Growing up with YFU and finding myself
October 26, 2021 13:45
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 Sam’s story on how important has been YFU environment in his growth.
I've grown so much since I joined YFU as a host-sibling. It was 2012-2013, and we hosted Fermin, from Argentina. I was still not very comfortable with who I was, with my long hair, my high voice, my feminine shape, but I could not understand what it was exactly that was troubling me.
Welcoming Fermin into our family made me want to go abroad as well, so I went to Germany. I went there without any knowledge of the German language. I only knew two sentences and a few numbers. The journey was hard and tiring, but so fulfilling. There was no pressure to be someone my family and my friends expected me to be; I could be myself and was able to discover some parts of myself more easily. There, I also felt part of a family, just like Fermin was part of mine. At that time, I was newly exploring the LGBTQI community; I thought I was a lesbian, and my religious host family welcomed me more than my natural family did at that time.
My return to France was extremely hard and I could not comprehend what was happening to me.
I spent months in a medical centre, trying to recover, but the reveal came one year after my exchange. My host family was the first people I came out to as a trans man, and they welcomed my coming out and they supported me in a way I could not have expected: with love and compassion. After I decided on my new name they immediately started using it and they proudly reintroduced me to their neighbours, friends, and extended family as their son from France. The first time out with them was for their 25th wedding anniversary, and it was almost magical to be in a place where I was accepted and loved.
In parallel, I started volunteering with YFU right after I returned from Germany.
Those times were healing. It was such a high; so different from what I was overcoming in my daily life. And, as I grew, I knew it was time to tell YFU, to come out to them, and I could not have been happier with how YFU reacted and supported me. They started to call me Samuel immediately. They also helped me with legal procedures necessary for my identity to be recognised, by writing a certificate for my first name and gender change for the court. Some volunteers wrote affidavits too in order to help me get a positive response from the court.
As I progressed as a volunteer, I also progressed on my path as a trans-man, navigating through gender identity. And I think that YFU was a constant witness to my growth, seeing my beard grow, having my voice deepen. And I did not only evolve in my physical characteristics, but also in my way of perceiving myself, believing in myself, and found freedom in what I allowed myself to accomplish.
I started with the small events, on a national scale: the regional meet-ups, the arrivals of new exchange students, the orientation of future exchange students, being a contact person, running booths at different schools, making home visits for future exchange students and host families. I then facilitated coloured glasses workshops, trained future coloured glasses facilitators, and facilitated international workshops and groups with the Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES) in Berlin a few times. I was a chaperone for French students going to the USA, stepping up for the Routes & Roots program in Italy, I was a Frenchstyler for the international volunteers meet-up in France (Voluntaria), creating a subproject within YFU about LGBTQI issues and awareness. Then this year, I finally created, along with one of the other volunteers, our first workshop on social norms for volunteers and students at this year's YES.
Support from the YFU community.
Each event supported my spiritual and emotional growth thanks to a supportive, joyful, and stimulating environment, empowering each and every one of us through new encounters and discussions. I'm 24 years old and it has been almost 10 years since my first interaction with YFU. I just want to say thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for everything you've done to support me and so many others, and still do.