In 1951, church leaders in Michigan invited 75 West German teenagers to live with local families and attend schools for a year.
Youth For Understanding, a global student exchange program, began its operation with that trans-Atlantic project aimed at bridging the two World War II foes.
Its network has expanded to 65 countries to become the operator of one of the world’s largest international educational exchange programs. It has benefited nearly 250,000 students so far, with some 4,000 students currently participating every year.
|Shin Chung-ha, president of YFU International Korea (YFU KOREA)|
“For many years, we’ve strived to build strong global communities by fostering youth engagement, cross-cultural learning and increased opportunities in global society,” said Shin Chung-ha, the president of YFU International Korea.
“Our basic principle is to eradicate the bitterness between countries with the ultimate goal of the contribution to world peace.”
Shin, 73, has been leading the Korean office since its foundation in 1989. YFU Korea’s program first started between Korea and Japan with the goal of “raising youth awareness and decreasing historical hostility between the two nations.”
“It wasn’t easy at first to persuade parents to send their children to Japan, because many Koreans still regarded Japan as the ruler,” he recalled. Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula from 1910-45.
But building bridges between the two nations and having teenagers live and study in advanced countries was crucial to the nation’s development.
For the past 24 years, a total of 503 students from the two countries participated in the program to learn about each other’s history and culture, according to YFU Korea.
In recognition of his contribution to the ties between two countries, Shin was awarded on Dec. 12 the Prince Takamado Prize, which was established to commemorate late Prince Takamado Norihito of Japan.
He said that YFU Korea’s student exchange effort continues to grow and it currently organizes short- and long-term exchanges with 65 member countries.
So far some 1,800 Korean students have studied in nine different countries including the U.S., Japan, Germany, China, Denmark, Finland, Australia and the Netherlands through its international exchange program, he said.
The primary goal of YFU Korea, Shin added, is to nurture grassroots diplomats who can work for the global community.
“Our scheme is simple. We encourage students to learn by doing their culture and teach by showing Korean culture through exchange programs,” he said.
In selecting students, not only school transcripts and English proficiency but also their personality are taken into consideration.
“Before selecting participants, we interview applicants’ parents as well, because their education at home contributes to their character building and global culture,” he said.
The main difference between YFU and most other study-abroad programs, according to Shin, is that the nonprofit organization is better positioned to ensure participants’ readiness to experience different cultures through the pre-departure orientations.
He explained that YFU organizations worldwide offer students between the ages of 15 and 18 “an opportunity to immerse themselves in another culture, through a unique homestay with a volunteer host family and school.”
“YFU serves as a liaison between students, parents, host families and volunteer schools,” he added, “to ensure that students gain the knowledge and perspective necessary to meet the challenges in the fast-changing global community.”
Students are required to attend a nearly six-month-long orientation program before heading to chosen countries, he said.
Before joining YFU, he had worked at World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization, for nearly 30 years.
In particular, he led World Vision’s project to provide education to people suffering from leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, across the nation.
“While running a special college for leprosy patients, I realized how education can change someone’s life,” he recalled.
Shin, who devoted most of his life to creating better opportunities for minors, said he sees the growing importance of international youth exchange programs.
“I hope to see young Koreans to take a leading role in the global community, and I believe student exchange will be a vital experience for the future leaders,” he added. YFU takes applications for 2013-2014 program
Youth For Understanding International Korea is currently receiving applicants aged 15-18 for the 2013-2014 programs.
Successful applicants will spend an academic year from August in the United States or selected European countries. The student exchange, apart from attending a local high school, includes homestays, tours and interaction with regional YFU students, according to YFU Korea.
Students must have a certain level of proficiency in English and are required to pass an in-person interview. Prospective applicants can submit applications to YFU Korea’s website, www.yfukorea.org.
By Oh Kyu-wook (email@example.com)