The need to understand each other motivates me to keep volunteering
October 26, 2021 10:32

70 years ago Youth for Understanding started as a volunteer initiative and still today that is the core drive of the organisation! YFU exists and thrives because of determined and caring YFU volunteers all around the world! To celebrate our amazing volunteers, the Anniversary Celebration team will be highlighting volunteers by sharing some inspiring stories.

We are delighted to share the story of our long-term volunteer Marilen Schnyder from YFU Uruguay.  

“My first contact with an exchange student was at least 40 years ago.  I was a school teacher at the time and I was signing up for the exchange students attending our school and talking to the parents every year. Eventually the director of YFU Uruguay called me and 23 years ago, I officially started volunteering. We became a permanent and temporary host family. I also became a part of the board later and in 2014, I became director of the board.

Around the time I became Chair of the board, things started changing, social media became a strong influence on the exchange experience. Before the internet and social media, students couldn't get a lot of information about different countries all over the world. I remember times that we had to send a letter to ask about the weather. 30 years ago, it was possible but still difficult to travel internationally but in the past 10 years it’s become much easier.

I was at the YFU conference in 2014 in Belgium. It was the moment when we changed the YFU logo. During this conference it was crystal clear to me that we need to keep to Rachel Andresen standards, the YFU mission and her inspiration for creating YFU. Even though the reality of YFU has changed and despite the accessible world today, the YFU mission is still needed! That conference lit that pathway. 

Diversity was in our society before, but within the years it became a more and more important topic! 

And it was a challenge to make students understand the differences. Students need to not just learn from the media, but actually live in different families! YFU is not about the culture that you can read in books, it is about the diversity that you can meet. We need to have an understanding of different people around the world. While learning about others we are able to learn about ourselves, what we really accept and what not.

The need to understand each other motivates me to keep volunteering. There is a lot of work to be done in this area nowadays with the internet because teenagers think they know a lot and they do not. Social media is leading us towards isolation rather than solidarity but when you travel and live with another family, you discover how people live and learn to understand each other.

I have a lot of stories from over the years. 

One of the exchange families here just recently became grandparents to a girl in Germany. They’re saving up to visit her. I helped a girl travel to the states and her neighbors who had been driving her school everyday, they visited Uruguay for New Year’s Eve for the turn of the millennium. That night while the neighbor was looking at the stars on the beach, he told me that this was the first time he could see the stars so clearly and said thank you for helping the student travel to us so years later, he could see these wonderful bright stars in the sky on the last day of the last year of the century. At that moment, I felt how big of an impact I can have on the world, not only am I touching the student’s life or the family’s but also the neighbor’s and all the other people they meet during their experience abroad.

I’ve also implemented things that are now being used within YFU Uruguay such as our newly official Spanish certificate that the students can take back to their country to show their proficiency after all their Spanish studies. We’re now working on a program so that the younger volunteers will be shadowing the older volunteers so we can preserve the standards of YFU but also utilize the younger energy. 

The hardest part of volunteering is when you have to talk to a family or students because they aren’t getting connected or understanding each other, when there are issues. But the best part of volunteering is being connected in a well functioning network within my country and around the world. I’m always informed on current trends and facts.”