Always as a child, my mum told me that to properly live, one must wander. As comfortable as the nest is, you probably won’t experience much hidden behind it. In 2014, armed with a 20kg suitcase I watched my mum fight back tears as I entered the International Terminal of Melbourne Airport.
It is a strange feeling to witness the world in front of you change. Even weirder is the feeling that you yourself are changing. For 11 months, Sweden threw all she had at me. Now, writing this I see how such an impressionable mind has been changed – for the better.
Technologies such as the internet are bringing the world closer. So now, more than ever, it is vital that we adapt to our globalizing world by developing our cultural and linguistic knowledge. Apart from the job (and travel) opportunities of knowing another language, it’s also a great party trick. Learning a language in another country is a lot easier and more fun than learning it at school. As an adult, learning a new language is much harder, and adult responsibilities limit the freedom to travel.
My life would never have been the same if I never left our corner of the world. In my future travels I now have accommodation in lands as exotic as Mexico and India, as a result of meeting other exchange students in Sweden. I would have never expected to be able to climb a mountain in the Arctic Circle. Battling wind and snow surrounded by a group of some of the kindest, adventurous and most loving teenagers from around the world. I no longer fear judgement. I no longer worry about talking to strangers. I no longer fear being myself. I overcame more than most do in their lives through my exchange, and I was only 16.
You don’t have to watch Shia LaBeouf’s “Just do it” video to be inspired to study abroad. It’s more than just travelling. It’s more than just school. It’s more than just an adventure. My host mother always told me, that when I am old and rocking on a chair and I recall the 5 best things in my life, my exchange year would be one of them. I could travel, but then I wouldn’t see the real culture. The jewels of a country are the people, and being an exchange student I met these people, lived with them and gained an in depth understanding of them. A simple thing such as table manners can sometimes only be learnt by living with the people of that country.
You will learn more in one year on exchange, than you will learn in a life time at home. “Just do it”.
YFU Student Exchange are looking for host families for July 2015! In this article you will learn why hosting an international exchange student will be an unforgettable experience for your family.
1 New Friendship, which will last forever
It is an important decision to become a host family, so that’s why we want to make your hosting experience the best one. YFU will help you choose a student who will fit well in your family, where you will receive a new family member with whom you can stay in touch with for many years.
2 Explore a new country and learn more about your
YFU Student Exchange are located in more than 50 countries around the world and where students are coming from many different language and cultural backgrounds. Hosting a student will allow you to learn foreign language at home (especially in the beginning). But students are also learning English intensively during their stay – and from their mistakes and queries you can get to know your own language very well. Everyday contact with a student from a different cultural background also gives your family the best opportunity to learn about cultural differences between Australia and student’s home country – you will discover interesting things, which you may not have though about!
3 New perspectives on your everyday life
Hosting an exchange student is a beneficial experience beneficial for each member of your family. There are many different cultures and approaches to life in the world. Accepting an exchange student in your family will make you aware of differences in everyday situations, which helps you to build a better understanding towards people and different cultures.
4 Sharing Your Own Culture
During their exchange YFU encourages students to completely “immerse” in the Australian way of life, where host families play a crucial role in this. We ask our host families to share their own culture, customs and traditions with their exchange students and to introduce Australia to them. It can be something as simple as cooking your family’s favourite meal together or just involving the exchange student in your family’s hobbies and activities.
5 Make the World Your Home!
“Make the world your home” is the mission of YFU Student Exchange community worldwide. As a host family you can discover the world without even leaving your home. By living with an exchange student, you will be exposed to her/his culture, traditions, language and way of life. This is an extraordinary opportunity to gain better understanding of todays connected world. And last but not least, after your student laves, there may be the opportunity to visit her/his home country!
Special thanks to Rose, Host mum and Julianna from the USA. Scroll down for the recipe and cooking instructions.
“We chose Biscuits and Gravy, a dish I’ve never had”, explains Rose. “Julianna says her mum made it often for breakfast, but instead of making the biscuits from scratch, they are available commercially. In researching what they are online, I realised that the biscuits were more or less what we call scones”.
We asked Rose what she learned about the American culture while she was cooking with Julianna:
“It seems that food is a very big part of the family experience in the US, but they do use a lot of packaged goods. Julianna’s mother often just gets the biscuits straight out of the freezer. We actually made ours from scratch!”.
