with Community foundations and youth engagement, but I'm impressed to see how many volunteers YFU activates. It is amazing to see that in the YFU volunteering is not only a kind gesture, but it provides a very rich learning opportunity for everyone who is involved, no matter their age and status. It creates a safe environment to meet and expose yourself to different cultures allowing you to create very strong connections between people from diverse parts of the world. And it is a true gem to have.

For YFU I wish only one thing - more and more people to get involved in exchange and volunteering!