17-year-old exchange student heads home after year at Mound Westonka High School

For seventeen-year-old Livia Ciccia an exchange student through Youth For Understanding USA (YFU), attending Mound Westonka High School, the past year has been a once in a lifetime experience.

“Minnesota has been amazing,” she said. “I’ve had so much fun with my host family and friends.”

A girl scout since she was nine-years-old, Ciccia became interested in studying abroad after attending a ‘World Scout Jamboree’ in Japan. She discovered how much she enjoyed meeting so many other young adults from around the world and learning about their customs. Becoming an exchange student offered the perfect opportunity for her to become completely immersed in a new culture.

Ciccia chose to come to the USA because she wanted to experience a culture and way of life different from her own that would give her a chance to grow and expand her world view. That’s exactly the experience she’s had here in Minnesota.

Studying abroad isn’t a new concept; however, in recent years there has been a significant rise in its popularity. The desire to participate in an educational exchange continues to grow, due in part to the numerous educational advantages that studying abroad provides both the student and host family. Studying abroad is an intense experience that focuses on cultural immersion and authentic linguistic practice in a secondary language.

Young people, especially those in high school, are recognizing the value of international exchange in helping to enhance their college applications as well as in developing the skills needed to thrive in an increasingly multicultural, interconnected and competitive global society.

“Mound Westonka, is challenging but the teachers are always there to help me, I never felt alone,” Ciccia said. “I will always suggest everyone to go on an exchange year.”

Each year a number of area families open their homes and hearts to an international student through YFU. During these academic and cultural experiences, host families share their own customs and unique traditions, helping students learn that acceptance and tolerance are essential for success in a global society. The experience is transformative not only for the student but their host families, as they too learn about another culture and language – without even leaving home.

Elisa Blume, a first-time host parent currently hosting one of nine YFU students attending Mound Westonka High School this year has enjoyed being a host parent so much that her family has already decided to host again next year.

“We had a great experience so are doing it again next school year, and hosting a student from another country to broaden our lives even more,” Blume said. “It has been a learning experience for all of us on the different cultural aspects, along with what is similar amongst teenagers, and learning about a different country and their life/experience has been very interesting for all of us. It has also been great talking with our exchange student’s family throughout the year.

“We are hopeful to keep up the exchange and contact with our exchange student and his family once he returns and into the future; and if we are ever able to make a trip to his country, to visit with them all in-person.”

Host families gain a broader perspective of the world, learning more about geography, communication and international cultures while simultaneously growing closer together as a family as they share their daily lives with a YFU student.

Thanks to the host families who opened their homes and hearts to these exchange students, these future leaders will soon return home from their stay here, having developed lasting relationships, gaining a new sense of independence, and acquiring a deeper understanding of a new culture and way of life.

Interested in welcoming a YFU exchange student to your family? Visit yfuusa.org to learn more or you can contact YFU local Field Director, Suzanne Sevlie at 763.280.9963 or email her at [email protected]