We asked Rose what her initial thoughts were about the dish:
“The gravy was a puzzle. Minced meat in a white sauce was something I had never done. It sounded rather strange to me initially, but it was actually much nicer than I expected. It was very nice, I must say that I will keep this in mind for future, especially in putting the scones as a base for the sauce”.
“Cooking the dish with “Mum” brought back a lot of memories of my real mom back home and having breakfast with my siblings in the morning”, explains Julianna. “Food here is somewhat different to back home but the school life and system here is very different.”
We asked Julianna what she will miss when she returns home to the USA: “I will miss Mt. Beauty and its tranquility… but I won’t be missing those loud birdies that you have here!”.
Julianna had been with her host family for a few months and was quite settled in when they prepared the biscuits and gravy, however they felt it was fun to work together on this activity – they interacted a lot, chatted and had a lot of laughs together. Julianna has since returned to the USA, but remains in contact with the host family and Rose has only recently seen her own daughter Mariele off on her exchange to Canada.
“She was a quiet presence in the house”, explains Rose, “But when she gets going she has funny stories to tell about her life back home and the things she is interested in. It’s been enjoyable seeing my home country in the eyes of a foreigner”.
Biscuits and Gravy:
Yields: 36 small biscuits
Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 20 min
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
6 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening
2/3 cup whole milk
Milk Gravy (see recipe below)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking powder. With a pastry blender or two knives, cut in vegetable shortening until particles are the size of small peas; make a well in the center. Sprinkle in milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with fork until all flour is moistened and pastry dough almost cleans side of bowl (1 to 2 teaspoons additional milk can be added if necessary). NOTE: You want the ingredients to barely bind or stick together.
On a lightly flour surface, knead dough gently about 20 times. Gently roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter or a drinking glass. Place biscuits onto an ungreased baking sheet. Place close together for soft-sided biscuits or 1-inch apart for crisp-sided ones.
Biscuits Making Hints and Tips:
For tender and flaky biscuits, have the fat (butter, margarine, or vegetable shortening) chilled. Cut the fat into the dry ingredients until particles are the size of small peas.
Excess handling causes tough biscuits. Do not re-roll the dough.
Always bake biscuits on pans without sides. The heat will circulate more evenly than on pans with sides.
Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately remove from baking sheet.
Split or cut the biscuits in half and top with the prepared hot Milk Gravy. Serve warm.
Makes 10 to 12 biscuits.
1/4 cup pan drippings (bacon drippings or sausage drippings)*
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk or heavy cream, room temperature
Salt and pepper to taste
* You can use the drippings from any meat, but bacon and sausage are the traditional ones used.
In a medium frying pan over medium-high heat, combine bacon or sausage dripping and flour. Slowly brown the flour, stirring constantly (I like to use a wire whisk), to a dark golden brown (you need to keep an eye on this as it may brown too quickly).
Gradually or slowly add the milk or cream, stirring constantly until all is added, and continue cooking and stirring until the gravy is smooth and thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Makes enough gravy for 10 to 12 homemade biscuits.
Story By Janelle Holt, State Coordinator of Queensland
Images by Risto Petäjäniemi
As a YFU volunteer I am often asked, “What will I get out of traveling overseas” or “Why should I host a foreign student?” Those questions do not leave me stumped because, to me, the answer is as natural as breathing. “You will gain another family.”
Forty-seven years ago I travelled to Finland as a YFU exchange student. I was seventeen and had never been far from my Michigan farm or my family. June 1968 I boarded a plane in Detroit and flew into the unknown. I felt excitement, but also angst. I asked myself, “What have I gotten myself into?”
My home was in Rovaniemi, Finland with Olavi and Kerttu Lahtinen. I became their fifth child, as they had four of their own, Kirsti (18), Veikko (15), Ritva (11) and Heikki (8). Rovaniemi is located just ten kilometres south of the Arctic Circle. This far north never gets completely dark in summer nor light in the winter.
The early days of exchange I was terribly homesick and in 1968 there was no internet and long distance telephone calls were expensive. The only connection with home were letters that arrived by post. To ease my homesickness, my host mom climbed the stairs to my room each morning to bring my letters and a cup of tea. Years later I came to understand just how pampered I had been.
