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Volunteering: A Core Value of a YFU Global Citizen
December 17, 2021 23:52

Learning about foreign currency can be a challenge. Our YFU students used to ask, “Why are all of the US bills the same size and color?” On many questions you as a host family might have answers, but the most of learning happens to trough out experience, therefore Long-term host family Ruthefords in USA will share their tips and tricks on how to enrich the hosting experience through volunteering and create a quality time with the exchange student.

Volunteering: A Core Value of a YFU Global Citizen


Learning about foreign currency can be a challenge. Our YFU kids used to ask, “Why are all of the US bills the same size and color?” or “Why is a dime smaller than a nickel but worth more?” I told them it was because we liked to confuse foreigners. Now most kids use a card rather than cash so it was especially challenging when I told my two YFU sons that we were going to volunteer at a soda booth during the local Japanese festival. The booth only accepted cash for payment and they would have to make change quickly.

The soda booth is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the local chapter of the Japanese-American Citizens’ League. My love of Japan began when I went there as a YFU student in 1985. Today I support many groups that strengthen the ties between these two countries. Over the years about a dozen of our YFU sons have volunteered at the soda booth.

You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give. – Winston Churchill

Everyone has their own reason for doing something for someone without being compensated. Volunteering can help people make friends. Connecting with others gives volunteers the opportunity to build their social network which can help combat loneliness and depression. Being of service to others can give a person a sense of accomplishment and for young people it can help increase their confidence and self-esteem.

YFU would not exist without volunteer host families, and volunteering gives our family a sense of purpose. Citizen exchanges were developed out of a desire to foster world peace, and it is a great feeling to know that we are contributing to this goal. How about our YFU kids? How do we instill in them the importance of volunteering?

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. – Gandhi

Emil was our YFU son from Denmark. A few months after he joined our family he admitted to me that he had the wrong assumptions about his exchange year. “Everyone told me that my exchange year was going to be all about me, but now I realize that wasn’t true.” Not only did Emil learn that his year was also about his host family’s experience, he also realized the huge impact he could make with the people he met while on exchange. Part of this impact came from his volunteer work. Emil coached a junior high school soccer team, and none of the players had ever met a Danish person before.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others? – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here are some ideas to help families who are interested in volunteering.

Set Goals

Our family plans on 25 hours of volunteer work each school year. Some schools require a certain number of hours and some YFU students who receive scholarships are expected to volunteer. Be sure your goals are in line with other goals for the student. Balance volunteer work with other activities so that it does not become burdensome.

Select Appropriate Projects

Many volunteer activities have a minimum age requirement so make sure that you find an activity that teens are allowed to do. In the United States some community organizations like United Way maintain a database of volunteer activities. Schools might also have opportunities where students can provide assistance. Our city has a nonprofit that is specifically devoted to teenagers who want to volunteer. Anyone can submit a request to them to complete a project.


Our YFU sons have done a variety of projects. Here are some possible activities:

  1. Clean up a park or other public area
  2. Work at a festival
  3. Coach a children’s team
  4. Wrap Christmas presents
  5. Help organize shelves at a food bank
  6. Prepare food in a homeless shelter
  7. Sell something at a local fundraiser
  8. Lead activities with special needs kids
  9. Make gift boxes for underprivileged children
  10. Tutor students at school
  11. Speak to kids about studying abroad
  12. Participate in a recycle drive
  13. Paint the community room in a senior center
  14. Help with local Veteran’s Day events

Be the Parent.

Every year when our new YFU son arrives we tell him that we will be volunteering at the end of the month. We do not ask. Young people do not always know what is good for them until they have done it. Kai was our YFU son from Norway. He helped at the Japanese festival which was held at St. Louis’ botanical garden. Months later Kai admitted that he was not really looking forward to spending the day at the garden, but he was surprised to find that he enjoyed it and was glad he participated.

What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good. – Aristotle

People who refuse to host often use the excuse that they are too busy. Who is not busy these days? Households where both parents work is now the norm. Those special people who welcome a young person from another country into their family are the ultimate volunteers. They recognize the importance of YFU’s mission, and they have a wonderful opportunity to teach young people about the value of volunteering. Choosing small projects during the year can help students see the humanity in others, and in this way help them to become true YFU global citizens.

Cropped 07 160904 kai and kumiko on the way to the japanese festival