YFU advances intercultural understanding, mutual respect and social responsibility through educational exchanges for youth, families and communities.
YFU's history began in 1951 when American John Eberly introduced the 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 travelling experiences 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 between 15 and 18 years old were sent to the US and placed within host families founded by the Michigan Council of Churches. 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. Although its origins were in the USA within the context of the council fo churches, today YFU is a worldwide and non-religious movement.
In 1955 the first American students went to Europe on a 10 week summer exchange. They were placed with the help of 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.
By the mid-50's the programme expanded to Scandinavia, followed by Western and Central Europe. Later on Southern and Eastern Europe 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. South America started YFU organisations in 1959.
As the programmes grew, it became necessary to organise and formalise the structures of co-operation. In 1964 YFU International was established and the main offices were decided to be based in Washington DC.
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 different people.
Learning: For Life
YFU seeks to instill passion for life‐long learning as a path to fulfill our mission. We encourage participants and alumni to use their skills and knowledge to thrive and to contribute wherever they are.
Volunteering: Engaged and Dedicated
The volunteer spirit is embodied in the individuals and families who devote their energy, experience and empathy to ensure the well‐being of every YFU student. We believe individual learning and development flourishes in authentic relationships motivated solely by the ideals of YFU.
Caring: Personal and People‐Oriented
YFU values the individuality of each and every participant, and we treat everyone with kindness, respect and dignity. Our volunteers and staff are focused on our students, families and communities: preparing, supporting, listening, guiding, challenging and understanding. We appreciate the many diverse motivations inspiring our participants.
Valuing Diversity: Inclusive and Fair
We appreciate differences in people—natural or cultural, innate or learned, personal or formal, and we act accordingly, to contribute to a more peaceful world. We strive to engage a growing base of participants inclusive of that diversity.
Promoting Quality, Transparency, Sustainability
YFU offers educational exchanges based on the highest standards of quality and transparency. In all policies and practices, YFU recognizes the responsibility to consider:
- The well‐being of each individual involved with YFU;
- The economic stability of all partners in YFU;
- The best ecological options.
Cooperating in International Solidarity
YFU national organizations work together as a seamless network of interdependent partners, ever improving worldwide cooperation, mutual support and trust. YFU continuously develops as a growing community of non‐profit educational organizations.