Early in my exchange my senses were on overload. As summer wore on I became familiar with the sights, sounds, and smells of my new home. I woke each morning to the aroma of Karjalan Piiraka (Karelian Rice Pies). My mom made them to sell at the local markets. It was a foreign smell to me at first, but as summer progressed I came to love waking to the smell of those pies. Now if I smell of those pies baking, I’m transported to my days in Kerttu’s kitchen.
Kerttu and Olavi spoke no English and I did not speak Finnish. We learned to communicate with hand gestures, looks, or in other ways. One day Olavi was eating clabbered milk. It is a soured, unpasteurized raw milk that was left in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. It looks thick and elastic, similar to hot mozzarella cheese. Never having liked milk, I found this particularly disgusting. My father, generously, offered me a taste. I wrinkled my nose and shook my head. His loud voice boomed, “Hyvää”, which I knew to be the word for “good’. I again shook my head and said, “no hyvää” and we both laughed. To this day I have never forgotten that word, or my ‘conversation’ with my host father.
Summer passed, and I was more and more comfortable in my adopted home. I felt truly cared for me and part of the family. They seemed to enjoy having another child in their midst. As the day of my departure neared, I felt a tugging on my heart. It was such a bittersweet feeling. I wanted to return home to my friends and family, but I also didn’t want to leave.
Years melted away after returning home, but I never forgot my Finnish family. Admittedly, as a teenager and young adult I became more self-involved and lost touch with my Finnish family for many years. Once I became 30, though, and had a child of my own I decided that I wanted to rediscover my family in Finland. On a chance I wrote a letter and sent it to the house address in Rovaniemi. Luck was with me because Heikki, my little 8 year old brother, was now grown, married and living in the house. He told the family immediately that I had written. Soon letters were going back and forth through the post.
One day I received a package. In it was a videotape that the family had made for me. Each family member spoke to me and showed me their homes and their families. Time had changed how everyone looked, but their hearts were still connected to mine. I cherish that video because it was the last that I would ever see my father, Olavi. He passed away before I could return to visit.
The connection has stayed strong for nearly thirty years now. I have visited my family several times. I have gone to celebrate birthdays and participated in the Christenings of my great niece and great nephew. I took my son there when he was eight to meet Kerttu, his ‘mummo’ and the rest of the ever-growing family. My son and mother communicated without words and it was magic.
Through the years my four siblings grew and had children. I now have two brothers, two sisters, two nieces, five nephews, five great-nieces and three great-nephews. My family keeps growing and filling my heart with joy.
One of my most special memories, though, was when Kerttu, Kirsti, and Ritva travelled from Finland to Florida to celebrate my 50th birthday. Kerttu was 75 years old and had never been to the U.S! The fact that they went to so much effort and expense to spend that time with me made it the best birthday I’ve ever had!
YFU exchange is not just about the spending months overseas, learning another language or getting to see sights you’ve only read about. Exchange is about opening your heart, taking in new sights, sounds, and smells, sharing another language, and living a life different than your own.
For this reason, when asked “why go on exchange”, or “why host an exchange student”, I speak from the heart.
“It will help you grow. It will enrich your mind. It will change your life.”
When the day of my High School Prom arrived I was astonished at how rapidly time had flown by. Throughout the day my friend and I got together to accessorise our outfits and select our hairstyles, for the upcoming night. We were both so impatient and thrilled for the next few hours to go by, as we helped each other with every minuscule detail, perfecting our desired outfits. In the late afternoon, my date named Tyler picked me up from my house. He’s suit had a touch of pink in it, purposely to coordinate my dress and I received a corsage, which matched my dress perfectly. We headed to Tyler’s house to have photos such as this one taken. Additionally, we headed to a friends house to have group photos taken. Evidently pictures were a large part of the Prom experience, which I hadn’t been aware of. Although my expectations were based on movies, I was surprised at the fact that there were hardly any decorations and nor a bowl of punch! We were seated at tables at the beginning on the night and then we danced until midnight. The night didn’t end there because the night concluded with a large sleepover which incorporated late night swimming, and heaps of food. It was a fantastic event, which I will likely cherish for the rest of my life.