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Wed, August 05, 2015
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Chinese Exchange Student Experiences U. City High

Fontbonne educator and family host student through Youth For Understanding

June 03, 2011
Abby loves watching all the "Harry Potter" movies. She loves eating pizza and bags of french fries at fast food restaurants. And she loves her nickname here in the states: "Abby."

Abby's real name in her home city of Beijing, China, is Yang Yang. She explained that "Abby" is a good name for her to go by at University City High School, because her fellow students and new friends are very comfortable using her adopted name.

"I think the one thing I don't like in America is football," said Abby. "I don't understand the rules and what they are doing on the field. Also, I don't like that you cannot see the faces of the players on the field."

University City's Kurt and Kelley Barger, Abby's host family, said there is a Midwest phenomenon that Abby also doesn't care for – big tornadoes.

"She says she has lived through earthquakes, but she is much more afraid of all the tornadoes she has seen on TV this spring," said Kelley Barger. "She said there are no tornadoes in China.

Cathy Gregory Studio Gallery
"Other than football and the tornadoes, she likes it here," added Barger. "She likes school team sports like soccer and she played midfielder on the junior varsity of University City High School's soccer team."

Abby's stay in University City has been part of the 60-year-old program known as Youth For Understanding (YFU). The high school has hosted students from Turkey, Brazil and China in recent years, and YFU has been instrumental in making the extended visits happen.

"YFU is for students from a multitude of countries. I love that they all can come to our country," said Barger. "And I love how our American kids can go live in other countries and learn through their families."

Barger said hosting Abby has been a learning experience for her, and has given her ideas on how to perform her job better in education. She teaches at Fontbonne University.

"Abby has taught me how students come to learn in an environment with a different language," said Barger. "Abby taught me how to help her and thus how to help students at any stage struggling with language.

"Kurt, Abby and I kept a journal together – writing all about our experiences, creating timelines of her time with us," said Barger. "I shared this with my university students, so they saw first-hand how children with English as a second language adapt. I am a better teacher for being a parent to Abby."

YFU Mentoring

Stephen Rutherford of YFU figures heavily in that timeline with Abby and her hosts, the Bargers. The YFU volunteer played a key role in placing Abby with the University City couple.

"Stephen came to interview us for the YFU program before there was a student placement," said Barger. "He's been a real positive force with ideas and things to do. He gets involved with the kids and you can tell he's really dedicated to YFU."

YFU has been around for 60 years as a non-profit whose first executive director was Rachel Andresen. She saw first-hand the destruction that World War II brought to Europe and wanted to do something to increase people's understanding of each other.

The first YFU exchange students were German youth chosen by the U.S. Army of Occupation. They picked youths who had not been part of the Hitler Jugend. The idea was to promote international understanding to increase the chances for peace.

Today YFU is in 60 countries and will soon send its 250,000th student abroad to live with a volunteer host family. It's no longer simply about exchanges with the U.S., but can involve a high school student from Bangkok going to live with a family in London. YFU brings about 2,000 students to the U.S. every year, but sadly only about 500 American students go abroad with YFU.

Rutherford is working toward the goal of getting more U.S. students immersed in international exchanges. When he isn't at his job as a manager at the Kirkwood Lowe's, he is out and about promoting YFU. He firmly believes that international exchanges can lead to a better world.

"I got involved with YFU when I was in high school," said Rutherford. "I wanted to go to Japan and found out about a YFU summer program. I lived with a family in Yokohama in 1985. I still keep in touch with my host family after 25 years.

"After college I lived in Japan for eight years and I met my Japanese wife at an Italian restaurant in Tokyo," said Rutherford. "We moved back to St. Louis in 1999, and I told her that I wanted to give back to YFU and give someone the chance to experience another culture like I did. We've hosted boys from Japan and from Thailand."

For more information about YFU, go to the web at:; or send an email about the program to:

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August • 05 • 2015
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