My Son is Sixteen. I Feel Like I Have Known Him All His Life

By Stephen Rutherford

PHOTO: September 2022 – YFU students Pascal from Switzerland and Arne from Germany volunteer at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Japanese Festival.

I love my son, Pascal. He’s sixteen, loves cars and sports and wants to be a lawyer. I have only known him for ten months, but it feels like he has always been my son. Pascal is an exchange student from Switzerland and joined our family last August through a nonprofit organization called Youth For Understanding. I was a YFU student in 1985 to Japan and the experience changed my life. My wife and I have four “natural” children and over twenty YFU sons from around the world. They may live with us for a year, but they remain a part of our family forever.

Pascal attended Parkway Central High School and recently spoke at his school district’s board of education meeting to thank Parkway for allowing YFU students. “My YFU year was an incredible opportunity for me to learn about a new culture and to meet so many amazing people especially my host family which I now consider my second family,” Pascal said. “My YFU year has truly changed my life in ways that I never could have imagined.”

Hosting is one of our greatest gifts to our children because it teaches them to have empathy for people who do not act or think or sometimes look like them. It gives them a sense of humanity towards others. Hosting is the most important action a family can take to further the cause of peace. Dwight Eisenhower, one of the founders of citizen exchanges, believed that the exchange of students, teachers and others was the truest path to peace because these experiences answer the following questions:

  • How do we dispel ignorance?
  • How do we learn of others and have them learn of us?
  • How do we build friendships across nations?

YFU administers several exchange programs including two merit-based scholarship programs for the State Department. The FLEX Program began after the collapse of the Soviet Union and is designed for teens from Eurasia. The YES Program began after 9/11 and is meant for teens from countries with a predominantly Muslim population. These scholarships are designed to build peace and mutual understanding.

YFU will expand a needs-based scholarship program to St. Louis this fall. The USA For You Program will provide short-term exchange opportunities to German teens who would normally not have the resources to be exchange students.

Imagine if every family had a son or daughter through high school exchange? The world would be a much better place. Pascal will soon return to Switzerland, but family is forever. We will always be here for him, and in August we will welcome a new son from Italy named Gaetano. Great host families can have big kids, small kids or no kids. We hope others will join us by sharing their home and changing the world.